The next time I wind up in San Francisco, I’m gonna swing by Amoeba and settle into the
7″ bins, grab an It’s-It bar or two, and make sure to check out Rank/Xerox before I split. Not
many records give me the urge to track down that same band’s split cassette, but the debut
Rank/Xerox 7″ hit me that hard, three songs of frenetic, paranoid rock that sounded like The
Feederz (had they spent less time blowing up cop cars and more time outside art galleries,
drinking the free wine). They don’t really sound like anyone else currently playing, but the
music of Rank/Xerox is never deliberately obtuse or strange – it’s punk rock, no matter what
they’ll tell you. Had a chance to chat with guitarist / vocalist David West about the band,
which I’ll hopefully be able to replicate in person when they tour the US this summer…
Can you fill me in a little on the history of the band? Did you meet in San Francisco?
We probably started in early 2009 I would say… and yes, it was in San Francisco. I met Jon,
the drummer, after he organized a show in an obscure location, which I acquired directions to
from him via the interweb. I had landed in San Francisco, from Perth, Western Australia, two
months earlier. A few weeks after the show I met Kevin and we started the band. Jon and Kevin
are post-childhood friends I believe, from Southern California. They started a band after they
moved to San Francisco, it was called Jump Off A Building, they would classify it as a “hardcore
band”. They have a 7″ record. I’m guessing they had broken up a couple of months earlier, but
this is based on absolutely nothing. Of course, like all hardcore acts these days, they have
played numerous post-breakup shows.
I know you’ve played in other bands… did you have anything specific in mind for
Rank/Xerox, as far as sound, or aesthetic, or parameters of the group?
I’d say that from my perspective, I wanted to do something where I could play weirder (aka
self-indulgent) stuff on guitar, to not have to carry the song per se… I guess this was a
reaction to one of the previous bands I was in, Burning Sensation, which was very disciplined
and more “traditional” in the way I sang and played guitar… not for better or worse, it was
defined by the nature of the songs, but I wanted to do something different. It was really
challenging for me to play the fast, structured stuff in that band, so perhaps it was a change
born of laziness on my end. We didn’t get conceptual or hold any symposiums when we started
I feel like there’s still a punk energy to Rank/Xerox, if not a hardcore one. What
do you get out of slowing down the tempo? Why not just play hardcore forever?
I’ve never really played hardcore, so it would be difficult for me to play it forever… as far as
the punk thing goes, I think the other two have more to say about that kind of thing, in that
they have a lot of history with it, ideas about “punk” in quotation marks, ethics, yadda yadda.
For myself, I was completely isolated from that kind of stuff, so I only really think of things in
a strictly musical way, or in a “that looks cool” outside sort of view. I don’t really care or think
about “punk” as a reactionary or conceptual thing. I will say that I’m into things with real energy
and intensity, or at least really intense poses. The slower tempos are merely a reflection of the
increasing misery that accompanies continued existence.
How did you get into punk, if you were initially “isolated” from it? While a more
interesting group than most, I’d consider Rank/Xerox to be a punk band.
It’s interesting that the term “punk” as used in that question sort of reads to me as a substitute
for “banal”… that’s probably not intentional, but what’s not interesting about punk? When I say I
was “isolated” from it I don’t really mean I haven’t been in any punk-type bands, haven’t played
shows with punk bands, haven’t been categorized as punk by a local newspaper. More so, I mean
I never really felt like part of a specific punk “scene”, in a communal, social sense, as I wasn’t
around that in my formative years, so to speak. When I did start playing shows, that’s when I
met people in the Perth punk scene, but Perth is so small, it’s more of just an underground music
scene with a bit of a subsect of punk stuff. There is a lot of crossover. And I was in a band that
could definitely be called punk, but I have never called myself a “punk”… I think it’s cool to be
punk, but it’s not something I feel I could do convincingly. Perhaps this is confusing. I got into
punk when I started a punk band, and when I bought a Sex Pistols CD from a record store.
I hate to play the “what are your influences” card, but I’m genuinely curious,
since Rank/Xerox sounds like a band that could’ve easily started in 1978, 1999 or 2011 to
my ears. Are there any artists in particular that played a role in your sound?
Well, I’ll match your “what are your influences” card with my “we don’t have any influences”
card. Of course this isn’t true, but we did make a pact that we wouldn’t mention or use as
shorthand any other bands when working on things… we try to use describing words, are
these called “adjectives”? I guess my claim to non-conceptualism is slightly refuted here. I will
offer up something from my personal archives though – I guess some of my guitar playing is
somewhat an attempted homage to the first band I ever went nuts over, Sonic Youth. It’s a
touch nostalgic in this regard.
Alright, then without talking bands, are there any particular scenes or time-periods
that inspired Rank/Xerox? What about non-musical, are there any artists or books that
play into Rank/Xerox? Hell, any TV shows?
I can only speak for myself here…but I would say that I am often inspired by the idea of
certain things, before I’ve experienced them or check them out properly. I really like the idea
of no-wave. I got out a book from the library about it and everything looked great, the art is
next-level, those people were so stylish, in wonderful black and white photography. I like some
of the music too, and obviously it’s brilliant and all that, but the idea and the image are really
quite inspiring. It’s the same kind of thing with various scenes, early Chicago house, Factory
Records, the Joy Division/New Order axis, goth things, Christian Death. Artists or books… well,
not really. I’m a fan of a lot of things, I could say some names, but I don’t really have the ability
to reconfigure things into my own stuff, or the desire. TV shows, that’s definitely a different
score. Twin Peaks, and the tele-drama within Twin Peaks “Invitation To Love” is amazing!
I don’t know about you, but sometimes my brain’s imagination far exceeds what
something actually ends up being… most of the black metal bands kinda let me down
when I first heard them after reading about them and imagining their music (Mayhem,
Burzum, those guys). Is there any scene you first read about that, upon actually hearing
it, met or exceeded your expectations?
