Bloody Gears End of the Line 7″ (Deranged)
Unlike many of their Bostonian hardcore peers, Bloody Gears offer no acknowledgement of the XClaim! scene in their music or style. Rather, their dark, emotive punk hits the small intersection of Ebullition-approved emo-core and Crass-style political discontent on the Venn diagram of punk (far, far removed from tribal grindcore and third-wave ska). This is to say, while the anger and energy is in no short supply, Bloody Gears maintain a strong melodic backbone to their music, opting less for vessel-bursting screams and more for impassioned, harmonious shouting. It’s not what I usually go for, but there is an obvious sense of craftsmanship to these three songs, to the point where I found myself actually reading along to the lyrics on the back cover while listening (a dying art if there ever was one). It’s also worth noting that End of the Line was recorded in February of this year, and if you can remember the winter Boston had, the pain of lugging amps through slush and snow while wearing four layers of clothing is certainly evident here. Pretty much the antithesis of beach punk.

Brainbombs Singles Collection LP (Load)
It’s doubtful that Load Records anticipated the profound effect Brainbombs have had on the current millenium’s noise-rock underground, but it’s happened, resulting in a marketplace where a vinyl issue of the early singles collection titled, umm, Singles Collection, is a fiscally-sound venture. Slowly flipping each of these early singles one-by-one is a delight all its own, but we’re not all lucky enough to own the originals; this collection works nicely as an overview of the Brainbombs’ earliest progression as a group, moving from barely-there feedback and drums to the bastardized Stooges riffing we celebrate today. Certainly not the best starting point for a novice, as something like “Psychout Crash Kid” sounds almost like an entirely different band, and the live take of “It’s A Burning Hell” is inferior to the album version, but Singles Collection is a worthy document nonetheless. Every great horror movie deserves an origin story, Brainbombs being no exception.

Brainbombs Urge to Kill LP (Load)
Along with Singles Collection, Brainbombs’ second full-length release Urge to Kill has been given the vinyl treatment. It’s a great listen right after the singles, as Urge to Kill showcases a band that can no longer go back to their families and friends in good conscience; Urge to Kill crosses the line from possible irony and parody into full-on sociopathic nihilism. You can’t write a song like “Maybe” and then try and take it back. With a raw, blustery recording that leads the way to their pinnacle achievement Obey, Urge to Kill still sounds fresh today, with groovier riffs, longer cuts, the horn player in full effect, and of course, “Ass Fucking Murder”. It doesn’t matter how kind and loving a person is: placed in the right situation, any of us are capable of becoming violent criminals, and Brainbombs are here to remind us of that ugly truth. I don’t listen to Urge to Kill like it’s some sort of cool deviant manifesto, I take it for the serious warning it is.

Clockcleaner Auf Wiedersehen 12″ (Load)
I’ve been waiting to hear this Clockcleaner material for a while, the band’s final recording session, as the promise of a third full-length dissipated like the hope of another Phillies World Series. Thankfully, Load has made this EP available, as touching a eulogy as I could’ve hoped for the band that once wrote “Missing Dick”. It helps to be familiar with vocalist John Sharkey’s Puerto Rico Flowers project, as Auf Wiedersehen is the perfect mid-point between Clockcleaner’s Babylon Rules and Puerto Rico Flowers’ current output, moving away from ‘Cleaner’s Albini-inspired flatulence and towards the dim, Bauhaus- and Joy Division-haunted caves hinted at on Babylon Rules (and deeply mined by Puerto Rico Flowers). The music here is suitably mopey and dull, filled with teary-eyed Neil Young melodies that provide ample backdrop for Sharkey’s deep, menacing voice. And for such a bad apple, only once, in the first minutes of “Pissing at the Moon”, does he tell us to shut up (literally); any sort of anger or shock-jock crudity previously associated with the band is non-existent here, replaced with the weary confidence of a band that was always better and more sophisticated than the Beavis and Butthead fanbase they garnered. They were more than just “the band that peed on Bad Wizard’s merch” to me, and Auf Wiedersehen proves it. RIP.

Confines Withdrawn 7″ (Labor of Love / Side Two)
From the fold-out poster sleeve, poignant manifesto and of course, blazing hardcore punk music within, this debut Confines 7″ is the type of record I would’ve read about in the Profane Existence catalog twelve years ago and carelessly stuffed cash in an envelope to receive. Pissed-off hardcore punk that you can feel good about – no forced transgression here, just rage against apathy and the sour aspects of society (and yes, probably “the machine” too). And to continue with the Profane Existence slant, these four songs could easily fit inside a State of Fear / Aus Rotten / Assrash rock-block, which I would enjoy any day of the week (history will be on my side with this one, trust me). Confines seem to have no interest in cider or ass-flaps, though, and their musicality sticks much closer to the early Black Flag school of thought, as opposed to anything that might garner a “crust” tag. The last cut “Withdrawn” is particularly nice and intense, thanks to the Ginn’d guitar-playing that seems to hit frets most guitars don’t have. Sure, there are creepy black and white photos in the fold-out poster sleeve, but in an “injustice you should be mad about” way, not an “it’s cool to do drugs and cut yourself” style. Confines know better than that.

