There are some serious characters in the world of noise, but I can’t think of anyone with
a fresher, more interesting take on it today than The Rita (née Sam McKinlay). The Rita
essentially pioneered the idea of the “harsh noise wall”: a formless, unwavering monolith of
sound that does to power-electronics what Earth did to metal. In recent years, numerous
other artists have followed strictly to the guidelines of HNW, whereas McKinlay himself has
continually pushed onward, unwilling to plough the same terrain for too long, only content
while scratching deeper into the creative recesses of his mind. Dig into any of the many The
Rita releases and you’ll find a trove of overt sexual imagery, allusions to silent film, and most
interestingly, more shark sounds/references/worship than you ever thought possible, all playing
crucial roles in both the context and actual sound of his music. It’s an eclectic and delightfully
confusing mix, performed with the reverence and dedication that only a true maniac can
provide. The Rita was a mystery to me in a lot of ways before this interview, and after learning
a bit about his personality and gaining insight into his thought process, The Rita has only grown
One of first things that stood out to me about The Rita was the name. I’ve thought
about it a lot, and it strikes me in a strange way, like it doesn’t sound harsh or discomforting,
yet I think it somehow fits the music. Where did the name come from?
The title of the project is taken from the name of the barge that motors up the Amazon in
The Creature From the Black Lagoon. I’m also infatuated with women’s names, especially
actresses from the silent and pre-code film era, so via my personal tastes, it’s thematically nice
to have The Rita up on the releases and posters, as it constantly brings to mind for me Lya De
Putti, Evelyn Brent, Carmel Myers, etc.
I understand that The Rita plays “wall noise”, which I think is a fairly apt descriptor. How
does this differ from, say, harsh noise, or power-electronics, in your perspective?
The Rita’s style of “wall noise” is straying further and further away every month from the
contemporary strategies of the HNW (harsh noise wall) artists of today. The early years of the
project was focused on violent and moving harsh noise, but always with a gelling factor that
caused the works to be one constant moving ocean of rough sound. I was (and still am) a big
fan of harsh noise projects like Dead Body Love, Macronympha, Skin Crime, Ovmn, Incapacitants,
etc., and I was participating in the genre I personally thought they represented. In the early ’00s,
the direction was made a little more directed by “deconstructing the harsh noise object” and
defining factors within the avalanches of ’90s American-style harsh noise. The resulting works,
such as (the developmental) Magazine and Total Slitting of Throats, represented
harsh noise as a massive unchanging wall that took my colleagues and I’s favorite aspect(s) of
gritty harsh noise and magnified the sounds for maximum obsession and enjoyment. The “wall
noise” I play, especially with the more recent works, sits me right back into the harsh noise
genre, the early ’00s acting like a developmental stage for me as now the extended “walls” of
texture are articulated within a more animated conception. The strategies of “drama” and
segmented sound areas to build violence via power-electronics interest me also; projects like
Con-Dom, Ultra, and Iugula-Thor being incredibly influential to Josh Rose (Rundownsun) and I’s
power-electronics project BT. HN.
How did you first find out about noise as an art form?
I have always been interested in the arts as far as I can remember, from drawing sharks
repeatedly as a little kid, to realizing the sound/noise tendencies of the feedback solos of Big
Black in high school as I began to do abstract expressionist painting, etc. So, it didn’t take long
for me to perceive harsh noise as a variable of “sound art”, as harsh noise is abstracting sound
texturally, dynamically, or otherwise. I took a hiatus from recording when I did my BFA; focusing
mostly on minimalist painting, installation, and landscape pieces taking influence from artists
such as Richard Serra, Ad Reinhardt, Richard Long, Barnett Newman, George Trakas, etc. I
started recording again when I got my degree and immediately started to translate what I studied
and articulated in school further into the harsh noise technique that I was interested in doing.
Most recently, the physicality of the source sound recordings, live and pre-recorded, has begun
to take the project down to more of a “performance art” avenue, which I still equate with
deconstruction and power through minimalism.
How important is the sound source for a The Rita recording? For example, if a recording is
based on the sound of grinding skate trucks instead of a no-input mixer, what difference does
that make to you?
Source sounds are the primary driving force behind my work, especially in the last few years as
drawing from personal dynamic interests can be pencilled with harsh noise technique, virtually
bringing forth the various passions into different harsh sound works. I don’t ever use feedback
loops, so my version of a “no input mixer” would be a white noise generator that is sculpted
personally (like a guitar) with a harsh noise artist’s specifically chosen and articulated chain of
effects. I have been lucky enough to have colleagues that have built me specific white noise
generators that do different things I’ve asked for, from the original WNG #2 from Sirkut, to the
dual-filtered “THE RITA IN A BOX” from Damion Romero, to the deep filtered feature of the
Traumatone WNG – all great pieces that generate the sound that set the stages for either heavy
textural manipulation, or set a stage for a violent mic’d source (live or otherwise).
Are there any sound sources you’d like to work with, but haven’t yet been able to, be it
for financial or physical limitations?
Years ago, I tried to mic the surface feeding tendencies of the Great White Shark they had at
Monterey Bay Aquarium, but as expected (and I very much appreciate) they didn’t want anyone
uncertified in there messing with the feeding program – even if I could possibly get a grant from
Canada Arts Council. There are plans in the works for recording a live Reef, Bull, and Whitetip
shark feeding; being part of a group dive in the Caribbean that has the sharks all around them
as they feed, nudging and scraping past the divers. That’s looking far into the future though,
as it means raising the funds to do so. This summer I’m hoping to do mic’d surface ocean fishing,
work more with the voices of women, and look further into the inherent abstract harsh noise
dynamics of Vodou percussion.
Why do you think you’re so interested in sharks? What draws you to them?
