Archive for July, 2011

Slices

If you like heavy, noisy rock music and and aren’t hip to Slices, don’t be surprised
if your dedication to the art form is called into question. This Pittsburgh band pretty
much embodies what I want out of modern amplified guitar music: brutality, noise, tension,
strong vocals, memorable riffs, thoughtfulness and wit, one of the few who can check off
all of those boxes. They really came into their own on Cruising, their debut Iron
Lung Records full-length, teasing uncomfortable ambient interludes into forceful noise-rock
anthems, all with the smart sensibility of punk kids familiar with basements and the
things that happen in them. As of now, their new single Modern Bride was just
released care of Kemado Records, and their second album will be arriving shortly from
Iron Lung, two greasy Slices I can’t wait to dig my teeth into. Vocalist Greg Mantooth
tells me about his group’s pizza preferences, among other pertinent topics, below.

How would you describe Pittsburgh to someone who’s never been?
It’s less a city than it is a loosely connected blob of neighborhoods. I was really
disoriented when I first moved here, it took me a couple of years to really get a handle
on how this place is laid out. There’s a certain level of romanticism that people have
about this city that I think is kind of inaccurate. Like it’s some sort of enchanted
forest of rust and bridges growing in the aftermath of American industrialism, populated
by aging blue collar gnomes and intrepid young people. I don’t really buy into that.
We’re kind of dominated by the health care and university industry, so you see the signs
of that everywhere, even (and sometimes especially) in the most economically depressed
communities.

I feel like for as big of a city as Pittsburgh is, the rest of the world doesn’t
seem as interested in the bands coming out of there than say, Baltimore or Columbus
or some other similarly-sized city. Do you get that same feeling, like it’s harder to
“break out” if you’re a Pittsburgh band?

I think that’s probably the case, but I think that’s mostly because there isn’t the kind
of infrastructure to support bands really trying to “break out” like there are in other
major cities. I don’t think it has much to do with a lack of interest, but more of a lack
of awareness. I think Pittsburgh is pretty firmly established as having a solid track record
for bands on the DIY punk/hardcore side of the spectrum, and I don’t think there’s
insufficient recognition for that. I also think it has a lot of do with pure volume of
bands “trying to make it.” There is certainly far less music being produced here that appeals
to tastemakers. I’ve never heard Black Moth Super Rainbow, but apparently they get some
notice? Then you’ve got stuff like Anti-Flag, Wiz Khalifa, or Girl Talk. But in places like
Baltimore, Philly, or wherever, you’ve got so many more groups trying to get noticed. So I
think if you adjust for size, scale, and scope, Pittsburgh isn’t necessarily ignored, but just
a smaller pool.

So is the name Slices a pizza reference? There seems to be a few punk bands openly
into pizza these days, but that’s really not the vibe I get from Slices at all.

I’m fairly certain that the members of Hair Police came up with the name Slices while
intoxicated. Mike and John were just playing around town billed as the Kasunic Brothers by
promoters. I guess they played with Hair Police at some point and those folks just came up
with the name while they were all standing around bullshitting about ring modulators or
whatever.
There are often pretty intense debates about our favorite pizza around town though. Ovens
(drummer) and I are pretty die hard Mineo’s loyalists, while Mike is more of an Aiello’s
guy (fuck Aiello’s). John doesn’t care for Mineo’s, but will eat it if offered. He’s a
chill guy and doesn’t let his emotions get the best of him.

It’s my understanding there are two brothers in Slices. What’s it like being in a
band with blood relatives? I’ve always admired family members willing to play music
with each other.

I have also admired people who have been able to get along and play music together. Mike
(bass) and John (guitar) actually work on a lot musical stuff together and I find it
amazing they’re able to make it work. I sometimes think about trying to make music with
either of my brothers and it gives me a panic attack.
What I guess is surprising about the band dynamic is that it’s not much different than
any other band I’ve been in without blood relatives. In fact, it might be easier. The
first time they got into kind of a “brother fight,” Ovens and I were kind of freaked out.
It was really intense and came out of nowhere, but stopped just as quickly, and later
they hung out and watched some YouTubes like nothing had happened at all.

