Evolved from a home-recording experiment to a full-on blazing power-trio, Purling Hiss have
quickly become the type of group to be mentioned alongside Mount Carmel and Pearls & Brass
in any discussion of great rock groups pushing things ahead while keeping one foot firmly
planted in the proud tradition of the past. The debut LP on Permanent Records was a serious
head-clean of psychedelic guitar, like Fu Manchu as re-imagined by Mainliner, but it was last
year’s Hissteria that really established their sound: melodic and catchy, yet in undeniable
worship of the riff. They hit the road with Kurt Vile to hone their chops, and blew away both
Magik Markers and Sic Alps when all three shared a stage last week, thanks in no small part
to the wild guitar of Mike Polizze, Purling Hiss’s guitarist, vocalist and founder. Check them live
and you’ll develop the same sort of goosebumps you got the first time you saw Brian Chippendale
drumming for Lightning Bolt. If I could shred on the guitar like Polizze, I’d probably get my name
embroidered on my jacket and refuse to ever take off my sunglasses, but Polizze is as humble
and friendly a soul as he is a master of his instrument. He answers my questions below and gets
my record-collector blood flowing in anticipation of whatever Record Store Day release Purling
Hiss have planned.
How did Purling Hiss come about? I remember first hearing that you made a CDr or two
of home recordings… did you originally intend for Purling Hiss to become a “real” band?
Purling Hiss was just another recording project I was doing at the time. There was no plan
at all. I had been making home recordings for a while on my 4-track that I bought at Sam
Ash when I was eighteen. I came up with the idea in 2008, that was going to be sort of an
off-shoot of Birds of Maya. I wanted to record it in stereo instead of mono, have a guitar
track panned left, another guitar panned right, and the bass and drums not panned. The one
goal was to have the guitars be real imposing and blistering with a loose structure. I basically
winged it, sitting down aimlessly playing the drums, then later adding layers of guitars. I
completed the recording in early 2009, made some cover-art, and hand assembled a case for
it. Then passed some of those CDrs around to friends.
Purling Hiss seemed at the time, more of the name of the recording session, not necessarily
a band or album name. I posted some of those songs on Myspace, and a couple months later
Permanent Records got in touch, interested in releasing it.
Where did you come up with the name? I don’t entirely understand it, but I think it’s a
pretty perfect moniker.
When I was working on the first Purling Hiss recording (the Permanent LP), I was reading
about white noise. I was learning how it appears on tape recordings, how it occurs in nature,
and hows it’s even used in work environments. The recordings started to implement these
things a bit, and so I tried to push the mixes harder, to get a scorched sound. When I got to
the idea of a name, I had been looking at words that were synonymous with white noise, and
starting messing with word play. Besides a stitching technique, purling is also the rippling
effect on a stream, with a murmuring sound. I thought the juxtaposition of it next to hiss had
a ring to it, and maybe it could be representative to the music. So it’s not a spoonerism!
I’d say you are known primarily for your ability to shred on guitar… when did you pick it
up and first start playing in bands?
I started playing guitar when I was 13. Many hours were spent in my room during middle-
and high school trying to mimic other musicians/bands on the stereo. I had friends I played
music with up into my early 20s, but nothing that seemed to ever come to fruition. I started
playing with Birds of Maya in 2004 when I was 22.
How’d you meet up with the Birds of Maya guys initially? You guys went to Japan early
Not me! I missed the boat on that one. I went into Spaceboy Records in early 2004, and saw
one of those ads where you can tear off the contact info. The flyer didn’t say the name of
the band (they kind of weren’t a band at that point, and it wasn’t called Birds of Maya yet)
but they were looking for a lead guitar player, and I remember it said something about “The
Stooges, Acid Mothers Temple, Blue Cheer”… it was a photocopied flyer that had some cool
hand-drawn design on it. So I started emailing with them, and we became friends pretty
quickly. In fact at the time, I was looking to get a place around there, and the first night we
hung out, Jason (Birds of Maya bassist / vocalist) offered a room for rent, since one of his
roommates was leaving.
There seems to be two sides to Purling Hiss, the full-on live rock band, and the more
private, home-made recordings, ala the Woodsist LP… will these two sides continue, or is
the full band the main concern now?
The Woodsist LP is actually older recordings than the Permanent and Richie LPs. I wrote and
recorded those songs in 2007 and 2008. I compiled a playlist of the recordings and decided
to make a CDr out of it last year. I made two copies – one to Kurt Vile, and the other to WFMU.
Kurt liked it a lot, and suggested I send it to Woodsist. So I’ve actually moved backwards
with this last album. There’s a lengthy back-log of music that will surface at one point, but
for the immediate future, we’re collaborating as a band.
Are you playing new material that was written as a band, versus solely yourself?
We haven’t really had the chance to learn anything new but two songs on the upcoming EP.
We rehearsed the set list before the tour, and since we’ve gotten back, everyone has been
pretty busy. I have a lot of ideas I’m excited about showing them though.
What guitarists have inspired you over the years, in terms of style or playing or whatever?
It’s strange, bands as a whole would leave more of an impression, rather than being focused
on the someone as a “player”. I did become infatuated with Jimi Hendrix as a young teenager
though. So I’d say he was definitely the main influence as a guitarist. I’ll throw in Greg Ginn and
Ron Asheton, too.
What bands left big impressions on you when you were starting to play, then?
Well, when Iwas first playing guitar, everyone taught me Nirvana songs and other 90s bands’
stuff. Some real dumbed-down Metallica riffs too. That was great stuff to start out on. I
remember I smashed the little student model guitar through the practice amp in my room. At
fifteen, I went through my parents’ records, and listened to Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd and Led
Zeppelin. I think I was 18 when getting into Black Flag, Bad Brains, and Minor Threat. That’s also
when I really started going to see live music a lot.