My deepest rooted interest is in sharks. I was born in 1973 and remember at a very young
age being exposed to a lot of the JAWS movie advertising, and as we all know, JAWS
was the first film to fully embrace the blockbuster and tie-in marketing phenomenon that is
now standard. I still have the first large rubber shark I got as a toddler, and its characteristics
are very much like ‘Bruce’, the mechanical shark from JAWS. Because of JAWS,
the ’70s were inundated with exploitive shark paraphernalia via magazines, articles, and TV specials,
and I was always front row center to cut out the pictures and watch all the different shows. I
think that’s why these days I’ve really embraced more than ever the interest in the shark as
human predator; I’m incredibly fascinated with the legendary Great White, Oceanic Whitetip, Bull,
and Tiger shark attacks of this century. Many know that I am also a classic horror and monster
movie fan, so the true-life visions of something like the monstrous shark attacks on the Jersey
coast of 1916 and the California coast of 1959 really feed the flames of my interest in the shark
and especially how it’s seemingly vicious characteristics are translated through cinema, books,
comics, and most especially the exploitive shark magazines of the ’70s. Don’t get me wrong,
I can definitely be called an arm chair naturalist when it comes to sharks and their biology and
protection, but I also have an unquenchable interest in the shark as some abstract killer created
by man’s imagination. Sometimes I think that I like Bruce from JAWS more than I like real
I feel like there is a lot of creativity put into each The Rita record, but I can’t say I really
have much understanding of your personality, or the person behind The Rita. Is this intentional,
or am I just missing something?
It’s obviously hard for me to describe how I convey myself to friends and people hanging out
in a social environment, but some have told me that my various obsessions and interests usually
emanate from my personality as I randomly discuss topics and objects. So yes, much of the
time my creative drive and portrayed interests though harsh noise are very much extensions of
my direct person. Much like Joe Roemer and the girl he had on stage at the first Macronympha
No Fun Fest performance, to me she was a direct action/portrayal of his personal obsession(s).
Basically, I will play a live set with shark, diving, and nylon samples; then I will proceed to hang
around the rest of the night thinking only about the Decima MAS, Oceanic Whitetip sharks, and
the tangible small group of women across the room wearing American Apparel stirrup stockings.
Is the loudness of your music crucial to its enjoyment? Would it be a waste to listen to
The Rita at a lower volume?
The issues of volume come up a lot in conversation with peers, and most of the time it’s conveyed
that the textural, shifting, and “dynamic” areas of harsh sound can be appreciated on a “quieter”
level; as long as it’s audible, the sound and construction can be appreciated. There are obviously
different issues though, as many works from projects like The Incapacitants have to be literally
turned up on the stereo to massive levels to appreciate all the punishing low end that acts as a
base for the feedback and mic work. As a harshhead, I like to personally play The Rita sets very loud,
but have had times when the PA isn’t really up to par, making me almost subconsciously play more
with textural detail and lines of sound. It’s like going into a studio and being presented with a large
canvas and then a small canvas; essentially the same ideals are there, but they are played out
with different physical natures for the audience and artist due to the pure volume.
Do you picture The Rita growing into something different over time, or can we always expect
a fairly similar result from each new release? Is there room for “wall noise” to grow into something
different, or is its monolithic presence essentially the point?
Again, I don’t consider myself a “wall noise” artist when compared to the lengths that contemporary
HNW artists have taken the genre. My peers and I, in the “early” days of the sub-genre, considered
acts like The Incapacitants and Ovmn wall noise. I have been referred to recently on a few
occasions of being “American style” harsh noise, and I have always seen myself lumped into that
space and time; developing personal sample work into harsh noise. The more “militant” works of wall
noise I participated in I see as a very important time for me where I looked deep into the construction
of harsh noise and picked apart the elements that interested me. Like looking at the ingredients
and finding out why you like the taste of something. All that said and done, some of my
recent works that are studies of sparse crunch and crackle (two harsh noise elements I’ve loved
from the beginning) are a natural extension of HNW – looking in between the spaces of texture
and movement in the sound.
If someone was interested in checking out The Rita for the first time, what release
would you recommend?
I try to put a lot of time and conception into my harsh noise works, so they all act as a stage of
development for me, but if I had to pick one it would be Bodies Bear Traces of Carnal Violence.
Runners up would be:
Thousands of Dead Gods
The Voyage of the Decima MAS
Flapper Influence From French Prostitutes
Sea Wolf Leviathan
The Nylons of Laura Antonelli
The Tortured Ghosts of Creeks and Rivers
Snorkel / Skate
What can we expect from The Rita next? Any upcoming recordings or tours?
No immediate tour plans as of yet, but this year I have some upcoming releases, most notably a
CD released by R Loren, a 7″ collaboration with Prurient, a 7″ with Presto!?, a 7″ with Ketchup
Cavern (featuring women singing from Eurocine SS exploitation films), and more work with Vice
Wears Black Hose. My label Lake Shark Harsh Noise will feature a pro-cassette release from Vast
Glory, a solo project by Ian Gregory James, a Canadian master of the noise medium who has also
worked with Josh Rose (Sick Buildings / Rundownsun) in the power-electronics project Blouse.