As someone who is not a teenager or in your early twenties, what compels you to
play loud, abrasive, heavy music? How long have you been doing it?

I’ve been listening to loud, abrasive, heavy music since I was a teenager. I had been
peripherally into punk and hardcore, but when I first heard stuff like Spazz and Dropdead,
I think it broke my brain a little bit. I became really obsessed with anything fast,
blown out, etc., etc. So there’s still a lot of that interest that lingers, even when I
get excited about finding some early Bob Seger LPs for cheap.
Beyond that, it’s always just been really fun and it’s hard for me to imagine I’d be able
to have this much fun in any other kind of band. Not to say the the music Slices plays is
inherently more fun than anything else, but I’ve always been in bands with my friends,
and my friends are typically people who have a certain level of humility and light-heartedness
about playing music. So the two tastes are kind of mutually inclusive I guess.
Before Slices I sang in Warzone Womyn, and before that, I sang in a metal band called Corpse
Grenade. Ovens has been in each band and I’m still friends with everyone else who was
involved with those projects. Well, except for one dude because he went on a vision quest
and I don’t really see him much anymore.

What makes it so much fun for you? What do you get out of playing a Slices show
that you couldn’t get from playing like, ambient drone or pop-punk?

I would actually love to be in a pop-punk band, but I don’t think I have the chops. Maybe
if it was more like Grimple I could pull it off. But to answer your question, obviously I
like the music we play, so there’s that as the baseline. Beyond that, I think most of the
enjoyment comes from essentially hanging out with friends doing something we all enjoy. As
sappy as it kind of sounds, it creates a pretty positive environment, be it at a show,
in the van, at practice, etc., etc. So yeah, I do think I could have just as much fun
playing pop-punk or ambient drone, it’s just that I’ve never been in a band that sounds
like Grimple or Earth.







How would you describe your new material, like the new Modern Bride single? Is there
some sort of progression from Cruising?

When we played a show the other night, a friend mentioned afterwards that it sounded like
we’ve been listening to a lot of New Bomb Turks. This didn’t really make any sense to me
at the time, considering that I don’t think half of the band listens to NBT at all, but I
think I can see where he’s coming from. A lot of the songs on the single and the forthcoming
LP are definitely not as “dark” as the stuff on Cruising. I dare say there’s even
a little melody in some of it.
We recorded and are currently still mixing with the same guy who did Cruising and the
previous EPs. I think it was a little difficult for him, from a mixing standpoint, when he
started sitting down with the songs because they’re definitely…brighter? I’m not sure what
that implies, but he kept pulling out Cruising and playing it in comparison to the
stuff we had just recorded. He kept apologizing to us for “ruining” the record. As kind of
an awkward group of guys, we were just like, “Uh, no you didn’t. Not at all.” We’re incredibly
lucky to have someone like him in town.

Was there any change in mindset to make “brighter” music this time around? Or was
it just more like a coincidence that your first album is pretty dark, and the newer
stuff less-so?

It was definitely more of a coincidence. I think it happened more because John would come
to practice and was like, “I got this cool riff.” On Cruising, a lot of the songs
were born of us screwing around at practice until something started coming together. They’re
more in line with a song like “Medusa” than with “Red Raft”.

Is there anything in particular that you want a listener to get out of a Slices record,
beyond just being impressed by some solid tunes? Like, is there any particular feeling or
thoughts you’d hope to invoke out of a listener?

I think everyone in the band just generally hopes that people like the records and get
more than just a few listens to it before shelving it away. I know earlier on, and throughout
the band, we’ve all generally agreed that we wouldn’t try to push some image that we’re these
depraved or deranged individuals. Not that there’s anything wrong with trying to create
that image for a band, but we felt it would be disingenuous. It would probably come off as
half-assed if we tried, since I think we’re all pretty well-adjusted, nice guys.

Well, what is the title Cruising all about? That seems to have some sort
of depraved connotations, at least to the many straight white males who enjoy hardcore
punk, through the movie of the same name, or you know, the act of cruising.