Do you recall any particular live performances that blew you away, early on?
The early punk and metal shows I attended always left an impression on me. I remember
seeing Bad Brains with the Cro-Mags about 10 years ago and really enjoying that. Also around
that time, I went to a show in NYC where Dillinger Escape plan opened for Clutch (so did Spirit
Caravan). Having never heard or seen them before, DEP really surprised me. It was kinda scary.
The first time I saw the Japanese band DMBQ was another memorable experience. Birds of
Maya were playing a show with them and An Albatross who were touring together in 2004.
The show was in Wilkes Barre at a place called Cafe Metropolis. I remember coming back inside
the venue when they had just started playing. There were three guys on stage, gyrating with
their guitars with long hair or afros and bell bottoms. In the back was a lady holding it down on
the drums. They were musically telepathic and full of antics, hopefully they make it back soon.
If you were to pick up and learn a new instrument, what would you want it to be?
I’ve played other instruments besides guitar, but it’s hard to say. I like not knowing the answer
to that. I bought a mandolin on a whim a few years back without ever having played one, so
it seems unpredictable. I think I would like to get back into playing piano or organ again.
What was it like touring with Kurt Vile? I’d imagine he is kind of a prankster on the road.
Yeah, he’s hilarious. If you’re in a room with him he’s the loud-mouth, in the best way. It was
a pleasure to tour with him and the Violators. I still want to draw a cartoon caricature of the
whole band so badly. They are really like cartoon characters!
Purling Hiss toured with Kurt Vile and the Violators for five weeks this past fall, but I also
played with them for a week last year. We went out to Chicago to play with The Black Keys
on New Year’s Eve. During The Black Keys set, Kurt and Adam ran across the stage behind
the band. They didn’t know the way to get across to the other side, so imagine a couple of
longhairs floundering about. this was in front of a sold out show with 2,500 people there!
Definitely the funniest thing I saw them do.
I’m going to put you on the spot, and I expect total honesty here – Blues Control or
Watery Love? You can base your answer on musicianship, looks, personality or any qualities
you deem important.
Man, you can’t do this to me! I love them both! Blues Control have such a great setup. I love
watching them play so much, and am always wondering how they operate their gear. The
best part is not knowing. You also never know if they’re going to throw beach balls at you or
have glowing guitar straps!
Watery Love is a hell of a charming band though. Max and Richie have some real chainsaw-chops.
And even though Dan looks lost and Meg seems bored, that’s not the case. They’re having
fun and it really radiates.
When can we expect a new Purling Hiss record?
We are releasing an EP on Mexican Summer around May. It is another recording of just me
that I made last year. At the time, I had just separated my shoulder (not to be confused
with dislocated shoulder, people.. separated is way more painful). So instead of lugging my
big old half-stack to record with, I used Max’s (Watery Love) little Peavey Backstage Plus. To
give a hint, it sounds compressed the way the Woodsist LP is, but more straight forward rock
tunes. Also, look out for a Record Store Day split…
Andy Human Toy Man / Center of Gravity 7″ (Tic Tac Totally)
I wonder if the band name is supposed to be a punk-name pun ala “Andy Social” or “Bobby Pyn”, or maybe they’re just trying to follow in the “weird last name” genre (Gary War, Kurt Vile, Ariel Pink et al), but no matter what is going on here, you can chalk me up as fan of this Andy-led project. “Toy Man” leads me to believe that at least one of my band-name hypotheses is correct, as there are some serious Ariel Pink-circa-Before Today vibes on this cut, thanks to the syrupy bass, chiming guitars and pleasant ’80s infomercial vibe. Sounds like these guys played in garage bands for the past decade but were secretly listening to Duran Duran deep cuts all along, biding their time until this sort of thing became respectable again. “Center of Gravity” remains in the ’80s too, veering closer to Eddie Money or Elvis Costello (two more guys with funny names, hmm…) and focusing on the guitar, sounding the way a freshly-Windexed countertop looks. Feels weird to admit that I prefer the more yacht-y “Toy Man”, but what can I say, it hits me in the right place. Now that you mention it, that white linen blazer I saw at JC Penney’s doesn’t sound like such a bad idea after all…
Michael Beach A Horse / The Exhilarating Rise 7″ (Spectacular Commodity)
So there’s a guy named Michael Beach: he wrote a song about a horse, and he wants to sing it to us. I get the impression that he’s not the type of guy to get pissed if we send texts or order coffee while he performs, though; his music is so kind and plain that he has to be content with his role as the guy on the stool in the corner, just doing his thing for whoever decides to pay attention. Really, you could tell me “A Horse” was an early Bonnie “Prince” Billy record and I wouldn’t be the wiser. “The Exhilarating Rise” has more of a rough-and-tumble style, especially when he gets to chanting “warm release, coming in”, but I’m pretty sure that deep down, this dude is still softer than my sheets. Decent single, although it’s such a humble slice of wallpaper that without some big splash from Michael Beach in the near future, it will be difficult to remember that he ever existed at all. Like a feather in the wind.
Birth Birth LP (Dead Beat)
Many of the past couple years’ crop of noise-rock bands seem to have relied more on groove than intensity, sounding a little too mid-’90s for my particular tastes. I’m a much bigger fan of the music that inspired the bands on Am Rep than the actual Am Rep roster itself, alright? I’d say that Birth falls on the ’90s end of the modern noise-rock spectrum, but I like them better than most of their ilk, probably because of the certain greasiness to their sound that restricts the rhythms from ever reaching “funky”. Let’s leave that to Helmet and Rollins Band. More than anything though, Birth sound inspired by the most recent noise-rock wave, musically calling to mind the irritating drudgery of The New Flesh or The Unholy Two. Like so many others, the vocalist reminds me of John Sharkey’s early days in Clockcleaner; it’s really no wonder Sharkey changed up his style, as his list of imitators hasn’t yet stopped growing. Birth’s singer doesn’t seem to be trying to shock and offend with his words though, instead allowing his spittle and drool to do the trick. If you’re an acolyte of this style, Birth won’t do you wrong, but really, there has to be a better Jesus Lizard imitation rip-off band out there than this… can you think of any?