Anika Anika LP (Stones Throw)
I generally equate Stones Throw with dank-scented, crate-dug hip hop, but that’s changing, thanks to the recent Minimal Wave comp and Anika’s peculiar debut. From what I’ve gathered, this is a Portishead guy and his side-project band backing up a woman named Anika, and together they’ve fashioned a delightful album of ’60s covers (and a couple originals), all twisted into a dubby post-punk format. Imagine Mi Ami and someone from Prinzhorn Dance School, all nice and high, inspired by the production of King Tubby and Young Marble Giants’ humble efficiency, all fronted by a Nico who doesn’t require constant attention. The album is jammed live with simple, mostly-guitarless songs, every instrument soaked wet with reverb. I’m not particularly familiar with any of the original tunes they cover (shame on me), but they chose wisely, as my issue with a lot of this sort of detached post-punk is its insistent focus on style rather than hooks, but the hooks here are plentiful. The tunes on Anika all come equipped with distinct lines and melodies, possibly because they were initially written solely for their pop memorability, but hey, it works. “Terry”, “Yang Yang” and “No One’s There” are my personal favorites; all simple, weird, strongly defined, and ultimately memorable for being songs rather than the cool style in which they are delivered. Anika almost flew above my radar, I mean it’s a pretty strange concept without a large promotional backing, but I’ve been digging it more with every listen, singing along to “Terry” and “No One’s There” as my anemic Euro accent best allows. Vhat a klahn.
Animal City You Win Some, You Loser LP (Sophomore Lounge)
Alright, that title cracked me up. Sounds like a Steven Wright album or something. Took a look at the band on the back cover, and I swear these scruffy, flanneled, early 20s guys have all served me burritos or gelato in the past year. It’s an epidemic, this style of aimless, post-collegiate, middle-class male, but Animal City have won me over with their modest and charming rock. I’m definitely picking up a Ted Leo and the Pharmacists vibe here; it sounds pretty great, they’re all tight players, and they seem to be having way too much fun. I also hear some Promise Ring, maybe a little Wolf Colonel too, and most of YGR’s angry goth readership are thumbing their noses, but I can’t deny the enjoyability that comes with a well-edited, snappy rock band like this, even if they’ve got a typical-for-the-times band name (and even go so far as to do that annoying “vowels removed” hipster slang on the back cover). Even as I get older and uglier, I refuse to entirely hate anyone and everyone on the grounds that they are not as bitter as myself; bands like Animal City are chicken soup for the soul.
Autre Ne Veut Autre Ne Veut LP (Olde English Spelling Bee)
There’s something great about new artists who, upon first listen, render it impossible to determine if they’re a hilarious satire or serious musicians actually looking for sincere respect. The first few moments of opener “Tell Me” hits that sweet spot hard, simultaneously insulting and praising early 90’s synth-pop / radio R&B through its catchy hook, amateurish delivery and outrageously corny sound palette. Next comes “OMG”, which sounds like Casey And His Brother jamming with Simple Minds. I can’t help but picture the guys in Sockeye offering up something similar if they ever tried their hand at electro-pop, but at the same time, these songs are kind of entertaining, even showing signs of actual effort on occasion. And then the wildly embarrassing vocal hook of “Wake Up” hits, like a drunken roommate in the shower thinking he’s home alone, and I’m once again wondering what I’m doing with my life listening to this musical practical joke. Autre Ne Veut continues with this queasy emotional flip-flop between amusement and anger – I can’t remember the last record I heard that was both so stupid and engaging. For all the boring and uniform records that I hear, I am ultimately thankful that things like Autre Ne Veut continue to spring up, as no matter how much I may hate it at any particular moment, it’s a genuine freakshow, which is more than most artists could ever manage to be.
Brain F So Dim / Symptom Set 7″ (Grave Mistake)
Had to write the label about this one… the band’s email address refers to them as Brain Flannel, the cover goes with the more esoteric “brain F≠”, and Grave Mistake has confirmed I should go by Brain F. So there you go. Remember when punk bands just called themselves the Crucifucks and left it at that? Anyway, Brain F pretty much redeem these slight annoyances on this single. “So Dim” is a nice mid-paced rager, sounding thick and full without becoming overblown, and it comes with a pretty cool little hook and enjoyably snotty vocals. The image of flannel and the “brain” in the name conjure images of Brain Handle, but soundwise it’s a good fit too, like Brain F could be Brain Handle’s spunky younger sibling, raised on Dangerhouse bootlegs and convenience store food. “Symptom Set” has a similar energy… it’s as if Brain F adopted the fuzzy, noisy-laced recording of Times New Viking and their ilk and applied it to brooding hardcore punk. If they forgot to write songs, it’d be awful, but Brain F put together two solid tracks, even if the brevity of “Symptom Set” left me hanging. “Leave ’em wanting more”, I guess, and they do.
Breton Counter Balance EP 12″ (Hemlock)
Are you ready for a dubstep band? That’s what Breton are, and from their association with the great Hemlock label, and alleged praise from Coldplay’s Chris Martin, these British gents are poised for, well, something. I was a bit leery of the idea myself, as most electronic music styles don’t need a rock substitute… if I want something sweet, I use cane sugar, not Splenda, you know? Still, Breton manage to go down without that bitter aftertaste, as their approach heavily favors electronics over guitars. It’s a pretty weird sound, really – imagine Untold or Pangaea trying their hands at hip-hop instrumentals, with a Brit-pop guy mumbling some rhymes in his charming cockney accent, tastefully augmented with live bass, guitars, and plenty of empty space. “December” is probably the hit, sounding a lot like Ratatat with a solid vocal hook, but the rest of the songs barely qualify as songs, just kind of fading in here and there with understated beats, hollow rhythms and a minimalist approach you wouldn’t normally expect from a group that has a chance at becoming The Next Big Thing. I appreciate that they keep it weird here, pretty true to the Hemlock mission statement, and avoid the populist dance-floor in favor of testing the waters as a young band and figuring out what they are capable of and what they want to do. I’ve been playing this one a lot, but it’s really the prospect of where Breton go from here that has me excited.