Deskonocidos En La Oscuridad LP (Todo Destruido / Trabuc)
No doubt taking inspiration from the great stash of current punk bands coming out of Barcelona (and local contemporaries like The Young don’t hurt, either), Austin’s Deskonocidos are a welcome addition to my collection of gloomy post-punk vinyl. I feel like the P.E.A.C.E. compilation had a lot of tracks in the vein of Deskonocidos: driving punk rock that is more interested in mood and passion than offensiveness or speed. Punk for a “mature” audience, the lifers that are pushing forty and still only ever wear black jeans and band t-shirts and live as far outside the capitalist structure as they can. The type of music for guys who don’t just live in a screenprinting warehouse – they saved up and bought the building, too. Deskonocidos aren’t entirely afraid of raging, just listen to “Alemania”, but it’s on tracks like opener “En La Oscuridad” that they seem most comfortable, positioning themselves between Amebix and early Bauhaus, their riffs poised in front of a black and white mushroom cloud backdrop. Play it back to back with that Bloody Gears single for optimal discontent.

DJ Nate Da Trak Genious 3xLP (Planet Mu)
It’s next to impossible to hate on DJ Nate; he’s a Chicago-based teenager making frantic dance music, completely overloaded on sampled pop vocals (and already christened “footwork”, as no electronic music sub-sub-genre goes nameless for long). Nate is doing his own thing entirely, just making music for his friends and blowing up (relatively speaking) in the semi-accidental way that our YouTube-centered arts culture allows. The youthful zest behind Da Trak Genious is evident from the start, just bursting with thudding beats and frenetic samples, really the kind of music that only a kid could create. Think Girl Talk, simplified to two or three vocal hooks per song, all slathered over various booty beats. Parsimony is not a word in DJ Nate’s dictionary (and not just because he is a poor speller), as DJ Nate will mash his thumb against the sample-loop button like a Playstation controller, speedily repeating a lyric from sources that vary from Mike Jones to Evanescence. There are 25 tracks here, which is probably more than anyone can handle in one sitting (at least without a two-liter of Mountain Dew and a strip-mall parking lot to drink it in), but I haven’t grown weary of Da Trak Genious just yet. Not sure what kind of shelf life this sort of party music has, but it’s a pretty perfect distillation of electro-packaged modern-radio pop.

Lawrence English Incongruous Harmonies 7″ (Touch)
Lawrence English is a new name to me, but he’s already got an advantage on the competition: the Touch label just seems so cool and smartly curated that I’m already feeling good about whatever they do. Love the pictures of random nature/architecture shots in their ads, love their font choices, love Oren Ambarchi, love Fennesz, love that recipe book on their website… I’ll be honest, it’s not going to take a heck of a lot for me to love Lawrence English too. After digging into Incongruous Harmonies, “love” might be too strong of a word, but I certainly enjoy the refreshing blasts of air English aims in my general direction. You know those gum commercials where a person chews a piece and is instantly blown away or rearranged? These two cuts don’t quite reach that level, but for four minutes per side, you at least receive the sensation of standing in an airfield with a nasty storm rolling in. No RPM listed on the record, but if I tried to figure it out I’d probably be missing the point. It’s more fun to get blasted and save the thinking for later.

Marcel Fengler Enigma 12″ (Ostgut Ton)
Purchased solely on the basis of Ostgut Ton’s reputation, Marcel Fengler’s Enigma has been one of the most surprisingly satisfying techno singles I’ve spun this year. Explaining why is difficult, though – Fengler is uninterested in dubstep, or UK funky, or any of-the-moment electronic trend; Enigma is straight-up tech-house that could’ve been released at any time in the past decade. I love the inventive new stuff people are doing, but there is clearly something to be said for the mastery of making people sweat via 4/4 rhythms, of which Fengler has dedicated his efforts. “RazKaz” is probably the peak of that on this EP, repeating an ascending chord (of vague violin orient) along an almost maddeningly choppy tsk. These three cuts are so clearly geared to the dance-floor, with Fengler avoiding any notable intros or outros, just jacking beats that compel the body to move. Still, from the slick and occasionally subtle sound choices (is that Radiohead I hear on “Enigma”?), Fengler’s music feeds my head as well as my body, quickly sending me to that place of deep contemplation that only a righteous kick/snare loop can.