Maybe I came off as a bit dismissive of no-wave, etc… all the scenes I mentioned have blown
me away in terms of their actual music stuff. I just meant that in terms of actual inspiration,
it’s more idea- or image-based for me than the actual music a lot of times. It could well be
easier to translate a mental image or feeling based on something “exotic” into your music, it’s
more of a general, sub-conscious thing, as opposed to actually using defined elements of it in
your stuff; I would refer to that as ripping something off. Rock’n'roll is based on appropriation
though, so maybe I am too egotistical to admit any wholesale or ideological theft I might have
committed. As for Black Metal though, I think that scene delivers in spades. Ulver and Emperor
are collossally good, and you don’t see any New Romantics burning down football stadiums do
you? Although hey, New Romantics push the barriers too!
I understand there is a full-length LP in the works… how would you say it differs from
the first single? Was there any particular change within the band during the album’s creation?
There is an LP in the works, it is getting “cut” in the next couple of days, and will be off to
various industrial plants after that, so it should come out within the next couple of months, or
years… I’d say it differs from the first 7″ in that it moves into some slower, more damaged sort
of zones, partially speaking… also, as it was recorded in an actual studio with time constraints,
it has more of an off-the-cuff, sort of rough, spontaneous vibe… that might be the main
difference. I recorded our single, so we had the luxury/punishment of unstructured time. The
only change within the band was that we got older.
Do you think the LP sounds like the work of an older band?
Not really, there’s a lot of rambunctious stuff on there too, which is probably something
associated with youth. Also some of the songs pre-date the 7″ stuff so it’s a bit of a Tardis,
Seems like San Francisco is mostly recognized for noisy, hippy garage music
these days, at least in the indie world. Do you feel any kinship with say, The Fresh &
Onlys or Sic Alps or whatever? Are those the type of bands you’d play local gigs with?
I don’t really feel kinship per se with these bands, or any bands really, in a creative sense,
but perhaps in the notion of being obscure rockers, labouring away in a rather expensive but
scenic part of the world. We did record in the same studio that Sic Alps have done some
stuff in though. We haven’t played any shows with these particular bands, although it wouldn’t
be a major shock if it were to occur.
Who do you play shows with, then? Grass Widow? Any bands from your area that
you are particularly into these days?
We’ve played a lot of shows with Grass Widow, yeah. They are a great band. Other bands
from around here that we’ve both played with and that I’m into: Sopors, this killer sort of
early-indie-rock, melodic, scrappy pop band… the drummer released their LP. Culture Kids,
hardcore powerhouse. Ecoli, total maniac HC damage. Wet Illustrated, amazing band with a
legit NZ clang-pop thing. Traditional Fools, garage punk titans, surf-ish, actual surfers. There
are more but I’m drawing a blank now.
Is it true the band name will be changing?
Now this I could not possibly comment on…
Burning Sensation Burning Sensation LP (Vertex)
Utterly raging LP from this defunct Australian/American group, the type of easily-missed hardcore gem that’s sure to become a want-list staple ten years from now. I’m probably not getting all the details right, but the main Rank/Xerox guy lived in Perth for a while, and did this band with a couple friends, at least until they all moved to various states or countries. It’s a shame that Burning Sensation isn’t an ongoing concern, but wildly combustible hardcore punk like this never lasts too long… Burning Sensation is filled with speedy fits of greatness that rival Neos (who only really lasted for a couple of 7″s themselves). From the Rank/Xerox affiliation, I was expecting something arty or noisy or different in some way, but Burning Sensation just drill through half-minute hardcore tunes in the style of Kill For Christ by The FU’s or Jonah Falco’s recent Mad Men project. And in the midst of their blur, there’s a deep-rooted melody, or at least some sort of catchiness, that lifts Burning Sensation into “must own” territory, even for discerning punkers who have reduced their monthly intake from twenty new records to five. Who wouldn’t want a chance to add “I Fear Erections” to their next mixtape?
Cold Cave Cherish the Light Years LP (Matador)
It’s been fun following Cold Cave from a noisy electro-diary to a full-blown, polished band, running through different material and various lineups in their somewhat brief existence. I loved Love Comes Close, still do, so it was with great expectation that I greeted Cold Cave’s newest delivery, Cherish the Light Years. Opener “The Great Pan Is Dead” was my first exposure to the record (like most people, I’d imagine), and it rings out like a shotgun blast, aiming to destroy the New Order comparisons people kept flinging. Rather, “The Great Pan Is Dead” is a quick-moving, bombastic track that has more in common with My Chemical Romance or Thirty Seconds to Mars or some other grandiose mall-goth band than anything on Factory Records. Risky territory, but Cold Cave nail the vibe and sound completely, in what is surely the boldest stylistic development any Matador group will take this year. It’s followed by “Pacing Around the Church”, an instant indie dance-floor filler that seams Joy Division and The Faint’s Danse Macabre into something modern without sacrificing the fun. I realize I am referencing some pretty groan-worthy bands here, but Cold Cave are clearly willing to do something that isn’t inherently 2011 cool… they seem more interested in creating a catchy and flamboyant record with all the flourishes and guest-spots that a DFA recording session allows. “Confetti” sounds like Hercules and Love Affair, “Catacombs” reminds me of The Smiths, “Villains of the Moon” has a serious The Anniversary feel (yes, that The Anniverary)… Cherish the Light Years calls to mind a variety of artists, but it comes together as a complete thought, even if you’re scratching your chin before crawling back to Cold Cave, over and over again. For all the modern bands hiding themselves behind devices both musical and non-musical, Cold Cave are bold not only in their approach, but their ability to succeed with it. If Prurient can tuck some flowers in his back pocket and bop around to “Underworld USA”, what’s stopping you?