James Blake James Blake 2xLP (Atlas / A&M)
After a critically-acclaimed 2010, James Blake kicks off 2011 with what will surely be one of the year’s strangest “breakout” albums. I dug Blake’s The Bells Sketch EP on Hessle Audio, what with its jumbled melodies and sugary R&B vocals, but that approach is refined to such a sharp minimalism on James Blake that it becomes difficult to justify a lot of the music here as structured songs… many of these tracks consist of little more than layered vocals and electronic warble. His voice is pushed to the forefront, even when auto-tuned into various shapes (a frequent occurrence), but it’s his voice that keeps me coming back over and over – he’s like Antony Hegarty without that mess of black hair concealing his face, replaced by theatrical mystery and a flamboyant pop twist. Songs like “Unluck” and “I Never Learnt To Share” are essentially just wild accapellas that Blake has modified or supplemented with a fuzzy beat or two, and the Feist cover “Limit To Your Love” reminds me more of Alicia Keys than any of the dubsteppers Blake came up with. It’s really unusual music, gutsy in its vocal reliance, yet entirely pleasant upon repeated spins. Blake could’ve tried something like Skream’s Outside the Box, aiming for commercial success through middle-brow electro, but instead he scrapped nearly everything except his voice and put together something entirely his own. I am sure plenty of people aren’t feeling James Blake the way I am, that comes with the territory of any record as strange as this one, but he has me enamored.
Brutal Knights Blown 2 Completion LP (Deranged)
Brutal Knights have been kicking around their high-octane, juvenile punk for a while now, revealing no evidence of maturation within Blown 2 Completion (as if the title didn’t already make that perfectly clear). It was about five years ago that I witnessed a member of Brain Handle try to mack it to one of the Brutal Knights (who I believe is no longer with the group) in some groady Pittsburgh punk house, which is pretty much the perfect setting for the communal-beer / stained-leather-jacket vibe that Brutal Knights have going on. Garage-types may dig the riffing, hardcore-types could appreciate the speed, and teenage delinquents all over will savor the “nuts to you” attitude that Brutal Knights proudly flaunt. Blown 2 Completion is heavy on the wacky throughout its twelve cuts, dissecting hot-button issues like tattoos, chores, Sky Mall, and grocery shopping. It’s good, but ultimately too musically sterile and lyrically boneheaded to hold my interest. The song “Wings” has nothing to do with the Emmy-nominated sitcom, instead featuring the lyrical chestnut “It is my favorite food / I believe that wings taste good”. Makes Jay Reatard look like Maya Angelou. I’ll certainly give Brutal Knights credit where it’s due – this is the kind of dumbassery one simply cannot fake; just ask the confused Jonah Falco on the back cover.
Cheveu 1000 LP (Kill Shaman)
Cheveu have been some of my favorite French freaks since their debut album, clearly operating on their own plane of existence no matter what the expense. With 1000, it seems like they’ve managed the odd feat of becoming both more polished and, well, weirder – a string section blossoms on opener “Quattro Stagioni”, the same side of vinyl that ends with an entirely uncalled-for cover of “Ice Ice Baby” (he even screws up the words and says “dope friends” instead of “dope fiends”). Clearly the parameters of good taste do not exist in Cheveu’s world, where any idea is given its due no matter how brilliant or irrational. They still operate with a drum machine, vocals and guitar core, but there’s usually so much going on that Cheveu have become an entirely different beast from the dirty trio I saw live. Even the singer has expanded his range, from Frankie “The Frogman” Smith to David Byrne and Mark E. Smith (and he raps more than once, too). Somehow, against all odds, 1000 isn’t the total mess it should be; there’s just too much effort and craft, even in its stupidest moments, for Cheveu to fail.
Control Deadly Sins CD (Malignant)
Here’s some generic noise in what has to be the least threatening and sinister musical format: the digipak CD. I am not a fan of “the seven deadly sins” as a thematic base; it’s played out (this is not even the first record to be reviewed on YGR that employs this concept), corny, not scary, and ultimately kinda lazy (which I suppose falls under “sloth”). Musically, Control starts most tracks with a gnarly loop, usually just a slow throbbing pulse, and then he layers a loop of static, waits a little, adds a few more layers of thick, fuzzy distortion, sometimes adds a screaming unintelligible vocal, and at the seven-minute mark, puts the whole thing to bed. The sounds themselves are all well and good, but these tracks are pieced together in such an uninspired fashion that it quickly loses my attention. This uniformity is magnified when you consider that the songs are titled “Lust” and “Greed” and “Wrath” and the like, yet they inspire none of those emotions; hell, they’re all practically interchangeable with one another. Why even go with a theme if you’re just going to do the same thing seven times in a row? I don’t know, if you need a constant flow of harsh noise in your life, Deadly Sins isn’t the worst thing in the world, but conceptually and artistically, this is pretty bland.