James Brewster As A Hovering Insect Mass Breaks Your Fall CD (Make Mine Music)
Here’s an English composer / sound artist who surely delights in the “experimental / other” classification his music receives in record shops. Real quirky and free-spirited stuff, broken into six different tracks. You might hear the sound of running water, an Englishman singing some sort of Norwegian opera, various humming drones, speedy spoken word, computer-edited harps, field-recordings chopped up into a trip-hop beat, maybe even some emotional acoustic guitar with stereo-panned bells ringing. This sound good to you? I’d imagine Brewster would make a killer uncle, eager to show his nephews and nieces all the crazy sculptures he built and funny recordings he made on his computer since their last visit, as his excitement and energy to create come through pretty clearly on As A Hovering Insect Mass Breaks Your Fall (a title I refuse to say out loud). I’m probably not going to put this on again, it’s kind of an “enjoy it once and you’re done” album, but there’s nothing wrong with that. Walk into Brewster’s workshop, check out his gallery of sound, and get lost for a little while.
Brown Angel Brown Angel LP (Thunderhaus)
Some rock groups play a part for eight times before switching to another, others push it to sixteen, and a select few never bother to count. Pittsburgh’s Brown Angel fall into the latter camp, pounding out ultra-heavy, bass-led sludge, less as a means of songcraft and more as a method of slowly getting lost inside their own thunderous rapture. Imagine a beardless Neurosis, or a working-class Sunn 0)), and Brown Angel’s silhouette starts to emerge. When the second track kicks in, I get a “Harvey Milk interpreting the works of Swans” vibe too, which is nearly as cool as that actual reality would be. Those Gira-ish vocals maintain for most of the record, but I’m partial to the “noble warrior returns home” vocal styling for which Asunder are known, prominent on opener “Danava Bhanjana Rama”. The screened back cover relates Brown Angel as a 33 rpm-playing album, but you’ll be second guessing its accuracy throughout the record’s duration, surely the mark of a successful doom record.
Chauchat Songs for Scaffolding LP (Monotone / Unread)
I’m gonna guess that 90% of Yellow Green Red’s readership hates stuff like Chauchat. Vulnerable indie / post-emo with skinny white male vocals, slow-mo guitar and heart-on-sleeve lyrics. My death cab certainly doesn’t belong to cutie, but in the right set of circumstances, I can get down with quiet and mopey rock such as this, even with artists like Chauchat, with whom I haven’t already formed a bond. What can I say, Songs for Scaffolding hits the same spot as Kepler’s Fuck Fight Fail, Bedhead’s Beheaded, and yes, even Bright Eyes’ Every Day and Every Night. There’s no big emotional grandstand from Chauchat, no embarrassing instrumentation (you know, ukuleles or trumpets or fiddles), no artistic statement, just a bunch of depressed-for-no-reason songs that surround you like an awful womb on that rainy Sunday you’re still trying to forget. You probably didn’t watch Dawson’s Creek from start to finish like I did, so I’m not expecting a deep Chauchat connection out of all of you, but it hits that particular spot for me quite nicely.
Circle Pit Sewercide / Roll With The Punches 7″ (Sweet Rot / R.I.P. Society)
More great sleaze-punk from Australia’s Circle Pit on this colorful new single. The artwork describes the sound of Circle Pit more eloquently than my words ever could: a random collage of images swiped from your older brother’s Gorezone, Metal Maniacs and Hustler collection in 1989, all vying for the eye’s attention in a swirl of heavy metal smut. That sort of electricity charges “Sewercide”, one of the rowdiest Circle Pit tunes I’ve heard; I can just picture that skinnymalinks guitarist accidentally snapping a humerus by strumming too hard on this one. “Roll With The Punches” sounds like a cover song, and maybe it is, thanks to a wonderfully glammy groove that sounds like the earliest Sweet demo tape, complete with dopey guitar solo and the two vocalists trying to out-slur each other with every volleyed line. I’m trying to pick a favorite between the two cuts, but they’re both such sloppy fun that it’s a moot point. Circle Pit are here to stay!
Dharma Technology and Truth LP (Skrot Up)
If you’re looking for female artists who gravitate towards the darker side of life, you’ve currently got plenty to choose from: Zola Jesus, Tamaryn, Circuit des Yeux, Glasser, LA Vampires, US Girls and Grouper all come to the top of my head, not to mention the many others I’m forgetting. Gotta say, I think they’re mostly all pretty great (notice I didn’t mention Tickley Feather), and Dharma is the latest name to hit my radar, care of the always-entertaining Skrot Up label. Like Zola Jesus when she first got started, Technology and Truth is a pretty murky record, probably all played on a keyboard (or keypad), its drum programming and various synth melodies sandwiched in a fidelity-blurring stack. It kind of creeps along, echoing into the void, the vocals difficult to follow with the lyric sheet (and impossible without). No breakout tracks here, just a sturdy, freaky bundle of music, pretty perfect for the art-school haunted house you’ve been trying to put together. The more I listen, the more I dig it, but I’m accustomed to this sort of cryptic, homespun synth-wave, and those who aren’t might not find themselves as easily charmed. Dharma may not have the most unique or intriguing voice going, but I wouldn’t put it past her to shock the hell out of me with whatever comes next.
Donato Dozzy K 2xLP (Further)
eems like a bunch of exciting techno albums came out in the final weeks of 2010, Donato Dozzy’s K being one of the most obscure. Released on a small Seattle label, without “Donato Dozzy” or “Further Records” anywhere on the jacket or vinyl, and pressed in a presumably small amount, this double LP was geared to be a personal and private experience from the start. Digging in, the first untitled track sounds exactly like the soundtrack to a sensual porno, barely cruising at like 60 bpm while two lovers swap back massages in the nude. Not at all what I was expecting after falling hard for Dozzy’s razor-sharp minimal collabs with Nuel, but I can get into it. The rest of the album, while not quite as slow and meditative, follows suit, clearly geared for submersible home listening; the track that opens side C sounds like something Tin Man would’ve sung over, like the dreams techno music has when it’s sleeping. Serious subliminal-meditation music. K isn’t for everyone, and I’m pretty sure that I wouldn’t have been ready to indulge in its riches years earlier when I was just dipping my toes in the world of techno. It’s an incredibly minimal record, one where patience and immersion are greatly rewarded, especially to those who can focus intently, while those listeners who need something substantial to instantly sink their teeth into might be wondering what the fuss is all about. If you don’t get it at first, ask your guests to leave, lay on your floor, play it loud, and see if you don’t start to levitate a little.