The Flips I Just Don’t Know Where I Stand 7″ (Hozac)
In the case of this new batch of Hozac singles, the silliest-looking one is most certainly the best. With cover art like some sort of Brady Bunch spin-off, The Flips are clearly proud of this record, as well they should be – “I Just Don’t Know Where I Stand” is one of the best power-pop tunes I’ve heard from a modern band since I can’t remember. Songs like “Can’t Wait ‘Til the Summer Comes” by Ronnie Mayor and “The Beat Is Back” by The First Steps are contagiously fun and worry-free, and that’s what I hear from The Flips here. It’s sweet as hell, but with the slightest touch of mod toughness lurking beneath the sugary topping. Killer hook, just really the type of catchy tune that keeps me interested in hearing guitars. “1 and 1” is nearly as great (I wonder if one of the six Flips is just responsible for hand clapping?), but they lose a little steam on “Sooner Than Later”, which is still better than the b-sides of other power-pop 7″s I routinely search eBay for. At the rate that Hozac is pumping out vinyl, I can easily see this one getting lost in the shuffle, especially in the midst of so much bedroom-garage fuzz that this is so clearly not. As nice as The Shivvers, and at 1/10th the price…

Kito-Mizukumi Rouber Midori Mushi San Connichiwa 7″ (Siltbreeze)
I love when Siltbreeze puts out singles these days, because whatever oddball chances they take with full-lengths seem to become magnified on this smaller and godly format. Kito-Mizukumi Rouber are probably most famous for attaining “album of the year” status from Siltbreeze CEO Tom Lax in 2009, the sort of head-scratching decision you either understand or pretend to understand. This is their follow-up five song single, and if you’re familiar with the group’s Ultra Eczema album, it stays the course: demented guitar-babble, blues mutations and vocal horseplay all hit you like a pie in the face, which you start to lick, only to realize you’ve got a mouth full of shaving cream, not meringue. “Anta No Kai” is about as good a reference point as any, taking a sad and simple chord, adding a poor Vincent Price imitation vocal and then smashing the gear around with a couple friends. Sometimes when I listen to records, I can feel the soothing presence of Sockeye’s Food Fortunata beaming down on me; Midori Mushi San Connichiwa brings that warming feeling instantaneously.

Lil B Rain in England 2xLP (Weird Forest)
I like to think that I enjoy weird records, the type of release that has no business existing, but every now and then something like Lil B’s Rain in England will come along and force me to prove my dedication to music that has no place in a functioning society. I knew of Lil B as one of the premier brain-dead swag rappers of YouTube and beyond, thanks to tunes as catchy and moronic as “Wonton Soup” and “I Look Like Hannah Montana” (one of the biggest lyrical question marks of recent times). Turns out he’s got plenty to share, this time in the form of a spoken-word / ambient rap double album. The music of Rain in England is little more than new-age keyboards layered together via GarageBand processing, the sort of background music used by cable access therapists or insurance companies when they put you on hold. With this sterile backdrop, Lil B takes center stage, talking, raving, rapping and occasionally singing over top. I can just picture his spiral-bound notebook, pages ruffled and scrawled past the margins with his deepest thoughts, even if he probably just uses Twitter like the rest of his peers. It’s perplexing stuff, like reading an anguished teenage LiveJournal with a font color choice that hurts the eyes after a couple minutes. But at the same time, it’s pretty clear that Lil B means what he says, and is earnest in a way that few others can be. I’m hesitant to call Lil B this generation’s Kool Keith, since Kool Keith actually made a career out of rapping and Lil B’s legacy remains to be seen, but the slanted perspectives and unique aesthetics make it easy to compare the two. Sometimes fascinating, sometimes painful, and always ridiculous (just start with the accidental screamo vocals of “My Window Sill” for a taste), there is no out-weirding Lil B this year.

Men’s Interest More War 7″ (Home Invasion)
Seems like I’d been waiting for this one forever, as initial copies were distributed at Chaos In Tejas last May. Not sure what caused the delay, but here is the “official” pressing of More War, and it’s fantastic. Men’s Interest are another Boston-area hardcore band, a town that seems to be doing no wrong in recent years, and they get straight to it on this single, a re-recording (or re-mastering, I forget) of their demo. Musically, Men’s Interest strain the same muscles as prime-time SSD, what with their ability to squeeze an obscene amount of energy out of every riff, thanks in no small part to the spot-on drumming and crunchy guitars. Tempos alternate nicely, from moshworthy to speed-core raging, cherry-picking inspiration from the greatest hardcore of the past three decades. The singer pushes Men’s Interest from a solid band to a great one, as he sings half as many lyrics as most other hardcore vocalists, straining out every sentence in this nasally, elongated scream that falls somewhere between Doc Dart and Springa. Fairly unique approach, to the point where I’d easily pick Men’s Interest out of a modern hardcore lineup, yet there’s no self-conscious “let’s be different” attitude here (they do use that same Gothic font that every other hardcore band uses these days, after all). Hope they tour soon, I could certainly go for a dose of Men’s Interest in someone’s crappy basement.