The original title was actually “Rock Music,” but I think the title came about because
of a discussion we had about what the cover would look like, which had to involve us and a
car somehow. John and Mike came up with the title later on, but I don’t think it had
anything to do with the movie at all. “You know, like driving around real fast on a nice
day on an empty road.” I don’t really know that feeling because I don’t know how to drive.
Furthermore, I’ll admit that I had no idea that it was a movie until after it was all said
and done. In their minds, it’s probably more of a tribute to the Nurse with Wound song
“Cruising for a Bruising.”

Why do you think people care that noisy, heavy rock bands have to be filled with
miserable, awful people, as if that somehow authenticates it? Do you think anyone has
ever been disappointed that you guys don’t all live in the same garage and put out your
cigarette butts on each other, and are instead reasonable, friendly people?

I think those people need to feel like they’re involved in some scene that’s dangerous
and seen as deplorable by mainstream society because they live an otherwise pretty normal
and stress free life. The people who are really strung-out on drugs and self-mutilation
want nothing more than not to be in that situation. In a way, I think of people who want
all of their music to be played by these types of characters romanticize it to the point
that it verges on the edge of Cosplay.
And yeah, I do think some people have been disappointed that we’re not these nihilistic,
gas-huffing freaks. But that’s fine, because there are plenty of people like that in the
world so I don’t feel like I’m really depriving anyone of this. There are people like this
who live in my neighborhood. Maybe I can convince them to start a band.

I think I remember hearing about Slices giving a talk at a public library on how
\to be in a band, or something like that… can you explain?

My friend does a lot of programming at a public library, and she does a series called
“So you want to be a _____?” This time she was having trouble finding people who wanted
to be involved with “So You Want to Be A Rockstar?”, so I volunteered.
Their programs are geared towards teens and pre-teens. I was supposed to come in, talk
about being in a band, putting out records, touring, playing shows. I think being in a
band orbiting the punk omniverse coddles you a bit; all of these things are generally
unconditionally valued, and you get congratulated or thanked pretty frequently. So if you
ever want to be knocked down a peg or two, try to tell this to kids.
First, they don’t give a shit. You’re just some weird old person who they haven’t seen
on TV. Second, they will be very confused that your bands don’t have CDs and that they
cannot buy them at Borders. Yes, specifically Borders. Lastly, the fact that you don’t make
any money playing in your dumb band will in fact make them rather disgusted.
“So…you don’t have any money being in this band?”
“Uh…no…we kind of do it mostly for fun.”
“That’s not very smart.”

Reviews – July 2011

Boddika Boddika 2×12″ (Swamp81)
Missed the first Boddika single on Swamp81, so I figured I’d catch up with this double 12″ EP. After scanning these four tracks a few times, I am somewhat relieved that I don’t have to go through the trouble of locating and purchasing Boddika’s earlier releases, as this is a nice-if-missable slab of today’s techno sound. No crazy dubstep rhythms or weird accessories, just straight-forward “future bass” techno at speeds of 130 bpm and greater. The most notable aspect to Boddika’s sound is the way he throws classic acid-house licks in his otherwise modern music, usually revealing the acidic loop a minute or two in and then riding it past the finish line. Cool stuff, but nothing I’m clamoring for, nor is it distinct enough for me to recall Boddika by sound alone. “Soul What” has grown on me, thanks mainly to the uneasy tension of the main arpeggio and its relation to the vocal snippet, but I am probably just trying hard to find reasons to love this (it’s a Swamp81 release, after all). It’s kinda like the television on the cover – sure, I’ll sit and stare at it, but my attention doesn’t necessarily mean I am having a killer time.