Gentleman Jesse & His Men You’ve Got the Wrong Man / Stubborn Ghost 7″ (Hozac)
Never quite caught Gentleman Jesse fever like many of my fellow grown-up punker types after a quick and dismissive sampling of his debut LP and whatever single preceeded it. He’s been sticking it out, though, and through my instant connection with both sides of this smart little single, I may have to keep up from this point onward. “You’ve Got the Wrong Man” waits roughly five seconds before slugging out the hook, a pretty pitch-perfect example of American power-pop. It’s tidy, fun, expressive, fits the genre without feeling generic, and is all I really could’ve hoped to hear. “Stubborn Ghost” feels less like a classic powerpearl and more like something Chisel would’ve done in the mid ’90s, more of a relaxed-fit tune that still cuts through the rest of the pack. Seriously, is the rest of Gentleman Jesse’s output this good?
Girls of Porn Girls of Porn 7″ (no label)
That’s right, the “Girls of Porn”, from Albany, NY. Pretty sure there are actually no female porno actresses in this group – my guess is a bunch of repressed young dorks, and judging from the out-of-control, borderline unintelligible blast of garage they’ve got cooking, I’m probably not too far off. Four songs here, one of which is titled “NBA Jam”, and they all kind of blend together into this chaotic mash of treble, snare drum and vocals. At times I’m reminded of a particularly unforgiving Clockcleaner live recording, or more distinctly, Puffy Areolas in their scorched earth policy style of attack. Don’t expect to remember songs after you spin this one, just the sensation of walking barefoot across hot blacktop. I know they wouldn’t want to hear this, but Girls of Porn almost remind me of that second wave of screamo, where the Makaras and Index for Potential Suicides just completely upped the ante by pushing the form beyond its limit, past songwriting and style, and instead just exaggerated its attributes as far as they could stretch. You don’t hear much talk about those groups today, and you probably won’t hear too many people reminiscing about Girls of Porn in ten years either, as this sort of thing is just too visceral and momentary to have any lasting impact. Still, Girls of Porn are here for you now, and if you want them to yank off an earring or two, this 7″ will do it.
H100s Live LP (Noncommercial)
Revoke my punk license if you must, but I never got into H100s like so many others did. Back when Havoc sold its 7″s at the nice price of five for $10, I would’ve picked Heist, Code 13 and Aus Rotten over these guys, no contest. I just didn’t hear any hits, and besides, Nine Shocks Terror showed up a couple years later and totally blew everything else away anyway. I probably would’ve let this post-mortem live LP lie, but curiosity and a reverence for hardcore’s past got the best of me, so here I am, getting yelled at by multiple Erbas all over again. For a live record, the sound quality here is impeccable, and thanks to a particularly punchy drum sound, Live is possibly superior to the original H100s records. The songs are fast and blazing, and in the context of the rest of the show’s bill (Integrity, 25 ta Life, Apartment 213 and One Life Crew’s second live performance), it’s a particularly raw and uncompromising set. The band spends nearly as much time arguing with the audience, baiting skinheads and making bad jokes as they do actually playing songs, which will annoy some, but for my money it offers a nice glimpse into the Cleveland hardcore experience circa 1995. I love this stuff, both historically and musically, and while it’s far from a necessity, I can’t think of a better fifteen year-old Midwest time capsule to crack open.
Hum of the Druid Norse Fumigation LP (SNSE)
I always figured a druid’s hum would be something of a pleasant, transcendent om, but that’s not quite how sound sculptor Eric Stonefelt sees things, as his work as Hum of the Druid invokes the unsettling sounds of a post-apocalyptic landscape (or at least the terror of being awoken at 7:00 am by the garbageman dragging an empty metal can across the sidewalk). I’m reminded of Aube by the list of sound materials used to create Norse Fumigation (metals, water, glass, guitar, vocals), but Stonefelt uses these everyday items to create the sound of erosion and decay, demonstrating the slow rub of tectonic plates against one another and humanity’s futility in stopping it. SNSE seems to either want to sear the listener’s ears with a physical blast of noise or slowly devour them in a vat of quicksand, and Hum of the Druid certainly follows the latter approach. Wander elsewhere if you want to enjoy color and emotion, fire up Norse Fumigation if you want to slowly melt into your carpet.
It Sound Hard Pop for Blue Trees LP (End Up)
The name “It Sound” can be taken two ways here: the sound of “It”, as in the sound of that distinctive current thing in music, the audible zeitgeist care of one humble artist, or the IT Sound, as in the guys in your office’s IT department making good use of the Guitar Center gift cards their mother-in-laws gave them for Christmas. I’d say that It Sound is combo of the two, as Hard Pop For Blue Trees (hey, I didn’t name it that, don’t kill the messenger) is a home-recorded mess of ideas, but at least it’s a pleasant mess. It’s like walking into your friend’s cluttered apartment and being amused by his selection of old magazines and random action figures lined up across his bookcase, that strange and specific mix of slight amusement and disgust. It Sound’s Jesse Damm uses a drum machine, various guitars and vocals, yet there’s nothing Blank Dogsian about Hard Pop at all… it’s too funky, really, but an awkward white-guy funk, one that in particular makes me think of Jandek jamming with Cake and the guy from Her Space Holiday singing over top. Oof. This is one of those records I never need to hear again, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I end up hearing something off Hard Pop For Blue Trees on WFMU in the future and enjoy it in that moment. If WFMU were vampires, these sort of inexplicable, dead-end weirdo records would be their blood, and I love them for that.