Day Creeper Blah! 7″ (Tic Tac Totally)
Simple-minded I may be, as Day Creeper’s brightly-colored sleeve drew me in stronger than the rest of the Tic Tac Totally bunch on first glance. Guess I’m just a sucker for colorful old-timey boy’s magazine ads. Put it on, and I hear a strong and persistent Home Blitz influence in “Problem At Hand”, the singer a dead-ringer for Daniel Dimaggio with the music not far behind, but “Nervous Energy” shifts from that specific strain of mutated power-pop into something more garage-y and, umm, regular. Two more cuts on the b-side, and while I appreciate the inherent value of a four-song single, I find my attention drifting away from Blah!, not because it’s a bad record, but because there’s not a whole lot that sticks to the wall here. Took me three listens before the side-ending “Women of Age” left any mark on my brain, as slow and silly janglers such as this usually fly over my head like an inorganic chemistry joke. If I really try and focus, I don’t mind what I hear, but bands like Home Blitz and Tyvek operate in a similar fashion and don’t require my utmost concentration to be enjoyed, so I’ll probably just stick with them.
Dum Dum Girls He Gets Me High 12″ (Sub Pop)
Nothing wrong with a new Dum Dum Girls record… I was expecting more fuzzed-out, 1-2-3-4 garage here, but Dee Dee and her gang have totally stepped up their game, essentially removing themselves from the Hozac fray, instead knocking on the door of the mainstream (as evidenced by the many frat-and-sorority types I spotted at their recent Philadelphia gig). He Gets Me High clobbers me right away for two reasons: the fantastic drumming, which cannot be replicated via drum machine like previous efforts, and Dee Dee’s vocals, free of effects and hitting new levels of strength and beauty. I really can’t think of many current rock singers who sound as confident as she does, and rightfully so. “Wrong Feels Right” is pretty sweet, throwing a little piano (and again, those mighty drums) in with a memorable chorus, but “He Gets Me High” is the big-money winner here – the descending vocal line is unforgettable, the groove is solid and the whole thing makes me think of Spacemen 3 kicking it with Belly. I should be hearing this song everywhere, and with the rabid Sub Pop publicists at work, I probably will. “Take Care Of My Baby” is a ballad, and for a non-ballad type of guy like myself, it’s a reasonable change of pace. Dum Dum Girls wrap up the EP with a Smiths cover that pretty much sounds like Dee Dee pulling off a killer karaoke rendition, but really, what do you want out of a Smiths cover anyway? Honestly, any band that wrote “He Gets Me High” can just retire as a cover band if they want, they’ve already accomplished more than most of us.
Ryan Elliott Rocksteady EP 12″ (Ostgut Ton)
Ostgut Ton’s visual aesthetic has always really appealed to me, but the cover of Rocksteady is gonna be hard to top… I really hope the cover model is Ryan Elliott himself, soaked in a body of water, with his long hair floating and eyes rolled deep in the back of his skull. This is what drugs look like. I dug his contribution to the Fünf compilation, and these two similarly-titled tracks are a decent, if straight-forward, addendum. “Rocksteady” shakes hi-hats in an intricate fashion, while the generic keyboard-stabs recall house music at its most Right Said Fred. Pretty good sound, if not necessarily something that sticks inside one’s head. I prefer the flip, “Steadyrockin”, as it’s a bit darker, the bass is lean and agile, and Elliott often hits those nocturnal depth-charge sounds I can’t help but enjoy. By no means a crucial release, but were it to include a DVD of the cover’s photoshoot session, I’d have to reconsider that determination.
Folded Shirt Folded Shirt LP (Fashionable Idiots)
Folded Shirt quickly established themselves as yet another Cleveland-based league of idiots with their debut 7″, the type of record I giggled at twice and then quietly filed away, slightly ashamed by my enjoyment. It was too stupid for even the biggest Violent Students and Breathilizor fans, so you can imagine my surprise to find that Folded Shirt put together a highly listenable album of goofy punk on this long format release. The thing is though, unlike a group like Brutal Knights, they don’t just write wacky lyrics and call it a day, Folded Shirt infuse every ounce of their sound with their peculiar sensibility. Drums stop when they shouldn’t, guitars are scraped like old scabs, and the vocals (often double-tracked in separate, seemingly-unrelated takes) yelp and squeal and pretty much screw up as best they can. The single didn’t have me convinced, but Folded Shirt really nail it here. I’m reminded of The Crucifucks, Flipper, Sockeye and Pay Toilets through both sides of this platter, not in a “I bet these guys wish they were” way, but in an authentic “Folded Shirt are ostensibly as fried and insane as the rest of those great groups” way. And like those other bands, the songs really stick with you, like it or not. Recommended!
The Girls Remote View / Lord Auch 7″ (Hozac)
This “The Girls” is probably my third favorite band to go by that name, which isn’t so much a testimony of their quality as it is the prevalence of the name (they are actually listed as the 14th “The Girls” on Discogs). This group is the modern garage-punk one, who I believe did an album on Dirtnap, which I remember seeing in many record stores but have never actually heard (can’t knock that label for their distribution abilities). Perhaps at one time, a Hozac 7″ after a Dirtnap album would seem like a demotion to the minor leagues, but both labels seem to have the same prominence these days, and both comfortable fits for The Girls, who rock like a second-wave punk band updated for today’s waning attention spans. Both songs are alright, but I probably prefer “Lord Auch” as I sit here flipping it back and forth (cooler drums and chorus). Judging from this single, I can picture The Girls playing like second or third on the final day of Goner Fest or Blackout Fest, acting as a decent-if-unremarkable opener for the bands that people end up talking about and really wanted to see. Someone’s gotta fill that role, and when you name your band “The Girls”, it’s almost like you’re asking for it.
Holy Balm Hand Over Fire / Strange Water 7″ (Hustle Muscle)
Turns out that last Total Control single wasn’t some weird fluke – Hustle Muscle is a legit label, focusing on the bleepy-bloopy side of Australia’s underground. It’s hard not to get a little excited when the only info on the back cover is the band’s name and the listing of “Anna – Synth, Emma – Vox, Jonathan – Drum Machine, Synth”… sounds like a winning formula to me, and a-side “Hand Over Fire” seals the deal. Primitive drum-machine thuds and wildly oscillating tones collide in a sharp-edged march, presided over by Emma’s floaty moans. Has kind of an ’80-’82 New York City feel, like something Lust/Unlust would’ve put together with their crew and the graffiti artists squatting across the hall. “Strange Water” has more of a Mi Ami / Sex Worker vibe, in that the music could be described as “jackin’ house” if it wasn’t so perverted by weird vocals and untamed pitch-shifting. I was expecting something cool, at the very least, but these three have a better command of their gear than most of today’s “ex-punker art schoolers trying their hands at techno” crowd, of which Holy Balm may or may not be included. Would love to hear more.