Deaf Wish Mercy LP (Radio)
Gotta say, for all the great Australian bands I’ve enjoyed in the past few years, I can’t think of any I’d particularly describe as “mature”. I mean, Eddy Current can get pretty introspective, but they still seem to be coming from the mind of a child, and Fabulous Diamonds are too funky, and Circle Pit too sleazy… Deaf Wish are probably the first recent Aussie group I’ve encountered that sound like they have advanced arts degrees to go along with their home mortgages. Stoic, serious indie rock that reminds me of anything from Cat Power to The Scientists; very moody and precise rock music, peppered with dramatic outbursts and cool come-downs. The clear-and-present recording, talented playing and eclectic song variety all make Mercy a satisfying, deep listen, one that has taken me a number of weeks to finally get a handle on. I always knew it was cool from the first time my eyes met the cover art, it just took a while to really settle into what Deaf Wish had in store. If there was an Australian Drag City Records, I’d imagine they’d be all over something like this.
Margaret Dygas How Do You Do CD (Power Shovel Audio)
Very perplexing album here from Margaret Dygas, who’s put together some of the most entertaining techno I’ve heard on Perlon in the past couple years. Dygas sets the tone from the get-go with “Note Note Note”, a field recording of birds and children, narrated by a bemused old man. “Introduction” follows (how many albums feature a song named “Introduction” that doesn’t open the record?), built around the sound of a deceased dial-tone and some loose keyboard improv. I am willing to indulge Dygas on this fantastic journey, but where is the techno? Stare at “Baton Signals” like a magic-eye puzzle, and the beat starts to reveal itself, but only in the most fleeting of ways. Dygas cooks up a warm pulse only to hit the kill switch repeatedly throughout How Do You Do, like an electronic strip-tease that refuses to ever take it all off and flash its groove. The ambient passages are too long and moody, as if Dygas is trying to get from one island to the next solely from the drift of the ocean. I appreciate music without paddles, but I enjoy Dygas the most when she drops a beat on me like an outstretched hand, something to guide me through her abstract world. How Do You Do leaves me to fend for myself, confused and distracted, so it’s a door I’ve left shut more than I initially hoped.
Fielded White Death 7″ (Sophomore Lounge)
If you don’t have cable, and are hard up for some Ghost Hunters action, why not spin some Fielded instead? It’s pretty mystical stuff, to the point where I’m waiting for some sort of apparition to waft out of my stylus as the white vinyl spins. “Garden Lace” is not as Anthropologie as you may expect from the title; it’s more of a Björk-ish vocal incantation that leads into “White Death”, adding a beat and some melody to Fielded’s multiple layered vocal tracks. Not too aggressively weird, it has kind of a mild vibe when compared to some of Fielded’s contemporaries. “Late Come to Stay” sounds a bit more like Joanna Newsom, thanks to that elfin accent, backed by synths and drum machine, and “The Source” closes out White Death much in the way it began, with multiple versions of the same voice harmonizing against each other, giving me visions of an auto-tuned Lexie Mountain Boys. A nice little EP, for sure, but lacking the charisma and outrageousness that draws me into other New Weird Etsy acts. I’ll keep it around though, like some sort of oracle, and see if anything really jumps out over the next few weeks.
Fingers In The Noise Apero Beats 12″ (ZeECc)
Fingers In The Noise… that’s a cool name. I am sure that the man behind the alias, Laurent Bisch, exclusively uses his fingers to create his soothing and dub-based techno, while “the noise” is a suitable reference to the hushed whispers and ambient distractions he applies on top. A lot of dub-techno revels in its inhumanity, stranding its cold and isolated beats as far from human life as possible, whereas Fingers In The Noise works a certain tenderness into the fold. “Apero Beat” is underpinned by the sound of either the ocean’s tide or velcro, placing it within the world in which we all interact. The textures within “Black Idea” sound more like scratchy vinyl, but that same natural musk is all over this record, tugging me down as Bisch’s Maurizio-esque beats lift me up. Fingers In The Noise’s Discogs bio notes that he is a “father of three kids” before discussing any of his musical accomplishments, which kind of explains his vibe a bit further. Bisch is into procreation, and his music provides the appropriately soft and nurturing environment.
Fist City Hunting You LP (Dead Beat)
Really not digging Hunting You at all, one of the longest-feeling punk LPs I’ve heard in quite a while. I got into punk and indie music because I liked the urgency and energy, but something like Fist City’s debut drags longer than the fifteen non-hit tracks on any given Sean Paul CD. Within the promo write-up, Desperate Bicycles, Huggy Bear, The Vaselines and Shop Assistants are all referenced; I can only assume Dead Beat hired the same marketing company that determined cigarettes aren’t detrimental to one’s health to write their one-sheets. I hear none of those awesome bands here, instead a cluttered, motionless pile of guitars and screechy vocals, slathered over mundane beats and lacking any sense of purpose or character. For a band with a pretty standard bass/drums/two-guitars setup, there sure is a lot of interference, as if the band members never explained to each other what they’d be playing or singing on each song until after it was recorded, sadly not in a cool no-wave improv way. If you see this record heading towards you on the street, walk the other way.
Föllakzoid Föllakzoid EP 12″ (Sacred Bones)
It’s easy to forget that Sacred Bones loves a good monotonous rock groove every now and then, which is exactly what Chile’s Föllakzoid deliver on this painless EP. “IV, III, II, I” is ballsy in its kraut homage, the bass guitar locked into one note as the motorik beat pushes forward, channeling Can and Neu to the most specific degree. Föllakzoid’s kraut-rock replication is like the TV crime drama gimmick where they put two fingerprints on the big screen and then overlap them, revealing a direct match. “Arabic-Hash” is a less-direct rip, trading in that kraut-style for a corny psychedelic haze, so stereotypical as to border on the offensive… then it jumps back into a variation of the a-side’s kraut-rock. I don’t know, maybe it’s the fact that these freaks don’t live in Brooklyn or LA or even the US, but I appreciate their brazen behavior, playing music that is more of a hipster lifestyle accompaniment than actual thoughtful art. Not everyone has great ideas, but the sound of Föllakzoid, while not even one they can entirely claim as their own, is still pretty sweet.