Low Threat Profile Product #2 LP (Deep Six)
With five more inches of vinyl and three more songs than their debut record, Low Threat Profile are back in LP form with Product #2. A lot of people dismissed the debut as less than the sum of its parts, but I stood by it as a solid slab of classic Deep Six hardcore (pop open any of the first three Reality comps for another example). Low Threat Profile are essentially the United States’ dream team for the Hardcore Olympics, with guys from Infest, Lack of Interest and No Comment holding it down, so I can’t hold it against those who expect only the highest caliber fast-core from them. Unfortunately, Product #2 seems to be running on fumes after their debut’s full tank. I love when they blast away on “Flesh Blood Bone” and “My Only Friends”, but those songs seem to be in the minority among the more mid-tempo, snappy hardcore songs that remind me more of Carpenter Ant or Failure Face. Along with that weird “don’t sign a record contract” song, which is more confusing than anything else, I’m wondering why I am reminded of certain second- and third-tier hardcore acts of the past twenty years instead of the legendary bands these guys formed. The hardcore dedication song “My One and Only”, plus the song “Back To Basics” put us eerily in Rick Ta Life territory, certainly not where I was expecting this band to go. It’s incredibly hard to write quality hardcore music for more than a couple years, let alone decades, but Low Threat Profile don’t seem to be up to the feat that only Gauze and a select few lifers have accomplished. Can’t blame them for trying, but you won’t catch me reaching for Product #2 all that often.
Milk Music Beyond Living 12″ (no label)
Much like Broken Water and Gun Outfit, Milk Music are another Pac NW hard rock band mining late ’80s SST / pre-grunge guitar music. And much like the records those first two bands have released, I find Milk Music’s Beyond Living to be pretty enjoyable. Milk Music probably sound the most retro of the three, thanks in no part to the absolutely killer guitar tone, far too fuzzed-out to be as beautifully melodic as it is. I can picture Kim Thayil’s chin hair curling and Joe Carducci’s forehead wrinkling upon contact with Milk Music’s guitars – they’re really that sweet. That’s definitely the high point here for me though, as the vocalist has a loud warble that detracts from the otherwise chill melodicism, kind of like a blood vessel-popping version of Lou Barlow mixed with the guy from Hickey. It’s an annoying distraction, but I could deal if the songs themselves triumphed…. unfortunately, the first five tracks leave me feeling empty-handed beyond the astounding guitars. “Out Of My World” is pretty killer though, as the vocals calm down a bit and move to the side while the guitars burn with the fire of “Cherub Rock” as performed by ZZ Top. I really do dig this tune, and I’ll be sure to check out whatever Milk Music does next, although I’ll be waiting for a set of freebie MP3s to taste-test before plunking down my dough.
Moritz Von Oswald Trio / Digital Mystikz Restructure 2 12″ (Honest Jon’s)
Nice to see that the Moritz Von Oswald Trio is sticking with it, Restructure 2 being a short teaser for their next upcoming full-length. If you dug Vertical Ascent, you might as well pull up a chair to this one too; “Restructure 2” is an airy and grooving addition to the family, complete with a guitar riff courtesy of Paul St. Hilare. St. Hilare’s riff kinda sounds like The Edge or something, and as the groove slowly builds, I almost expect Bono to tell me how to change the world, at least until the keys start cutting through the clouds and Sasu Ripatti’s percussion livens up. Not much dub here, just a low-calorie jam sesh that has me hankering for the other three “Restructure” cuts. Digital Mystikz take care of the remix on the flip, cutting the BPM in half, and adding the thud and clap just as one would expect. I haven’t really been feeling Digital Mystikz lately, and while it’s a nice contrast to the original, the ‘Mystikz play it pretty safe and simple, ironic as they are remixing a group who have clearly avoided placing any stylistic limitations on themselves.
New Lows Harvest of the Carcass LP (Deathwish)
A couple years ago, I was in Boston at a hardcore show, and during one of the first bands, some sort of fight broke out outside of the venue, complete with someone getting pushed into a hedge, punches, yelling, and a total lack of decorum. I later found out that it was members of New Lows involved in the altercation, and upon blasting Harvest of the Carcass, it makes perfect sense – metallic hardcore this punishing and sinister can only be played by people who don’t care if they ruin a good thing for others. In their lean and heavy riffs, I hear Integrity, Left for Dead, Blood for Blood, maybe even a little Bolt Thrower, too; you either mosh or get out of the way, but there’s a good chance you’ll get hurt either way while enjoying New Lows. I find myself getting bored by a lot of modern metal-core, but there’s really no chance of that happening here; Harvest of the Carcass wastes no time with its riffs, going from fast to slow to slower in under three minutes and just delivering what you want to hear. No intros, no backing vocals, certainly no “noise”, just the meat. Pretty much the perfect gym album, as New Lows are unrelenting in their approach (and I swear I heard the singer cap off one mosh part by screaming “gimme ten more!”). We all need at least one record like this in our monthly rotations.
Nihiti Other People’s Memories LP (Lo Bit Landscapes)
Other People’s Memories is a hard record to explain: you’ve got glitchy techno, orchestral dirges, synth-pop, vocals, instrumentals, plinky pianos, guitar noodling, live drums, programming… what are you supposed to do with this sort of thing? Just in the first four tracks, Nihiti offer the pagan ritual of “No Angel Came”, some mild electro in “Mighty Neon Fragment”, and the befuddling “The Ringing In (The Sun Is Rung)”, which sounds like Arcade Fire or The Walkmen or the inside of an Urban Outfitters. Stick around a little longer and there’s a middling violin / piano jam; things continue to spiral outward into various realms for the duration of the album. I’m making Other People’s Memories sound like more of a jumbled predicament than it is, though; Nihiti clearly suffer from the same sort of artistic ADD that made This Heat so appealing, a similarly bubbling well of ideas that they have the means and patience to put to tape. I’m sure some people love it, but through the variety of styles and sensations on here, I haven’t had a chance to really connect with Nihiti, as if they are guarding their true selves through distraction and intentional mystery. It doesn’t feel like an album so much as a collection of scattered ideas. You ever go on a date with someone and feel like you had an alright time, even though you gathered absolutely no new insight into that person? That’s how Nihiti has left me. If they can pick a focus and open up a little bit, maybe we’ll really click on the second date.