Mental Powers Stuffed Alive CD (Badminton Bandit)
It’s only been a couple months since the last Mental Powers CD release on Badminton Bandit, but they haven’t slowed down a bit. Here’s Stuffed Alive, also in slightly unorthodox packaging (their Untitled disc came in a screened cardboard sleeve, Stuffed Alive in a clear plastic clam-shell), and it’s pieced together from various live recordings over the past few years. More than before, I’m getting a serious No Neck Blues Band vibe from Mental Powers, thanks to their tricky and repetitive riffs and rhythms that toe the line between avant-folk, krautrock and subway busking. They do it both fast and slow, but it’s almost always based around some skewed drum pattern with guitars to match. No singing, save for the one guy who is just so moved by his artistic enterprise that he moans like a cat in a humid bathroom (just check out “Flim Flam” for a textbook example of this sort of vocalization). I didn’t think I needed to hear Stuffed Alive when it arrived in my box, I mean I’ve still got Untitled, but I’ve spent enough time with both to conclude that Stuffed Alive is the winner – as a live recording, these tunes were ostensibly played in front of an audience, the sort of setting that pushes a band like this to spend less time fiddling in its private womb and instead make an attempt to engage the listener. It’s a good look for Mental Powers.

Myty Konkeror I Miss the Future. LP (Twin Lakes)
When it comes to Peter King lathe-cut LPs limited to thirty copies, I generally think of Reynols burping into a bag, or Ashtray Navigations rubbing a four-track against shag carpet, not something like Myty Konkeror. I mean, I expected that sort of lo-fi foolishness, and was looking forward to it, but I Miss the Future. will probably provide more entertainment in the long run. Right from the gate, it’s clear that this is a rock group, sounding a hell of a lot like recent Mudhoney on opener “Audacity of Taupe”. It’s good stuff, kind of grungy hard rock with smart use of lap steel. They break off into more extended instrumental jams, one of which even includes some fine spoon-work (Soundgarden’s radio hit was clearly not in vain). Myty Konkeror may not be the greatest spellers, but they can rock in a heavy early 90’s Sub Pop way, thankfully free of any sort of nostalgic baggage or attempt to live in the past. If more than a small classroom’s worth of people had access to this record, who knows what could happen!

No Age Everything In Between LP (Sub Pop)
Can’t imagine anyone reading this review isn’t already at least peripherally familiar with No Age, the smiling Los Angeles duo who have done more cool stuff in the past four years than Van Wilder. Their time is spent traveling the world, screening shirts, designing sneakers, soundtracking art movies, collaborating with artists, and generally just becoming friends with every cool person out there, like a human version of your list of Facebook likes. They found some time in between all that fun to write and record Everything In Between, their new Sub Pop album, and it’s pretty much what I’ve come to expect from them: punked-out indie-rock that recalls the ’90s for a generation too young to have experienced them as young adults, all the while pushing ahead to the effects-laden, loop-based future. They stash the possible hits towards the front (“Glitter”, “Fever Dreaming” and opener “Life Prowler” all get to the point succinctly) and fill up the tail end with their more esoteric mood pieces. No Age are an excellent aggregator of modern cool, as influences as varied as The Breeders and Fennesz can be found by those willing to look. Hell, “Common Heat” is the best Psychedelic Horseshit song they haven’t written. It’s a record that won’t be converting any non-believers, nor will it disappoint anyone who owns one of those large-lettered “NO AGE” shirts, the closest thing this generation has to an iconic image (which is kind of sad if you think about it). No Age will still be out there, designing new streetwear colorways, hanging with Bob Mould and gigging across the globe, the rest of us will be working in our cubicles and coffee shops, and all will remain right with the world.

oOoOO oOoOO 12″ (Tri Angle)
Been looking for an artist whose name you can pronounce “oh”, have you? Well then, allow me to recommend oOoOO! Of the witch-house bunch, oOoOO seems to be one of the more serious artists, or at least one of the least prone to goofball nostalgic collage artwork and ironic posturing. I thought the first EP that was floating around was pretty good, if not mind-altering, what with its sluggish, off-kilter beats and illegibly-rendered pop samples. This new 12″ packs another six songs, and when listened in proximity to the debut, oOoOO seems to be falling farther from the cliffs of perception and closer to the plain of normal music, much to my disappointment. The overall approach is the same: crawling hip-hop beats, with synths, keys and samples both sweet and sour; there just isn’t any standout cut on oOoOO that I’d proudly play for a crowd (even the previously-released “Sedsumting” seems less potent here). “Hearts” probably comes closest, thanks to the balearic pulse that kicks in like a drowsy Tensnake. I’ll probably play this for my friends who aren’t in touch with the current trends and wait for the inevitable reaction of “I don’t get it”, after I explain that many people are excited by this sort of music in 2010. With the first EP, I may have had some peculiar highlights to offer in support of oOoOO as something particularly notable, but this 12″ doesn’t give me a whole lot to work with.