The Holydrug Couple Ancient Land EP 12″ (Sacred Bones)
Sharing members, drugs and visions with Föllakzoid, The Holydrug Couple also provide us an offering in the form of a 12″ EP care of Sacred Bones. Whereas Föllakzoid were a locked-in groove machine of undefined substance, The Holydrug Couple take those same two chords and flap them like a sandy beach towel, slowly swaying to the beat and strumming with their eyes closed. “Ancient Land” is like a cabin in the woods where guitars are hung from the porch in lieu of wind chimes – fans of Nebula’s introspective, “psychedelic” ballads take note. “Now” is pretty cool, rustling up a Pentastar vibe with vocals reminiscent of Dead Meadow, accidentally sounding like a slowed-down Circle Pit in the process. “Mountaintop” rounds it out much in the way we began, chanting at the sun and waiting for our tea to steep with lazy-hazy guitars laying on yoga mats. An easy record to forget about, but a pleasant trip while it’s here.
Iceage New Brigade LP (Escho / Dais)
Seems like every five years or so, Denmark emits a total shock to the international punk community, and this year’s treat arrives in the form of Iceage, a teenage group whose songwriting abilities and production belie their age. If it wasn’t for their youthful vigor, I probably wouldn’t be able to believe that New Brigade is the work of people born in the ’90s. These kids work a pretty simple formula, one that we probably all wish we thought of – rubbed-raw guitars, post-punk menace and hardcore speed, mainlined directly into your brain through disaffected-yet-tuneful vocals. Listening to Iceage reminds me of my first experience with Eddy Current Suppression Ring, as both bands seem to have arrived at their distinctly-great sounds on accident, simply producing the only music they can, anomalies in their respective punk landscapes. My connection to songs like “Broken Bone” and “Remember” is practically instantaneous; I flash back to my first experience with The Exploding Hearts when the chorus of “Broken Bone” kicks in, it’s that good. Even their faster cuts like “Count Me In” add to the overall impact. I am sure there will be plenty of talk about this band over the next year, an album this good can’t avoid it, but any praise is justly deserved. Americans can wait for the Dais Records version that just came out, I myself couldn’t hold out that long.
Late Arvo Sons Pretty Mess 7″ (Up Yors)
Real strange 7″ here from Late Arvo Sons, another guitar-based group out of Melbourne. “Pretty Mess” is not at all what I expected, as it sounds like Puddle of Mudd, like a working-class take on Nirvana with some more standard rock moves. And you know what, I like it! That vocalist has the exact same Puddle of Mudd faux-Cobain squeal, and in the context of a moody drifter like “Pretty Mess”, it works. “Get Used To It” rocks similarly, somewhere in the harder-edged section of the mid-’90s buzz bin with direct riffing (The Toadies, maybe?). I swear I’m not making this up. “No Pride” is similar, but with more of a street-punk toughness, like a poppy Battle Ruins. Really not what I expected at all, not because I had some great expectation of Late Arvo Sons, but because I can’t think of any other underground bands mining such uncool, radio-grunge territory. Sure beats the 18th lo-fi garage record to come out this month, at least.
Merchandise School Yard (Club Mix) 7″ (Katorga Works)
Merchandise’s debut album hit me real hard last year, an unexpected jolt of disaffected melody, glamour and shame. This new single couldn’t arrive fast enough, and while it doesn’t top (Strange Songs) In the Dark, or really push their sound any further, I still need it in my life. “School Yard (Club Mix)” sounds like a lost cut from the album, as the formula remains perfectly intact: chiming and noisy guitars, monotonous drum programming (a dance beat, hence the title), and beautifully strained vocals singing about whatever’s been bothering them lately. Great stuff, especially when the keyboards amp up the emotional surge of the track’s second half. “Graveyard” on the flip could’ve been squeezed on the album too, working Merchandise’s less-solidified, free-range songwriting approach. No percussion, just looping guitars and noise while the vocals emote as if the presence of music was totally unnecessary. It gets kinda squirrelly towards the end, as tracks are reversed and the noise takes over (they even bleed in some “School Yard” for added confusion), but that was always the yin to Merchandise’s blissfully pop yang. If you haven’t heard Merchandise yet, start with the LP, but those of us already enticed will appreciate this single’s addition to the family.
Me You Us Them / Bloody Knives split 7″ (Triple Down / Kill Red Rocket)
Pretty incongruous split single here, although the tightly-screened cover art could easily convince someone that these two groups are merely different sides of the same coin. One track from each group, and Me You Us Them contribute “Research”, a post-emo cut that runs through a few different styles… screamy, near-black metal vocals turn into something more palatable, and there’s a sinister keyboard melody that The Locust would’ve thrown a blast-beat under. Towards the end, the song becomes a little more stationary, the guitarists stomp on their effects pedals, and I have no real complaints. It’s Bloody Knives on the flip that really grabbed my attention, though… musically, their track is as if My Bloody Valentine tried to play Fat Wreck Chords-style melodic-punk, with this ridiculously clear and angelic male voice harmonizing over top. Imagine the first song on the new Cold Cave album, but a simpler interpretation, as if there was an indie-label trying to produce their own Twilight soundtrack. I realize this sounds like an awful combination to most people, but I keep wanting to hear this Bloody Knives track, it’s just too appealing and bewildering. Guess I’ll go dig around the Internet and hope that I can wade through what must be dozens of bands named Bloody Knives in order to find more about this one.