Sandwell District Feed Forward 2xLP & 7″ (Sandwell District)
Much as it’s true with people, if an artist presents him- or herself in such a convincingly “I’m the coolest thing around” sort of way, it becomes the truth. Sandwell District, a loosely-defined collective of dark and menacing techno producers, have stepped out from behind the label to present this debut album, Feed Forward, in a manner that appeals to almost any human with an interest in modern electronic music vinyl – a slick double LP (both on clear vinyl) with an untitled 7″, released in such a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it edition that, well, most people seemed to have blinked. Does it get much more brazen and cool than this for a techno full-length? A few unsavory flippers have already posted it on Discogs for $150+ (I wonder if anyone is taking the bait), but the digital files are floating around for free, so even the paupers among us can enjoy Sandwell District’s uniquely bitter techno. Allegedly “Sandwell District” is the likes of Female, Regis, Silent Servant and maybe another person, working either collaboratively or separately on these tracks, and it’s the variety of minds all focusing on a similar goal that makes Feed Forward stand out, aside from the hype. It’s filled with hypnotic and dreary bangers like “Hunting Lodge” and “Grey Cut Out”, but the a-side suite of “Immolare” works on a more ambient tip, settling the listener into Sandwell District’s interrogation room for a solemn moment before the investigation begins. The 7″ departs further from anything close to dub techno with two lengthy cuts on each side… the a-side could be confused for Oneohtrix Point Never, and the flip could be a Wolf Eyes remix of Oneohtrix Point Never, like the sound of a Sandwell District party crushed by an industrial garbage compactor (at least until the sun rises in its final moments). Sandwell District have really given us a lot to chew on here, with clearly a remarkable amount of effort on their end. I’m sold; they really are cool.
SBTRKT Step In Shadows 12″ (Young Turks)
There are plenty of purposely-anonymous techno producers out there, but only one who wears a large African mask to conceal his identity: the vowel-less SBTRKT. That sort of playfulness comes through on Step In Shadows, particularly the first cut, “Look At Stars”, which pairs a puffed-up electro beat with a great vocal by Sampha, who emotes sharply with a winking eye and androgynous tone. The type of tune I’d expect to hear during a crowd’s transition from sedentary to full range of motion, and undoubtedly the EP’s strongest track. The rest of the EP is instrumental, dishing out some modern UK house that nods at dubstep and techno without ever converging on either. Cool sounds, although it’s a little less notable than the stuff I’m hearing from Cosmin TRG or Roska, two producers who sell a similar product. SBTRKT follows a straighter path than those two, which ultimately leads to a less exciting listening experience than that of someone willing to stray a bit further from the grid. You don’t need this record, but the potential of continued SBTRKT / Sampha collaborations has me excited for the future.
Scorch Trio Melaza CD (Rune Grammofon)
There is nary a holier trinity than guitar, bass and drums, and Scorch Trio (an improv-jazz unit with standard rock instrumentation) do not desecrate it, nor do they elevate it to an even higher standard. I enjoy when quick-handed, thoughtful musicians get together and tease their instruments, but it’s rare that I am ever impressed to the point of wanting to listen to it repeatedly, or talk to my friends about it, and Scorch Trio are no exception – they do a revved-up number, then a few noodly jams, a bass solo, and before I know it, the record has ended. Much in the way that so many “experimental” records just sound like each other and aren’t really experimental in a literal sense, Melaza sounds like many other guitar trio improv records, which makes me wonder if the action of improvisation doesn’t just infer a specific set of musical moves to many of the people who perform it. It’s not bad, it’s just that unless you’re the unchallenged virtuoso on your specific instrument, I don’t find much interest in more-of-the-same improv, a style where surprise should be constant, not rare. These three guys are going at it pretty much non-stop for the majority of the record, how can they not even stop and just listen to each other for a while, as improvisers? Whatever, I’m no expert, and the men in Scorch Trio may be, but unless you are an unflinching fan of the genre, Scorch Trio offer no more than a competent rerun with Melaza.
Shackleton Fabric 55 CD (Fabric)
Here it is, Shackleton’s Fabric mix, joining the ranks of Ricardo Villalobos and Omar S in the “all original material for the Fabric mix” club. I waited a little before checking this one out, assuming it would be a solid hour of monolithic, experimental techno, and I was right – Fabric 55 is a pretty massive undertaking, even for the most dedicated listener. Shackleton has essentially forged his own unique brand of electronic music, and nowhere is it more evident than here; through 22 tracks, Shackleton weaves deviously heavy bass rhythms, disembodied vocals of various cultures, tribal percussion and a steely propulsion into his sonic DNA, putting together a mix that couldn’t be mistaken for anyone else. You get classics like “Death Is Not Final”, “Moon Over Joseph’s Burial” and “Negative Thoughts” among previously unreleased tracks, clearly illustrating Shackleton’s ability to smack various sounds and techniques with his distinct imprint. This singularity works both ways on a mix like this, though, as the endless stream of Shackleton can wear a person down, much in the way that the comfort of a rainstorm can quickly lead to restlessness and anxiety as the clouds continue to pour for the fourth day in a row. How much bongo can you take? I can handle Shackleton’s blacks and greys pretty well though, and because “Man On A String”, his most recent single, is probably my favorite cut out of the whole lot, I only see greater things to come from this unusual individual.