Outer Minds Bloodshot Eyes 7″ (Hozac)
Gonna be hard to keep Outer Minds separate from Outer Spacist in my head, especially since the cover of this one features the surface of the moon with female eyes and lips and I’ve already incorrectly linked the two together. There are just too many similar bands using similar words. Bloodshot Eyes isn’t really helping to differentiate Outer Minds, either – this single offers three tracks of psychedelic garage that pleases my ears in the same way a plate of buttered noodles quenches my hunger. ’60s keyboards and jangling guitars lead their way through eight minutes of my life. I can’t hate on Outer Minds, as they have left such a weak impression on my brain that I’d completely forgotten what they sounded like every time I threw this single on (four times now, usually with a three- or four-day break in between). I can hardly remember friends’ birthdays, I don’t need to remember Outer Minds.

Passive Aggressor / PRSMS split 7″ (Teenage Death Girls)
Right off the bat, not looking forward to this one – one band name is a lame pun, the other in a hipster-passé “vowels removed” style, and a label name that sounds like a Daughters song title. Trying to be fair, I check out Passive Aggressor, and they’re better than the name had me expecting, but not by much. Frantic and loose post-hardcore with breakdowns and an annoying saxophone, it reminds me of the final Usurp Synapse and Jeromes Dream records, the ones where they tried to distance themselves from screamo and do something more “experimental” (read: middle-of-the-road and less exciting). Four songs on the PRSMS side, which I take as a good sign, and it is. They’ve got a pretty similar sound to Passive Aggressor, but come at it with a higher energy level and a better singer, like Chris Thompson circa Skull Kontrol. The great drummer is probably the key to the equation though, surely igniting some of Brooklyn’s least-frightening mosh pits. Won’t be spinning this one often, if ever again, but if PRSMS end up opening some show I plan on attending, I’d try to get there early to check them out.

The Phantom Family Halo Music From Italian T.V. LP (Sophomore Lounge)
Never heard The Phantom Family Halo before, but I’ve seen their LPs on the shelves, and loosely associated then with Sapat and The Cherry Blossoms and that whole Southeast weirdo-improv vibe. As I hoped, it fits my prediction, and doesn’t – Music From Italian T.V. is its own trip. The five tracks on the a-side all follow a similar motif: slow, bass-heavy grooves that could only come from a dimly-lit room with rugs hung over the windows, vaguely kraut-y meditations that smell of old teak and incense stubs. Like Wooden Shjips, if you took away their guitars and snare drum and fed them a bunch of brownies. The b-side moves even further from planet earth with “Overkirsh”, a nine-minute overture of strobe-light frequencies, sustained tones and a thick electronic pulse ala Synergy or some other great early ’80s synth album mistakenly filed in the “New Age” section. It’s a dubious claim that Italian televisions are blaring this sort of stuff, but with a style this strange and committed, I am willing to indulge The Phantom Family Halo’s fantasy.

Portable This Life of Illusion 12″ (Perlon)
This Portable 12″ is precisely why I send money electronically to England once a month with sometimes little more than a hunch. Perlon is responsible for some of the finest tech / minimal / micro / whatever dance music, and it’s been a while since I checked in, so why not take a chance on Portable? I don’t gamble often, so something like This Life of Illusion is my equivalent of an overflowing slot machine. This single opens with “Life Magically Is”, a twelve-minute quest into the center of Dr. Phil’s soul, thanks to an omniscient voice explaining how life is to be lived. The swirling backdrop quickly turns to a punchy beat, and before you realize it, you’re grooving to the creepiest self-help tune since Tin Man’s “Self Help”. The beat floats in and out, but the voice marches onward. This track’s simply got what I’m looking for, and at twelve minutes, it’s in no short supply. The flip “Find Me” plays it more conservatively, with a male vocal reminiscent of Robert Owens, and a selection of complex sounds that could rival any of the bouncier material on Luomo’s Convivial. A perfect match to the a-side, both in choice of vocalist and mood. Life magically is, indeed.