Mueran Humanos Mueran Humanos LP (Blind Prophet)
Either I have no frame of reference for groups like Mueran Humanos, or such references don’t exist, as they are a synth-based duo who sound like few other synth-based duos going today. Picture something like Martial Canterel with half of the instruments/loops removed, the tempo dropped considerably, the frequent addition of guitars and other rock instrumentation, spoken-sung male/female vocals in Spanish, and you’re starting to get warm. Each song is like a pleasant dirge in its own way – spacious, clean and totally committed to the idea at hand, trawling a uniquely morbid worldview. All these songs are pretty long, yet Mueran Humanos never gets exhausting or boring, probably because I’m constantly curious to hear what they’ll do next (it’s not unlike a track to start with a basic synth melody and then slowly morph into a doomy guitar-based composition). It’s almost like they’ve got a Velvets-y approach to songwriting, just kind of confidently jamming on an idea with little listener regard and sounding cool as hell while they do it. Blind Prophet is tapped into some particularly obscure veins, and I for one am pleased to reap the benefits when it comes in such an oddly desirable form as this.
Objekt Objekt #1 12″ (Objekt)
Can’t go wrong with a stamped white-label 12″ of anonymous and meaty dubstep like this here “objekt”. There’s a triangle on the label, which might as well read “made in 2010 or 2011″ when that trend is remembered in the future; no other info, so I had to use the Internet to determine that Objekt hails from Berlin, although the artist’s sound fits with the very British Hessle Audio label, working mile-wide bass and a creeping pace like toys in Objekt’s playpen. He (she? it?) clearly has a handle on the creation of this sort of sound, dropping just the right amount of wobbly glaze on b-side “Tinderbox” and nearly crafting a pop hook on the a-side’s “The Goose That Got Away”. Gotta love a record that I have to search on the Internet to glean the song titles. Objekt doesn’t bring much new to the table, but these two tracks are perfect examples of why I am so drawn to this style of electronic music: the extreme weight of the low-end works in tandem with nimble arpeggios and wily synth runs, providing a distinct paradox of claustrophobia and utter freedom. When transmitted through the appropriate sound system, it can be a revelatory experience. Both seasoned vets and curious newbies could find that with Objekt #1.
OBN IIIs OBN IIIs 7″ (Tic Tac Totally)
If car companies weren’t so hooked on Phoenix, John Mellencamp and Vampire Weekend, they’d be wise to look into some OBN IIIs for next year’s F-150 or Mustang commercials. Just from this EP alone, they could choose from songs such as “Runnin On Fumes” or “License Plate”. That’s the sort of high-octane action one can expect from these five young Austin dudes, rocking hard like an MC5 or Devil Dogs without the costumes of their respective eras. It’s pretty quality stuff, nice and rough around the edges (they’ll need to polish their chrome a bit further if they want to earn that Toyota money, of course), and although I don’t hear any big hooks within these four tunes (“License Plate” comes closest), I’m enjoying it just the same. OBN IIIs certainly aren’t the first band in the world to pose on the back cover in a dingy graffiti-ridden hallway with one guy chugging a PBR, but some things simply never go out of style.
Omar S Here’s Your Trance, Now Dance!! 12″ (FXHE)
This new 12″ from Omar S is at the very least one of his most hilarious… can’t beat that title, plus the weird “pyramid shopping mall of the future” architect’s rendering on the center sticker, and the three (!) silent tracks on the b-side. He just loves to engage the consumer in every aspect, usually with some form of “fuck you”, but what can I say, I am a glutton for his punishment. It doesn’t hurt that “Here’s Your Trance, Now Dance!!” is one of his strongest singles as of late, a fully-realized, lengthy cut with tropical-island percussion and a bass-line cemented to the ground. Would fit in great alongside the new Protect-U single on any retro-future vacation resort playlist. It also sounds a little too slow on 33 and a little too quick on 45 (the “correct” speed), making it the type of track that is begging to be lovingly jacked by DJs and home listeners alike. I have received my trance – it is now time to dance.
O/V/R Post-Traumatic Son (Marcel Dettmann Mixes) 12″ (Blueprint)
The O/V/R name is unfamiliar to me, but Marcel Dettmann isn’t. I’m a huge fan of his, and I’ve determined that it’s the art of the remix where Dettmann truly shines, Post-Traumatic Son being no exception. Three remixes here, all of which lead to essentially the same nefarious end – torturous clicking, negative bass-lines and other chattering noises gather to form an impenetrable grey cloud. The first “Marcel Dettman Construction” is the sound of fear in 4/4 time, the perfect accompaniment to the horrified drowning man that adorns the cover art. “Construction 2″ uses a two-note hook (which already makes it more musical than the first cut) along with the same set of utensils, and the last cut pounds the beat even harder, tossing in a vocal “augh” to mark the end of a loop, quantizing one’s brain to mush. Maybe someday I’ll tire of Marcel Dettmann’s strong-willed stamina, but for now it’s pure gravy.
Protect-U World Music 12″ (Future Times)
Couldn’t wait to get my hands on this new Protect-U single, all dressed for Spring/Summer 2011 in its beautiful blue sleeve. “World Music” is a fitting a-side, showcasing Protect-U’s varied abilities – hazy filters make way for a Jan Hammer bass-line and sparkling melodies, as if Ecco the Dolphin joined the cast of Miami Vice. These guys haven’t just figured out how to make something complex sound simple, they’ve also learned to push the listener through various highs and lows, building and releasing tension throughout “World Music”. Killer track, but I might actually prefer “U-Uno” on the flip, not just because it’s the world’s first techno card game, but because the mighty 4/4 thump and fluttery chords set me off somewhere far from my indoor state of mind. I don’t know how Protect-U make such classic technology sound so fresh and new, but it has quickly become their forté. Toss in a misty, chill-out tent version of “World Music” with “World Music (Dub)” and it becomes obvious why so many are sweating the Future Times label.