Straight Arrows It’s Happening LP (Juvenile / Rice Is Nice)
Here’s one of the current Aussie punk groups that I haven’t really heard much by, Straight Arrows, stepping out into full-length terrain with this nice-looking, long-playing release. On first spin, their earnest and poppy garage-rock seemed to reach the same mid-level as most Hozac forgettables, perhaps given more leeway only because of my untamed Australia fetish. It’s Happening struck me much like the turtleneck that one band member is wearing on the back cover: good in theory, and it looks sharp, but once I put it on and my hair gets all static-y and my neck starts to itch, I realize it may not have been the best decision. I love guitarist Angela Bermuda’s other band, Circle Pit, so I stuck it out a bit longer, and I’ll admit, hooks have emerged; opener “Bad Temper” draws me in a bit deeper every time I give it a whirl. But even so, I won’t be holding Straight Arrows close in the middle of the night. This of course makes me wonder: do I need to give every American garage-rock bedroom Black Lips band like a dozen listens before coming to a conclusion? Might I be too dismissive of my fellow countrymen who are just trying to rock by the meager means they are afforded? Eh… nah.
Timmy’s Organism Rise of the Green Gorilla LP (Sacred Bones)
Here’s the latest from Timmy’s Organism, frontman of the (late?) great Human Eye, sounding as much like a “real band” as I could’ve hoped. Rise of the Green Gorilla has ten killer cuts of slop-rock, the sound Timmy Vulgar has staked his reputation on (and quite similar to the one your stomach makes after two plates too many at the Golden Corral). It’s fuzzed out, and noisy, and silly, and filled with Timmy’s larger-than-life personality. I have determined that he sings like the lovechild of Captain Beefheart and David Lee Roth, the prematurely bald son that neither wanted to claim as a dependent, croaking like a maniac and running with the devil. It’s a great voice, and he makes great use of it, ending tracks with maniacal laughter, scatting guitar solos and emoting deeply when it’s least expected. Probably the only recent rock record where a group backing vocal on the word “underwear” makes logical sense. Clearly the market for such booger-eyed rock is limited; it’s not the type of thing you put on for dinner parties or first dates, but the time and place for Rise of the Green Gorilla exists in all our lives, it’s just a matter of making the time to enjoy it.
Total Control Pyre Island / Mind Shaft 7″ (Hustle Muscle)
It’s never a bad day when a new Total Control record arrives in my hands, this latest care of Hustle Muscle Records, ostensibly a subsidiary of Smart Guy Records. On this single, Total Control sail farther from any sort of punk rock formula, relying entirely on synths and drum machines and computers to do their dirty work. “Pyre Island” rides an undulating bass tone, warm and familiar, and adds electro percussion and strange effects to turn it into a song. Oddly enough, it sounds kind of friendly, and not frozen or paranoid or disturbed like the last Total Control single. The flip “Mind Shaft” opens with a raw-dog house mix, like Omar S messing around with whatever he’s got stacked up in his closet. Gotta say, it’s pretty weird that I am hearing echoes of Ron Trent in something that comes from an Eddy Current-related project, but it’s 2011, and we are truly living in a future time. Die-hard punks can let this one sit on the shelf, but I’m digging all of Total Control’s weird ideas… next time stretch these out to 12″ length, fellas.
Untold / Dubbel Dutch Anaconda (Tribal Guarachero Mix) / Pulso 12″ (SSSSS)
Just one glance at the Day of the Dead-style artwork on this 12″ and the electronic party freakouts to be enjoyed within are clear. Untold is a crazy character, but I enjoy his unexpected turns and playful arrangements, with “Anaconda (Tribal Guarachero Mix)” the latest of the bunch. Reminds of Luciano if he went dubstep, sounding very South American in its percussion and spirit, yet utterly tweaked and silly with its slide whistle-esque synths and near-Reggaeton pace. I can just picture the ugly faces that wasted British kids make when this track hits the deck. Dubbel Dutch is new to me, and his “Pulso” has a similar vibe, to the point where it nearly sounds like a more stripped-down continuation of Untold’s a-side. A little more thuggish swagger in “Pulso” though, especially when that male vocal hits you with that “yah!” over and over. Definitely some cool melodic work here, and a name I’ll have to keep an eye out for, in the same tribe as Zomby or Ikonika. The hits just keep coming…
Wet Hair / Naked On The Vague split 12″ (Night People)
As far as contemporary post-punk noise weirdos are concerned, Wet Hair and Naked On The Vague are two interesting choices, nothing if not a nice pair for a clear 12″ slab with some screen-print art care of the Night People label. Wet Hair start things off, and stink of flower-power from the first moments of “In the Garden of the Pharoahs” through “Vagrant Dawn”. I remember their first LP sound more like a loose-fitting, jammy Trans Am on a krautrock tip, but this stuff is led by a groovy organ and a macrobiotic diet. I could see one of the dudes in Soft Machine having a late-’60s side project that sounded like this, like a clearinghouse of musical ideas that were never fully developed but sounded alright nonetheless. Certainly not what I expected from Wet Hair. Naked On The Vague kind of continue that vibe with their opener “Making Enemies”, leaving me scratching my head with this hippie fascination. Not really feeling it, nor was I digging “Cryptic Tonsil” which followed, but “Dust” and “Send Them Sailing” fade into night-time with some murky electronics, bleak vocals and the distinct Aussie dread that hooked me on them initially. I certainly wish they’d go back to the cleaner recording style they favored on The Blood Pressure Sessions, and dredge up some more of the nervous energy that came along with it, as this rougher recording hinders my enjoyment, and their disaffected vocals work best with energetic music, rather than the droopy pace they utilize here. Still, “Send Them Sailing” is a notable chunk of colorless post-punk and keeps me interested in following NOTV to their next destination.