Purling Hiss Hissteria LP (Richie)
After stepping out into the spotlight with Purling Hiss’s Permanent Records debut, Birds of Maya guitarist Mike Polizze is back with a second album, released on the fittingly Philadelphian rock n’ roll touchstone, Richie Records. At this pace, Birds of Maya is set to become a Purling Hiss side project, and while I am an undeniable fan of the Birds, there’s something about the thick stoner goo of Purling Hiss that tackles my brain in a way that they cannot. Four hefty cuts here, the type of blazing rock music that transports me to the cramped backseat of a Chrysler K, hurtling through suburbia in a quest for Slurpees and adventure in some ’70s teenage fantasy I never actually experienced. (Mine was not an entirely different experience though, just with Westside Connection and pop-punk on the stereo). I love this vibe, like The Stoned Age soundtrack, but with less of a Blue Öyster Cult presence, more Blue Cheer. Polizze is smoking on that guitar, especially the Nebula-on-meth riff of “Whipple Dam”, and the seventy-five different solos on closer “Down on the Delaware River”. Hissteria is less manic than the debut, yet retains all of its unbridled excitement, and I can’t recommend it enough. Also worth mentioning, Purling Hiss is currently opening for Kurt Vile on a US tour, and while I know Kurt made the decision to bring along the ‘Hiss, he better not put his hair up in a ponytail and kick back at these shows, lest he get scorched off the stage.

Radar Eyes Shakes / Not You Again 7″ (Hozac)
Here’s another fairly non-descript Chicago band from Hozac’s Hookup Klub: Radar Eyes. A-side “Shakes” is pretty cool, like the Ramones in space, or at least the Ramones if they got started on MySpace. Definite Joey Ramone vibe in the vocals. “Not You Again” on the flip is far more tender, like the 1983 release from one of those original ’77 punk bands, the type of song that would fit nicely within the credits of a John Hughes’ movie alongside The Stranglers’ “Skin Deep”. Vaguely new-wave, but with the experience of playing disgusting punk venues. Good stuff here, but unless this band drops some other vinyl in my lap soon, I can already tell that the memory of these tunes will soon be replaced by what I had for dinner last night, or a particularly good gag in the most recent episode of Delocated. I’ve only got so much RAM in my brain, and at 75 releases and growing, only the absolute cream of the Hozac crop stands a chance.

Raime Raime 12″ (Blackest Ever Black)
Here’s the newest name in mystery-dubstep, Raime, on a label that simply cannot get any blacker. I dig the direction that a lot of new electronic artists are headed, mixing a goth / evil-ambient vibe with more traditional or trendy forms. Just slap a couple triangles on that bad boy and it’s a Boomkat pick of the week, right? Demdike Stare are clearly the masters here, but someone (or something?) like Raime is undeniably cool as well: this debut 12″ is the most stripped-down, nocturnal and ambient slice of post-dubstep I’ve heard since whenever. Each cut is so minimal and barely-there that you either forget you’re listening to music or you deeply consider the pulsing beats and foggy bass rituals. Just imagine like, 25% of a Burial track, or the most basic of Zola Jesus’s programmed drums, or a Basic Channel remix of a Gregorian chant, or Shackleton wearing Mortiis’s prosthetic ears and nose, and you’re in the ballpark. There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot further Raime can go, unless Raime beefs up his (their?) approach in some way, but for a debut EP, Raime is a mighty fine accompaniment to autumn’s shortened daylight hours.

Rapid Cities / mOck split 7″ (Love/Hate / Asymmetrie)
Surprisingly, this Rapid Cities / mOck split 7″ didn’t show up frozen in a block of ice from 1996… I called the pressing plant, ran the matrix number, and it was indeed pressed in the past few weeks. Rapid Cities offer “Techno After Party”, a title that conjures a sense of wild, uninhibited fun that is sadly unrepresentative of the music. Instead, it’s a Hot Water Music-inspired chest-beater – emotive hardcore that’s trying to find a melodic groove, but falls short, thanks to the tuneless vocals better suited for say, Constatine Sankathi. This sort of thing falls heavily on the vocals, requiring a delicate mix of gruffness and pitch perfection, the type of tricky vocal formula Rapid Cities simply aren’t able to provide. mOck (their dummy capitalization, not mine) offer a more mature, collegiate take on the same sound, reminding me a lot of the Big Wheel Recreation band Lazycain; maybe a little Shades Apart in there, too. I just Googled Lazycain, because I haven’t thought about them in years, and it appears they have a MySpace page with two songs and literally five friends. Clearly the demand for this sound is not strong, and mOck aren’t even the best of the bunch, but I don’t mind it, and would certainly choose mOck over Rapid Cities if I had to watch one of the two perform in an empty VFW hall. Really though, the choice to avoid them both also exists, and I’m pretty sure I’ll be taking that route.