The Girls At Dawn Back To You / WCK 7″ (Tic Tac Totally)
Everything I’d previously read about The Girls At Dawn painted them as the absolute worst-of-the-worst when it comes to the whole Vivian Girls / Best Coast spectrum of ’60s girl-groups via ’90s indie-jangle. How could I not be at least a little excited to spin this single, then? Unfortunately, The Girls At Dawn never reach the “so bad it’s good” pinnacle I was hoping for, instead just (in)competently slumming through two boring reverb-pop tunes. “Back To You” is a slow number, working those same general-studies riffs to no particular destination. “WCK” is more interesting, if only on the basis that the title is an acronym… it’s also a faster and clumsier cut, with a chorus that sounds like either “Ghostface Killah / comin’ to getcha” or “here’s Ben Stiller / comin’ to getcha”. Who knows? It’s amazing that this band has been treading vinyl for as long as they have.
Golden Error Refuse Me 7″ (The Hard Sell)
I missed Golden Error when they opened for A Frames a few months ago, and after digging into this single, I’m hoping they come around again soon. “Refuse Me” kicks off the a-side, and damned if it isn’t the most Monorchid-y track I’ve ever heard from a band that wasn’t fronted by Chris Thomson. Raging right out of the gate with a fun bass-line and a caffeinated rhythm, the singer spits his thoughts with the same tongue as Thomson, getting in and out before your friend comes back from the bar. “New Weather Paranoia” is even more manic, with a cool stuttering vocal hook and frantic drum fills. Who could possibly dislike this stuff? I’m feeling pretty high after these cuts, and honestly, disappointed that Golden Error use the b-side for a medley of covers by the greatest X of all time, “It Must Be Me” and “Coat of Green” off the otherworldly Aspirations LP. First of all, it’s impossible to improve upon the originals, no matter how good you are, and secondly, Golden Error clearly have a good thing going for themselves, one that I’d really rather hear more of. Sure, I’d smash a Coke can over my head if they covered X live, but in the comfort of my home, I can just pull out Aspirations when I want to hear those classics (which I often do). So long as you understand that Golden Error are cool, and that you must absolutely go out and obtain a copy of X’s Aspirations right this instant if you haven’t already heard it, my work here is done.
Heavy Times No Plans / Ice Age 7″ (Hozac)
Ah, another two-sided Hozac stinker. Let me tell you how this one plays out: the memory of Heavy Times will disintegrate from my brain by the time this review is due to be published. I’ll proofread it a couple days before posting it, of course, and while I inspect it for glaring typos, or too many “like”s, I’ll try to remember just what it was about Heavy Times that was so boring, and why I felt slightly degraded by having to sit still and allow this 45 to spin on not just any old turntable, but my turntable. If I strain hard enough, I’ll be able to conjure a vague memory of their listless strumming, rudimentary songwriting and flavorless taste, like the memory of a room-temperature glass of water I drank three months ago. I’ll strain even harder, desperately trying to recall the tossed-off chorus to “Ice Age”, and in doing so, I’ll accidentally give myself a hernia. Two weeks later, while waiting in my doctor’s lobby for a surgery date, I will tell the receptionist to send Heavy Times the bill instead of Aetna, and as she glumly pulls up their MySpace page, she’ll explain to me that their deductible is a non-refundable $500.00. I will then realize that “Heavy Times” wasn’t merely the name of this trash-can duo, but the specific state of malaise they inflict upon the listener. Buyer beware.
Impo & The Tents Impo & The Tents LP (Alleycat)
Nothing quite like a screaming-crotch greeting, particularly this belly button-eyeballed one from Impo and his band, The Tents. I had my reservations, but this obnoxious punk group quickly won me over, thanks to their snotty charm and simple hooks. I don’t know why so many bands screw this up, but Impo & The Tents have it down pat – songs about junk food and girls, parts for both slamming and pogoing, and a delightfully high-pitched weirdo singer. Reminds me of anything from Jay Reatard and The Briefs to Sloppy Seconds and The Dickies, all decent reference points for what this band is trying to accomplish. I love cartoony, imitation-British punk when it’s done like this, gleefully stupid but never at the expense of a poppy chorus. From “Ugly Girl” to “Manowar Woman” I’ve been thoroughly entertained… definitely glad to know that this style hasn’t been fully replaced by bedroom solo projects.
Impractical Cockpit Pretty Totally LP (Unwucht)
Didn’t know Impractical Cockpit were still at it; seems like I picked up their Raw Sugar Records 7″ a decade ago, so I was pleasantly surprised to open this album (which is apparently an old recording finally seeing its way to vinyl). After spinning Pretty Totally, their musical approach is instantly recognizable – Impractical Cockpit stick with their scrambled, messy post-punk that jangles, not in hope of commercial success, but as a means of irritation. I’m reminded of Half Japanese, Fat Day, and maybe just a dash of Mecca Normal (I mention them last in hopes of not scaring anyone away), just really manic and intense. All three members sing, but I still can’t help but picture one of them standing at like six foot four and 138 pounds, angrily shaking his nerdy body while shouting ’til his voice cracks. That’s gotta be the guitarist, right? These guys live in New Orleans, and I’d imagine all three look at least somewhat strange, making this sort of musical outburst a satisfying release from the debris they dodge on their walks home. In the ’90s, someone probably called this “spazz-core”, and judging from the “thrift store LP sleeve turned inside out and screened on” cover, Impractical Cockpit spent a good ten years living through that decade themselves. Not really a band that I think about often, but Pretty Totally has made a welcome addition to my weekly rotation.