The Psychic Paramount II LP (No Quarter)
Almost thought this one wasn’t ever going to happen, but just like the immediate and shocking start of a Psychic Paramount live performance (a full-on musical blast usually accommpanied by a floodlight flashed at the audience), they’ve returned with a swift kick to the britches care of II. For such a long break between studio albums (their last one came out back when the only black president Americans knew was David Palmer), II is completely in stride with Gamelan Into the Mink Supernatural, even if the title is significantly less cool. The drumming is both completely out of control and precise to the decimal, the guitars flaming through the atmosphere and glued to the rails, and the bass an anchor sturdy enough to carry both. It’s easy to get lost deep within the group’s swirling mass of sound, the type of full-body reaction you get with a heavy Bitches Brew sesh, as II has enough power to lead the listener around by the collar. The Psychic Paramount write songs that, if the tabs were reviewed, could be performed by any amateur, yet are truly impossible to ever be played by anyone besides these three gentlemen. They don’t play the music so much as transform it into a physical experience. I love II, and I love The Psychic Paramount, probably the closest thing to magic that rock music gets these days.
Rabbits Lower Forms LP (Relapse)
I guess all the gnarly animals were already taken? Heavy stoner riffs and metallic pummel aren’t normally the first sounds I equate with, umm, rabbits, but that’s the moniker this three piece went with. I am sure their grandmothers think it’s cute, which is more than I can say for any band name I’ve been associated with. Anyway, Rabbits do indeed churn out some down-tuned stoner metal on Lower Forms; the music calls to mind something like Iron Monkey or Buzzoven, with a vocalist somewhere between Alabama Thunderpussy and Speedealer. It’s a time-tested sound, this sort of aggressive, Southern-tinged style, and while I am partial to certain acts (the aforementioned Iron Monkey has certainly fired me up through the years), Rabbits don’t really add their own stamp on the sound… maybe they’re young, or still finding their footing, but there’s nothing close to a hook on Lower Forms, just an adherence to genre specifications and an acceptable-opening-band sound for when Harvey Milk or Eyehategod roll through town. I’m not crazy enough about this style to go after the third stringers, which is unfortunately where I’d rank Rabbits.
Reading Rainbow Prism Eyes LP (Hozac)
Here I am again, staring at another record by the group called “Reading Rainbow”… not exactly where I predicted I’d be at my current age. I didn’t care for their Hozac single at all, but whatever, let’s give Prism Eyes a swirl, if only because Dum Dum Girls seem to be pals with the Reading Rainbow duo, and I like to give them the benefit of the doubt. The ‘Rainbow seem to have honed their approach a bit with this full-length, or at least their songs are now so streamlined and similar that it feels like one large idea chopped into smaller bits – quick-strummed light harmony with a haze of male/female vocals that merge into one androgynous drone. It’s really only the tempo that changes throughout Prism Eyes, going from sad ballads to rollicking rockers and back, while the general songwriting and approach remain staunchly homogeneous. If I had to pick a winner in the current league of harmless reverb artists, it probably wouldn’t be Reading Rainbow, but they’d be in the top half of the crowd, if only because they put together a solid recording and can successfully hold a tune. Funny to think that the bar is really set that low, but hey, it’s what I’m working with.
The Sailors Guilty Pleasure Blues / Let’s Go Chromin’ 7″ (Aarght!)
First thing I noticed about this Sailors single was how eerily the guy on the cover’s physique mimics my own, although if I were to perform some sort of grill-fat greaser blues, I would hope that it wouldn’t resemble that of The Sailors too closely. “Guilty Pleasure Blues” gets a little wimpy in the verses, especially with that ’50s greaser vocal inflection, but the unnecessarily-harsh guitar solo and jumpy chorus rescues it from my total disinterest. I’d rather go chromin’ anyway, as the flip is a wild romp in comparison, like the Ooga Boogas covering Dead Moon. Nice unhinged garage in under two minutes on “Let’s Go Chromin’”; your microwaveable burrito will still be spinning after the record has stopped. If The Sailors can stick with that vibe, they’ll earn their rank on the Aarght! roster, but for now, you’re better off saving your pennies.
Sex Worker Waving Goodbye LP (Not Not Fun)
Second solo outing from Mi Ami’s Daniel Martin-McCormick, and the progression shows… Waving Goodbye feels like more of a lap in the pool of DMM’s subconscious than the ankle-dipping that was Labor of Love. Six tracks here, doubling his debut, which result in a more focused and dare I say “pop” approach. It suits him – Sex Worker’s beats are still as lonely and fractured as ever, but they travel with focus, veering further in the direction of house music while maintaining his mutated synth explorations. Martin-McCormick’s vocals remain squealy and frazzled, but much like Mi Ami’s recent output, his voice has become less of a guiding force and more like just another passenger on the flight. B-side opener “Tough Love” fits with the type of thing Actress or Kassem Mosse is doing, a bit more expansive and deep than the rest of the Not Not Fun electro-nostalgia set, and totally great. Sex Worker could’ve easily kept things loose and improvised his way to decent results, but he put in serious effort and it shows.
Shackleton Deadman 12″ (Honest Jon’s)
As soon as the email notification of these two new Shackleton EPs hit my inbox, I clicked my way through the ordering process, international shipping charges be damned. I love Shackleton, but in hindsight, I could’ve eventually ordered these domestically, or maybe even not at all, as a version of “Deadman” already appeared in my collection via Shackleton’s Fabric mix. I recognized it right away, starting on that “everyone starts from point one” vocal sample, the type of unusual sentence that stays with you, even if you thought you had forgotten about it. Taken away from the rest of the Fabric mix, “Deadman” sounds particularly stunning, and an excellent choice for singling out… the formula is the same, but instead of the “open-air Iranian market circa 2099″ vibe on “Man On A String Part 1 & 2″, “Deadman” sounds like it was recorded in the future-primitive boiler room beneath those shops. Lots of metallic pings and humid blasts, not to mention the occasional hornet flittering at a dusty window in a failed attempt to escape. King Midas Sound drops a remix on the b-side, a “death dub” if you will, dropping the pitch as well as any significant percussion, just flickering the lights and dripping primordal ooze while an old-timey female ghost sings in your attic. A nice contrast, but this is still Shackleton’s show, and even in spite of the duplicity, I am glad to have welcomed the vinyl form of “Deadman” into my home.