John Roberts Glass Eights 2xLP (Dial)
The name “John Roberts” might not call to mind cool house music for many people, probably because there are thousands of John Robertses out there… he’s just as likely to be your plumber, accountant or sandwich artist. I take Roberts’ decision to work under his own name as an act of modesty, one that certainly fits with the understated and sharp house music of Glass Eights. Roberts’ airy, synths-at-dusk atmosphere is aided by his distinct use of piano, through either unrecognizable dusty jazz samples or his own hands on the keys. He really picks the perfect clusters of notes to fill up the space between snare snaps, and while this sort of thing can languish in album form, the lack of any significant banger or dance-floor hit is an advantage here, working cohesively as a singular statement. Dance music for intense GRE studying, or enjoying a cigarette on the balcony, or thumbing a copy of the Sharper Image catalog, or any situation that is highly smart and/or sophisticated. Great cover art too, looks like an Oi album released by RRRecords.

Roska & Untold Myth 12″ (Numbers)
Here’s one of the more intriguing dubstep collaborations in recent months, this one pairing the rhythmic beats of party-hound Roska with the disassembled bass flares of Untold. It’s a good match, with each persona offering a different set of strengths, and they pretty much make good on that with these two cuts. “Myth” comes barreling out of the gate, brandishing a propulsive, almost Indian melody, like something Sublime Frequencies would reissue in the year 2066. The cool little vocal screech adds to the “late night underground party in Delhi” feel. Flip “Long Range” goes for a similar atmosphere, although grounded by a basic 4/4 thump. The rhythmic simplicity leaves plenty of space for the splattering of weird jungle noises, like the inside of a rave hosted by Klaus Kinski’s Fitzcarraldo character. I’m guessing Untold is responsible for most of the quirks in “Long Range”, but I wouldn’t put anything past Roska either. Hope these two dudes hook up again sometime.

Salem King Night CD (Iamsound)
Undoubtedly one of this year’s most polarizing groups, Salem have finally dropped King Night on the world, even if the band members are so painfully groggy they may not be aware of the release themselves (check out that recent New York Times feature on Salem, wherein they seem incapable of forming a lucid thought). My first experience with the group came through the YouTube videos of their utterly hilarious Levi’s Fader Tent set last SXSW, the type of musical Hindenburg that renders any verbal explanation futile – the level of utter malfunction truly must be watched and heard to be believed. Undoubtedly one of the worst live performances I’d ever viewed, this band was already something special in my book, so I met King Night with an anticipation for both greatness and stupidity. And it delivers on both counts! Tracks like “King Night” and “Frost” perfectly merge that sort of No Limit Records deep South swang with drugged-out synth-pop, unusually satisfying bedfellows that seem perfectly suited for each other in Salem’s hands. That sort of icy, nonchalant coolness is hilariously balanced with tracks like “Redlight” (featuring vocals nearly as tuneless as Salem’s SXSW rendition of the tune) and really, any of the tracks that showcase Salem’s rap skills. “Sick” is particularly dopey, thanks to that “just a dollar” hook, but it’s really their distinct style of rapping, falling somewhere between Mike Jones and John Cena, and pitched down for added toughness (and unintended hilarity), that is impossible to take seriously. It’s like what Jesse Pinkman’s little drug crew would sound like if they decided to rap. I can tell those tracks are going to drive people mad, especially in light of the more palatable and innocuous instrumentals on King Night, but I appreciate any group that can crack me up, even if I’m laughing at them, not with them.

Sex Church 209 / Paralyze 7″ (Hozac)
This Sex Church single is probably the Hozac Hookup Klub 7″ I was looking forward to the most. First of all, I actually heard of this band before, and they are good, their LP setting a nice and Velvets-y pace to the proceedings. “209” is a languid rocker, startlingly “real band”-sounding for Hozac; this is clearly a full-on rock ensemble, with flailing solos at the end, swirling guitars, a drummer that likes to kick ass, and a riff that’ll mug you in the alley if you don’t watch your back. If they don’t already end their live sets with this one, they should. “Paralyze” has a scarier title, itself a tragic ballad that’s well and good, but won’t be getting the same amount of face time as the a-side. Sex Church don’t top Six Songs By… here, but it’s a fine little contribution for those of us who wanted a little more.

Sword Heaven Gone LP (Load)
The first time I saw Sword Heaven, they had a great look: one normal-looking fellow, standing in front of a folding table’s worth of electronics, and one hair-covered mutant, wearing disgusting brown pants held up by rope, crawling around the room with a pile of cymbals dragging behind him, like a violent version of Chris Kattan as Mr. Peepers. Quite a first impression, especially in the wake of so many “stand there and fist-pump” Wolf Eyes-inspired noise groups that hit the touring circuit of 2003 – 2007. Been a while since I spun Sword Heaven’s split with 16 Bitch Pile-Up, so it was nice to hear Gone, their new three-track full-length. It’s as meaty a product as I could’ve expected, due in no small part to opener “Dead End”, a thick wave of low-end rumble that barely allows the snare hits to surface. Fading down with some saxophone and synth sludge, “Driving Through Old Town” shows a little more restraint, as I can finally make out the hairy guy gargling something non-potable, along with what sounds like a pinball machine accepting credits and Sword Heaven’s trademark Swans-style percussion submission maneuver. I tried listening to “So What” while tidying up a different room and it didn’t work; Sword Heaven quickly turns to one loud and continuous thud if you’re not directly paying attention, so I came closer and was treated to the world’s slowest oom-pah beat and a wounded animal screaming along to a kettle corn popper. People who say they hate noise are idiots.