Nicolas Jaar Space Is Only Noise LP (Circus Company)
A very expansive, cinematic and engrossing album from wunderkind Nicolas Jaar, a name I can only expect to hear with greater frequency over the next decade. Space Is Only Noise has been described as a techno record, but that’s a bit of a misnomer; first of all, there is no guarantee of a steady beat, or a beat at all, and when Jaar does cook up a groove, it’s usually somewhere in the slower, balearic BPM range. He opens and closes the album with some distinguished gentleman twisting his sentences into knots, alongside a mechanical fluttering that reminds me of the bug from Pan’s Labyrinth, always lurking on the edge of reality. The rest of the album is about as unpredictable as its beginning and end… I am reminded of Boards of Canada, The Avalanches, Portishead, Moodymann, Air, Matias Aguayo; all sorts of varied voices come into play here. Jaar seems to have placed no limitations on himself, working any and all manner of musical and non-musical instruments into the fray, yet Space Is Only Noise never comes across as overloaded or kitchen sink-ish. It’s pretty great. There are vocals too, usually pitched down or wearing some sort of costume, coming to head on “Space Is Only Noise If You Can See”, a funny little electro groove that has lodged itself in my brain far deeper than I expected. Jaar goes to college, and I can only imagine he has missed his share of 9:00 am classes after staying up all night, staring into his computer screen just to tweak that blues-guitar sample or muffled clap perfectly right. I am thankful that I am his fan rather than his roommate.
The Logjammers The Logjammers 7″ (No Patience)
Here we go, The Logjammers. They are Australian, title their songs numerically (“Hit 1″, “Hit 2″ and “Hit 3″ comprise this single), and arrive with no artistic aspirations – that’s really all I know about this excellent group. “Hit 1″ starts off like Confuse or Gudon or some other ear-bleeding Japanese noise-punk band, but then it settles into some sort of fiendish groove that crosses paths with Killdozer, Pillow Talk and the aforementioned Japanese noisers. Not a bad start! “Hit 2″ pogos like a revved-up Lamps (as interpreted by developmentally-challenged schoolchildren), and “Hit 3″ actually kinda grooves a little, if you can excuse the singer’s emotional breakdown and the guitarist’s compulsion to solo at the end of every riff. From the looks of things, I was expecting a stupid record, but I got the punkest, ugliest sort of stupid I ever could’ve wanted. Think I’m gonna jam another log right now.
Meercaz Space Hate 12″ (Tic Tac Totally)
What kind of rebels hate space? Apparently the group Meercaz, although the title track sounds perfectly suitable for blasting off into the unknown (or the perfect antidote to Bad Religion’s Into the Unknown). It’s biker punk that can’t grow facial hair with two fingers on a synth, sounding like Hawkwind if they just ate some re-heated leftover Stooges bootlegs. The rest of the EP, while not quite as blazing, is pretty cool as well… I’m oddly reminded of Home Blitz, not so much in sound, but in that they are both bands that seem to have specific influences that they process in this weird malformed way. Both bands were on Gulcher at one point, right? That kind of explains it. There are probably some Thin Lizzy and Alice Cooper records stacked under Meercaz’s ashtrays, resulting in this homespun proto-punk sound. If they had a great singer, I’d probably start Googling this band, but Meercaz’s vocalist has kind of an everyman holler that isn’t particularly exciting. That’s alright though, I don’t need to get kicked in the crotch by every hard rock record I own – Meercaz have made for excellent “excited to be leaving work” background music all week long.
My Mind Fed Up With My Self 12″ (Harvest Recordings)
My Mind have caught me posing, as I live in the same town as this great band, yet have never seen them perform. I guess they’re on an indefinite hiatus now, which only exacerbates my regret as I spin this clear-vinyl, one-sided 12″ EP. Much like their debut single, My Mind cram a whole lot of musical information on Fed Up With My Self, which plays like a single suite of various songs, woven tightly together like the finest drug-rug. It’s rare that I appreciate the application of braininess to punk rock, but that’s what My Mind do, writing and stringing together these entertaining miniatures, as if Girl Talk made a mix with just Jay Reatard, The Buzzcocks, The Homosexuals and The Rezillos at his disposal. There’s an additional vocalist, and she fits in perfectly, adding another layer of harmony to music that I would’ve never thought needed it, somehow fitting seamlessly. The non-touring band aspect and total lack of hype or advertisement lead me to believe that Fed Up With My Self is gonna fly under the radar, but those who snag a copy are in for a treat.
Nervous Assistant Bastard Blues 7″ (Blind Prophet)
Gotta say, I am a Blind Prophet Records fan, but something like this Nervous Assistant 7″ is a total head-scratcher. With that sort of name, I was expecting like, an occult Gary Numan-ish guy with long fingernails and shaved eyebrows, but instead Nervous Assistant is actually just some stubbly subway busker with a ratty acoustic guitar, hollering his ditties like a hobo at a campfire. Nothing else to it, just a man and his hollow-body guitar, hoping you throw some spare change in his empty case so that he might live to drink another day. I feel like I am missing part of the puzzle here, as far as why Blind Prophet is interested in this guy… maybe he’s an amazing writer, or has some fantastic background, or truly does hop trains across the country to escape the trappings of modern life, but all I’ve got to go on are two unimpressive songs and an email address. Context might help me appreciate Nervous Assistant more, but even still, the crust-punk-gone-country vibes are far too strong for something like “Bastard Blues” to ever make me a believer.