Shackleton Fireworks 2×12″ (Honest Jon’s)
I went for Deadman, why not pick up Fireworks while I’m at it? Unlike “Deadman”, “Fireworks” is less instantly recognizable from Shackleton’s Fabric mix, perhaps due to its almost ethereal nature… sure, the bass still throbs with the power of a thousand Klipshorns, but the rhythm takes a backseat here, allowing its echoes and tremors to wash over the listener from every angle. While not an entirely different side of Shackleton, it’s certainly off the path of his last EP, and a most pleasant divergence at that. T++ adds his tribal swing to “Fireworks” on the flip, a solid if expected rendering, and Shackleton reworks “Deadman” into “Undeadman” to kick off the second disc, probably the least necessary cut on this EP, if not a solid Shackleton experience just the same. Never thought any Shackleton remixer would ever quite reach his level, but damn if Mordant Music doesn’t just competely lose his mind with his “Undeadman” remix… he whips up a frenzy of hypnotic bass, unholy clamor and violent weather, and then drops the sickest dub beat I’ve heard in quite a while; I was seated when this song hit and moshing around my room by the time it wrapped up with a detached human voice bidding me farewell. A Shackleton track comes full of interesting bits and pieces for a remixer to work with, but Mordant Music just went haywire, building up an impenetrable storm that reminds me of Ben Frost or Kevin Drumm, not necessarily in sound but sheer force. Turns out I needed this EP after all.
Silk Flowers Ltd. Form LP (Post Present Medium)
Seems like New York is just oozing cold-wave synth from its manhole covers and subway exits these days. Can you even cross Bedford Ave. without bumping into someone’s Roland? I make light of the situation, but I am a fan of most of that city’s current electro-wave offerings, including Silk Flowers. This trio keeps the vibe minimal yet robust, never pummeling the listener with half-a-dozen synched arpeggios like some of the Wierd standouts, instead content to build a Ceramic Hello-ish groove in the way the melodies slowly sneak up on you. Most of the record is instrumental, which is how I like Silk Flowers best; they know how to keep things interesting without sacrificing the music’s form, or overloading the whole thing into a mess. I’m reminded of Gary Numan and Our Daughter’s Wedding throughout – who wouldn’t enjoy a little of that? I’m not sold on the vocals, though… the singer has a deep and sleepy voice, almost as if Ben Stein walked into the studio unannounced and worked on his Barry Manilow impersonation. The singer also calls to mind Deke Dickerson (surf-rock specialist I know best as a member of The Go-Nuts) with a Native Cats cadence, if you find that obscure description helpful. Just doesn’t really fit the music, and when I played it for a couple of my friends, they thought it was the worst crap they ever heard. But hey, at least it’s notable and kinda unique, fitting for a record that I can easily pick out when it shows up on my iPod shuffle amidst so many other synths.
Steffi Yours & Mine 2xLP (Ostgut Ton)
Check any Berghain events listing over the last couple years and you’ll undoubtedly find Steffi on there. She’s built quite a rep as a disc jockey of the highest caliber, and like many of her compatriots, she’s pursuing her own music with this lengthy debut album. Nine tracks, I think all of which are at least seven minutes long, a very filling bounty of sumptuous and listenable tech-house. Like her previous EPs, the tracks with guest vocalist tend to be my favorites, like “Yours” featuring someone named Virginia. It’s a lot poppier than most of the Ostgut stable, optimal techno for listeners who can’t deal with the pure unflinching repetition of Marcel Dettmann or Ben Klock, but it’s this glossy end of pop music where Steffi excels. Still, there’s a lot of music here, and much of it lacks the vibrancy of “Yours”, as Steffi’s attempts to toe the line between melodic house and gritty techno offen misses either mark. I can listen to Yours & Mine anytime, really, and enjoy the experience, but it’s yet to excite me in the ways Ostgut Ton normally does. A nice-enough time that’s hard to recommend, if that makes sense.
3 Toed Sloth …Against the Odds 2×7″ (Unwucht)
Is it possible to love the presentation and idea of a record more than the actual music it contains? That’s how I’m feeling about this archival 3 Toed Sloth release, a double EP of a 1993 recording session that languished on tape for nearly two decades before Unwucht stepped in. These two thin 7″s come housed in a homemade gatefold cover of what has to be the cheapest white copy paper I’ve ever held… it nearly disintegrates in my hands as I open it, the photocopied ink looking like something out of my great grandfather’s high school yearbook. I feel like Tom Hanks in The DaVinci Code when I crack this one open, seriously. I can’t imagine a more primitive, DIY-looking record than this… I love it. Unfortunately, the music has been more of an afterthought in my experience with …Against the Odds, as 3 Toed Sloth aren’t much more than a fairly competent, small-time rock group here. They sound like your average serviceable rock band fronted by an ornery, speaking vocalist, maybe with a proto-grunge, Sub Pop-inspired attitude. It’s pretty low-key, unmemorable stuff, even when considering how predisposed I am to liking it based on the packaging. If Unwucht could’ve just bought rubber stampers to press the vinyl instead of sending it out to a pressing plant, I bet they would’ve, which is why I’m going to hold onto this artifact and hope it surprises me down the road.
Trent Fox & The Tenants Mess Around EP 7″ (Kind Turkey)
Millies on bass, Kris on drums and vocals, Rudy on guitar and vocals, Mikey on vocals… there’s no Trent Fox listed in this band! What a rip-off. Did he recently quit or something? Rather than stress over this upsetting realization any further, think I’ll just spin this 7″ and relax to their good-time old-time rock n’ roll. They’ve undoubtedly studied the moves of The Black Lips, but there are worse bands to emulate, and Trent Fox (RIP) and the gang know their way around an electric beat and the guitars that energize it. Sometimes it’s a little too retro-corny for my own predilections (particularly the b-side); I only need like one modern band doing this sort of thing in my life at any given time, but I can’t fault Trent Fox & The Tenants for that, as they seem to have a pretty decent handle on what they want to do. Oh, and they seem to have individually burnt the edges of each record sleeve, adding a smokey stench to my listening experience.