Total Control Paranoid Video / Real Estate 7″ (Smart Guy)
If you were geographically lucky enough to catch Total Control on their recent US tour, you know that you witnessed one of the best five-piece post-punk bands to ever dirty up the carpets of your local venue. Those who only have this new single to go on won’t fully understand, though, as these two songs step further into the realm of itchy synth-punk, doing away with live guitars and drums entirely. It’s a definite departure for these guys, especially band member Mikey Young (if there was ever a man born to cradle a guitar in his hands, it’s him), but Total Control perform their future-primitive keyboard music with a strained intensity that outshines a thousand Hozacs. “Paranoid Video” calls to mind “TVOD” as performed by New Order or something, certainly the dance hit of the record. “Real Estate” is the creepy lab experiment; strong Gary Numan vibe with an aftertaste of that weird Crawling Chaos single, Sex Machine. Can you imagine a Total Control LP that is one side full-on quintet punk rock, and one side synth-wave? My knees are trembling at the thought.

Uphill Gardeners 5-6 LP (Kill Shaman)
Here’s an entirely unnecessary record: an LP of previously unreleased recordings from the short-lived LA group Uphill Gardeners. The fact that probably no one was clamoring for release of these thirteen year-old songs makes me think, though – if there is clearly no “cred” to be gained from the release, or obvious financial profit, or promotion of a group in hopes that they move forward, maybe the only reason for release is because the label straight-up loves the music. That’s the impression I’m getting here, as Uphill Gardeners don’t make it easy on anyone; their name isn’t even anywhere to be found on the album, just a big thanks list and song titles on the cover (displaying a very 1997 style of humor, what with songs like “Boner Music” and “I’ve Got to Stop Getting Pregnant”). After spinning 5-6 a few times, I certainly haven’t been moved to dump the couple thousand bucks on this project that Kill Shaman did, but it’s a decent warp zone to the moment in time when instrumental-rock groups tested the no-wave waters, purchased some Actuel reissues and started getting weird to lengths not previously considered by their peers. Lots of abused guitars, funny drum breaks and unpredictable droning fill this one out, along with a surprise or two. Keep doing what you want to do, Kill Shaman.

The UV Race The UV Race LP (Aarght!)
Undoubtedly the goofiest of the current Aussie punk rock crop, The UV Race’s singles had become increasingly ramshackle, complete with the type of loose musicianship that could render Taco Leg polished by comparison. That certainly changes with their debut LP, an incredibly satisfying serving of DIY nonsense that somehow comes bursting with soon-to-be-classic punk stumbles. I didn’t think they’d ever top “Lego Man” (off their debut 7″), but the one-two punch of “Society Made Me Selfish” and “I Go Blank” is undeniably great, as if the hitmakers in Eddy Current entered a Swell Maps songwriting contest. The UV Race hit lots of highs on here, thanks in no small part to the considerably slick recording. Engineer Mikey Young finds a way to balance this tricky six-piece ensemble, putting together the type of clear and punchy recording I wish Tyvek could someday find. Really a fantastic record that’s swollen with hits, from “Make You Strain” to the crowd pleasing “Am I In Love”. I ask you, fellow Americans, how long must we sit back and allow the Australians to put us to shame?

Hookup Klub Round One compilation LP (Hozac)
For those without 45 adapters, this album handily compiles the choicest cuts of the first ten Hozac Hookup Klub singles, along with a couple unreleased tunes for the Hozac completist. Hozac is one of those labels that has released both some of the worst and best garage/punk singles of recent years, with seemingly little more than a list of band names and a dartboard guiding their roster. For the most part, I don’t mind bands like Idle Times, Teepee, Woven Bones and Flight, but for some reason, when they all follow each other in a row like this, it’s hard to ignore how ultimately uninspiring The Hozac Sound can be. Even Dum Dum Girls are pretty limp on here, but that might be because I Will Be was a nice step up from this early home recording. It’s really hard to differentiate the bands, mainly from the nature of the lo-fi recording, and while the level of garage Blank Doggin’ varies considerably, Hookup Klub Round One is the statement of a scene that may have been better off without one. If you really want to figure Hozac out, you’re better off putting twenty minutes into checking out their roster on MySpace and pursuing those of interest. There’s no reason to walk across a landmine field blindly if you can grab a map.