No Class No Class LP (Deranged)
No Class’s art department shouldn’t be surprised if Youth Attack comes looking for royalties. Let’s see: it’s all black and white; the cover sports a grainy photo complete with an upside-down cross, extended middle-finger and pubes; the lettering is entirely spooky Old English Gothic; there’s a distressed female face on the insert. It’s funny, because this contrived aesthetic seems to have no bearing on the music of No Class, a no-frills hardcore group who are actually pretty good. There’s no noise, no allusions to Peter Sotos, no sexual deviancy, and the recording is of studio grade. Honestly, if you dialed back a decade, dolled up No Class with some ripped camo shorts and a varsity letter band logo, they’d just be one of the better retro hardcore bands to come out of the class of ’01, maybe even a hair above Tear It Up. It’s a thick sound, like back when Fucked Up didn’t know they could add bongos and violins to the mix; perhaps a bit of a Wasted Time moshability, too. I guess since the style originated, hardcore bands have been conforming to the specific trends of its time, and I hold no ill will towards No Class for that, but it doesn’t mean I won’t still chuckle to myself when I see a quality hardcore band like this one wearing such an ill-fitting costume. What would Raybeez think?
Nomos Notes From The Acheron 12″ (Deranged)
I’m pretty sure some people really dig Nomos, but the band name has always irked me, kind of unfairly… makes me think of either Finding Nemo or “no homo”, two things I don’t particularly care for. This one-sided 12″ is pretty cool, though – it’s a nice bridge between the thrashy hardcore-grind of the late ’90s (I hear MK Ultra and maybe They Live) and the best of today’s cryptic hardcore punk (Sex Vid and Cult Ritual certainly come to mind). They’ve got the sound down, that’s for sure; I swear some riffs are right off No Man’s Slave, but that’s never a complaint. The singer has a burly scream that I can almost decipher, and I appreciate that he doesn’t sound like any of the singers of the aforementioned acts. The second to last cut reminds me of an Infest side-ending dirge mixed with like Orchid or something, although it could just be the artistically-etched b-side that is making me think “late ’90s screamo”. Nomos are a pretty appealing group, the type of thing I’d throw on a mixtape alongside New Lows and Dropdead if I was trying to get a teenage relative to toss his or her Slipknot CDs and get into the good stuff.
Rolando 5 To 8 EP 12″ (Ostgut Ton)
Club-master I’m not, but I get the impression that the 5 To 8 title refers to the hours of the morning that these tracks are meant to be enjoyed, deep within Berghain’s recesses. Rolando’s a new name to me, and these two late-late-night jams are probably best enjoyed in that environment, as opposed to my “awake during the day, asleep at night” lifestyle. “De Cago” is a pretty straight-forward banger, building slowly until syncopating into a greasy slash of synths, all while some (probably notable) guy yells “Detroit / Chicago” ad infinitum. Flip it over for “Junie”, a frightening wind of dubstep that crystallizes into something almost meditative, perfect for the painful rush of morning sunlight after a night of strobe-lit hedonism. Definitely not the greatest offering from Ostgut Ton’s camp, but if I picture Norman Nodge in a zoot suit gesturing on the dance-floor to the sounds of Rolando, all my troubles seem so far away…
Shock Value Yellow Peril 7″ (No Patience)
Crappy punk pencil art didn’t die, it just fell into the wrong hands for a while, but now we’ve got bands like Shock Value making good use of their limited skills with a Mao Tse-tung fatality on the front cover and possibly the funniest-drawn skinhead I’ve ever seen on the back (and trust me, there is some stiff competition, just check out the giant skinhead baby on the Toughskins album). The off-white paper sleeve only adds to this time-warp, and fits the music of Shock Value well – crude, bratty hardcore that doesn’t sound like a band well-studied in the “classics” so much as a bunch of annoying punks who simply want to cause a racket. It’s kinda refreshing, the lack of ultra-specific obscure hardcore fetishism here; instead, you just get some band that would’ve filled up 1/48th of a Mystic compilation in 1983. Can’t imagine anyone outside of Australia has any reason to order Yellow Peril, but I have no doubt that Shock Value play a necessary role in their local scene, much to the dismay of their local moral authorities.
The Soft Moon The Soft Moon LP (Captured Tracks)
Here’s a nice surprise from deep within the Captured Tracks heap, The Soft Moon and his debut album. Like all new bands, it’s gothy, indebted to the darker edges of the early ’80s new wave, and the muse of essentially one person (in this case, one Luis Vasquez). What sets The Soft Moon apart from the dozens of other bands clawing up the same hill is both its killer sound (sharp, seductive, completely not lo-fi and occasionally thrilling) and his smart and simple songwriting style. The Soft Moon uses the same number of riffs per song as The Misfits did – who can argue with that approach? Lots of 16th notes from the bass, maybe two or three alternating chords, a chiming (or static-laced) guitar, and vocals so hushed they barely appear. You don’t have to love the majority of Captured Tracks’ roster to dig The Soft Moon, this is a record with widespread appeal. Some bands just know how to universally groove, no matter what sub-genre they’re plundering. Great record, but the vocals cut through so softly (and occasionally simply don’t exist) that it often feels like an instrumental record, for better or worse. This can be fun though, because I did my best to figure out the lyrics on the opener “Breathe the Fire” and sang over it myself. Why not, right? If this band had a Danzig / Chris Isaak hybrid vocalist (Chris Danzig?), there’d be no stopping them. Go check out this album, then download the Yellow Green Red Additional-Vocal Refix here.
Tin Man Acid Test 01 12″ (Absurd Recordings)
Don’t pinch me if I’m dreaming… a new Tin Man 12″, featuring a Donato Dozzy remix? Heaven on Earth! Didn’t know about this one until right before it came out, so it wasn’t a long wait until I was jamming these three tunes on my home system. Keeping us on our toes, Acid Test 01 features two new instrumentals and Dozzy’s remix on the flip. For those who are already fans of Tin Man, you’ll instantly notice the lack of vocals on this 12″, especially as Tin Man’s focus on vocal melodies and production has only increased over the past few records (to the point where two cuts off Scared featured little more than his processed voice). It might feel like only part of the picture, for those already hooked on Tin Man’s Wasteland sound, but both “Nonneo” and “Accumulated Acid” stand strongly enough as is – “Nonneo” works a particularly cunning bassline over some funky house beats (at least by Tin Man’s nocturnal standards), while “Accumulated Acid” is an intriguingly subtle electro-bloom. Even without his distinct voice, there is no denying the artist at work here. Following the spirit of his recent album, Donato Dozzy turns out a fairly mellow remix of “Nonneo”, keeping that wormy little bassline intact and adding a crisply-phasered hi-hat to the rhythm. There’s no reason to turn any Tin Man into a pummeling dancefloor banger, and Dozzy recognizes that, adding only a mild touch to the original. Those curious about Tin Man are probably best off starting elsewhere in his discography (you’ve just got to hear his voice), but anyone already entranced by his ways will surely enjoy taking this acid test.