Two Tears Eat People 7″ (Kind Turkey)
Traditional garage-rock fiends mourning the loss of the White Stripes have little to cry over with Two Tears, the “one-lady” project of Kerry Davis, whom you might remember from The Red Aunts (my exposure limited to their Punk-O-Rama appearance). Davis gets right into it with “Eat People” and “Heisse Hexe”, two gutsy twangers so dry and rough I could strike a match off them. She nails the sound, but lots of people do… it’s her attitude and memorable riffing that bring these cuts home. “Senso Unico” sounds like Link Wray in prison, with Davis snarling about how she hates her life, even though I find it hard to believe that anyone who can sing and play guitar with this sort of classic coolness has nothing to live for. Two Tears just seems like a project with nothing to prove, no asses to kiss, no record deals to secure, just a confident display of rebellious black exhaust, one I’ll gladly take to the face.
Ultrathin Glass City / Don’t Mess 7″ (Badmaster)
Three-piece punk unit here, checking in from Montreal with their debut single. The cover art is so ’80s Madonna-fan that I was shocked to watch my sass-o-meter pull a negative reading upon listening – “Glass City” is a revved-up, Mayyors-esque chugger that kicks things off nicely, devoid of any of the Blood Brothers-isms I may have feared, and appropriately simple in structure. I prefer “Don’t Mess”, though, as it arrives with an oafish bass-line and primal thud to recall the first Hospitals album. The echoed, distorted screaming and one-handed drumming help bring out that vibe, too. I think I remember hearing that Ultrathin was a side project of some other groups, and if that’s the case, I hope these folks make Ultrathin a priority, as it’s pretty unlikely whatever else they have going on is as cool as this.
Kurt Vile Smoke Ring For My Halo LP (Matador)
Pretty wild to think that this is Kurt Vile’s second album on Matador… seems like only yesterday he was dubbing his CDrs and waiting for Constant Hitmaker to finally hit vinyl. Childish Prodigy was a nice, if timid, foray into the big leagues, not quite knocking it out of the park, but certainly settling himself into a world where All Tomorrow’s Parties invites and actual recording budgets exist. Smoke Ring For My Halo showcases the comfort that Vile has gained with this level of success, and while he has yet to write a hit to match “Freeway”, this new album is his most solid and focused chunk yet. I’m hearing more Tom Petty than ever before, at least if Tom Petty spent his afternoons walking through vacant city lots all by his lonesome. No real rock anthems here, just soft and oft-beautiful strolls through the alleys of Vile’s mind, never far from an acoustic guitar and a lyrical ramble. It’s definitely a grower, and I’m still waiting for that full-on rock opus starring The Violators (truly a live show to behold), but the craftsmanship and goofy-yet-sharp personality of Kurt Vile shine through stronger than ever before on Smoke Ring For My Halo.
Vincent Over The Sink Dust Studies 7″ (Kye)
Pretty sure Vincent Over The Sink is the work of Matthew Hopkins (of Naked On The Vague fame) and a friend. Gotta say, if he’s not coming up with the names himself, Hopkins plays in some sharply-named groups. If my understanding of Vincent Over The Sink extends even further, the other member has since passed away, adding a somber scent to these puzzling, dust-inspired snapshots. The Kye label is operated by Graham Lambkin, and if I didn’t already read up on Vincent Over The Sink, I probably would’ve assumed these recordings came from directly from him – Vincent Over The Sink utilize faint keyboards, rustling winds, misplaced sounds, deeply-pitched voices and various other nectars much in the Shadow Ring method. Normally it takes an LP’s length for this sort of audible haze to truly engulf me, but these four brief pieces make for a tidy EP that sets my brain on a nice 30° tilt, just the way I like it.
Women In Prison Strange Waves 7″ (Hozac)
The “attention-grabbing band name” alert went off a little bit upon encountering Women In Prison, but after spending some quality time with this single, I’ve concluded that their style is more about the fun that comes with being a punk rock dummy than any sort of ironic misogyny. See, “Strange Waves” kicks in like “Slash Your Face”, or some other undeniable punk rock shred-fest, the type of riffing that would work for The Time Flys or Purling Hiss or any universally cool rock band of the past thirty years. If the Homostupids got their act together, they’d probably sound like this. “Births of Rot” comes next and is even meaner, taking a hardcore slant, but keeping the frat-boys at bay with their snotty attitude and lousy guitar solo. “Circles & Circles” takes the flip, the most garagey cut on here, resembling the first Cheap Time album were it recorded with heavier gear. Don’t make me google “Women In Prison”… can someone just tell me if this band has other records, and if so, where they might be acquired?
() False Xmas 12″ (Katorga Works)
()? Thanks for that, guy. This band is lucky they’re members of Merchandise or something, otherwise I’d take their unsayable name out to pasture, never to be heard from again… at least Tonstartssbandht has the decency to use the English alphabet. Anyway, “False Xmas” is another slummy, home-recorded punk rock take on big-time indie-pop, and it reminds me a lot of that great Dykehouse album from a few years back. Programmed drums, synthesized bass, catchy keyboard hooks and a singer who loves being in front of a microphone. It’s kinda melancholy too, and almost warbly enough where I’d make a Xiu Xiu comparison, were Xiu Xiu to focus on their more accessible material and leave the weirdo baggage at home (at least until the last couple minutes of tape-fuckery and old-timey vocal clips comes in on “False Xmas”). It’s pretty cool, but I prefer “What Shall You Say Tonight” on the flip, with its charming guitars and bittersweet overtones. This type of song could’ve been written by either The Clean or U2 and it would make sense for either of them. I mean, () still sound like the work of a couple dropouts who crashed on your couch for a week and never did the dishes, but a large-hearted sentimentality is visible through the murk, the sort of sign that points to bigger things. Hopefully they just incorporate some of these softer sounds into Merchandise and blow me away all over again.