Tortured Tongues Let Me Down 7″ (Hozac)
Tortured Tongues’ debut 7″ was a nice and unexpected shot from one of the most hopeless cities I’ve ever visited (that’d be Harrisburg, PA), so I was eager to check out this follow-up. A-side “Let Me Down” kind of let me down at first, but after a few spins I’m feeling it; “Let Me Down” toes the line between squatter-punk and Killed By Death, riding a riff as dumb as it is mean with the slurred vocals of a barfly who talks three feet too close to your face. “Feed the Flys” feels like the angriest song Human Eye never wrote, and “To Death” is like some sort of Confederacy of Scum / Flipper mash-up, thanks to the pitch-shifted vocal tracking and plinky keyboard. Real aggro vibe to Tortured Tongues, which I assume comes with the territory of their awful locale, and helps them stand out in a league of so many weird-punkers that seem entirely content with their lives. With FNU Ronnies in stasis, Tortured Tongues could easily become the next punk rock band that I admire but avoid shaking hands with (you know… germs).
Trophy Wife Trophy Wife 7″ (Private Leisure Industries)
I was confused at first, since the Trophy Wife band I know is a rock group from Philadelphia, whereas this Trophy Wife (also with an all-female lineup) hails from Tennessee. Musically though, the two couldn’t be further apart, as this Trophy Wife is completely averse to anything “rock”; these four tracks aren’t songs so much as beguiling audio sketches. Take “Aunt Palatka”, for example: it’s a mix of fluttering flute, multi-tracked moaning, a seldom-plucked bass and some wrong notes on the guitar. This leads into “In the Water”, with silly vocal chanting and a lonely tambourine before combusting into an art-school jamboree. I like a lot of awful music, but Trophy Wife have totally lost me… I can take irritating, but when it’s mixed with this weird cutesy singing, and flutes, and total disregard for melody, I actually get a little irritated. It’s like when you’re trying to walk home and there’s a big hippie parade passing by your front door, blocking your entrance. The annoyance of the spectacle outweighs any chance of appreciating the marching drummer’s technique or the quality of the silk-screened banner they’re waving – you just want it to stop.
Vaccine Crimes In Blood 5″ (Painkiller)
Finally, Yellow Green Red’s first 5″ record! I know people hate these things… I’ve heard all the arguments (they’re hard to play, cost-prohibitive, stupid, gimmicky, annoying to file, pointless) and well, if you don’t like it, you can stick with your generically-sized records and go on living your mundane existence. Hardcore is best served in short and potent blasts anyway, so the straight-edge menace of Vaccine suits it perfectly. Five songs here, but who’s counting; Vaccine rip it out fast and furious with at least one blast-beat every twenty seconds. Crimes In Blood is kinda muffled when compared to their Painkiller 7″, and maybe that’s just the tight little grooves at play (or the recording itself), but it adds to the tense discomfort of sitting down and playing this record. Who am I kidding, you already know if you need this or not – it’s like people who hate pickles or garlic, there’s just no changing their crazy minds no matter how hard you try.
Warchildren Warchildren 7″ (No Patience)
Raw, raging and ultimately insignificant hardcore punk here from Warchildren, yet another gang of No Patience-supported miscreants. Four cuts, all sloppy and thrashing like a wet cat, including a band theme. My first hardcore band kinda sounded like this, equally clueless and fun, existing mainly as a vehicle to say and do stupid things in front of a small audience. I think I am genetically programmed to always at least kinda like this sort of thing, even when it’s a band as unexciting as this one. I’m also genetically programmed to love chocolate chip cookies, and much in the way I consumed this Warchildren 7″, I’ll eat any plate of cookies put in front of me, no matter how generic, processed and ultimately unfulfilling. The cover art drawing of a masked guy with a swastika on his chest, holding an axe over an eye-less woman, along with the dumby-dumb-dumb b-side “Cheatin’ Bitch” leaves the same gross aftertaste as a tray of expired Soft Batch. It’s time for me and Warchildren to grow up, really.
YOU. Demonstration LP (Blind Prophet)
Wish more bands would demonstrate like this, YOU.’s debut record. It’s a record of simplistic synth-pop with the creep factor turned way up, not in a purposefully sadistic way so much as a “we’re actually trying to be normal but our creepiness can’t be suppressed” way. Seems like most modern-goth synth bands go two routes: historically-accurate, exact replications, or obscured mood pieces via bedroom distortion and artificial hiss. YOU. skip both of those paths, choosing instead to set their sequencers on auto-pilot and lurk through the shadowed corners of the club, singing weird things like “sex is the drug” over your shoulder when you least expect it. They really nail this uneasy vibe, to the point where it really doesn’t matter that their beats sound more like a basement-bred Egyptian Lover or a poor man’s Skinny Puppy (or hell, even Salem) half the time, everyone is dancing and nervous how the night will unfold. Like my favorite ’90s Ant-Zen releases, YOU. put the fear and uncertainty back into a genre that is best when the perspiration comes not only from physical exertion but emotional stimuli as well.