Coïtus Int. Dead Excitement EP 7″ (Bunker Pop)
Bunker Pop christens its existence with a pretty straight reissue of Coïtus Int.’s debut EP. They were a Danish post-punk group that seemed to swallow many of the scenes around them in their day (late ’70s, early ’80s) – there’s a shambolic DIY shuffle mixed in with dubby, Gang Of Four-esque bass, resigned vocals, and a sort of queer storytelling aspect that reminds me of The Pop Group in some indistinct way. They also haven’t entirely dismissed the energy of punk rock, not afraid to lock into a riff that The Carpettes or one of Small Wonder’s punker offerings would’ve strummed. The songs of Dead Excitement don’t really jump out at you, but there’s a style and wit lurking just the same. There usually is, which is probably why I haven’t tired of searching out 7″ artifacts like this one. I still can’t fathom how it was that so many random groups of kids got it right back then.

Coke Bust Degradation EP 7″ (Grave Mistake)
Everyone’s been saying how great Coke Bust are for a while now, but I never checked them out, because you know what? I have zero interest in hearing a band called “Coke Bust”. I have no issue with super straight-edge band names (I’m not even ashamed to have moshed to Vitamin X in my day), but something about Coke Bust just seemed too silly and non-threatening for me to check them out. At least Project X could be some sort of evil monster or twisted lab experiment or something, right? Well, whatever, now I’m listening to Coke Bust, and as I was assured, they totally shred. Great use of grind beats; reminds me of Extortion or a more polished No Comment, all flawlessly executed. So since we all know they are musically pretty untouchable, I’ll go back to my griping and mention their generic Old English logo. Hardcore bands know they can choose any font they want, right? Looks like their earlier records had a unique band logo… maybe they have just realized the error of their band name, and are trying to draw attention away from it by designing it like every other hardcore band. So that I may continue to enjoy Degradation guilt-free, I am willing to believe that.

Creamers Modern Day 7″ (Jolly Dream)
The bratty garage-rock of Creamers is now available on vinyl via Modern Day, the 80th decent punk single to come out of Austin, TX in the past couple weeks. It’s like you’re not allowed to not be in a band down there. Creamers thank both Women In Prison and OBN IIIs in the liner notes, and while Creamers are by no means bad, I certainly prefer those two groups when I find myself jonesing for a raw punked-out garage-core fix. The sound of Creamers is pretty indistinct, pairing a lack of hooks (just various stop-starts) with an average vocalist. It’s decent enough I suppose, but there’s just too much of this stuff being pumped out for me to come up with a good reason why anyone on a budget should specifically add Modern Day to their internet shopping carts. I will say this, though: Jolly Dream has one of the coolest punk label logos I’ve seen in a while, and the white vinyl / red dust sleeve combo is as handsome as they come. I may have to keep an eye on this label just because of that.

Creem Good Riddance / I Hate You 7″ (Katorga Works)
While a Good Riddance / I Hate You split 7″ (released by Creem magazine) has always been a personal fantasy of mine, this ain’t that. Creem is the name of the band, and this is their debut single, complete with old-timey cardboard 45 sleeve and Atlantic Records-inspired center labels. Don’t let the classic-rock style fool you though, Creem is a hardcore band, featuring dudes from Nomos and Natural Law, and they sound a hell of a lot like a hardcore band that would feature dudes from Nomos and Natural Law. It’s so pure, nasty and normal, that the whole retro presentation doesn’t really make sense to me, as far as what they are trying to get at (a Fucked Up-style classic uniformity, maybe?). Better than a black-and-white bondage photo and gothic lettering, I guess. “Good Riddance” is the mid-paced mosher, and “I Hate You” is the mid-paced rager, both angry and closer to Off! than Black Flag in delivery. Good stuff, although today’s standards are so high (just look at this year’s Chaos In Tejas lineup, maybe 2% of the hardcore bands who played it suck) that I’d find myself reaching for the Hoax or Leather singles again before thinking about Creem.

Death Trap No Hicks 7″ (Feral Kid / Warm Bath Label)
At this point, I am convinced that there is no end to the unearthing of old, barely-heard hardcore obscurities. Like the rest of the world, I never heard of Death Trap until checking out No Hicks, a vintage recording of this King City, CA hardcore band that never released anything in their day (1983 or thereabouts). This posthumous four-song EP is their only gift to the world, and while its existence is almost entirely unnecessary, I could just as easily argue that the existence of any teenage hardcore punk from the first, second or third waves is actually totally crucial. I like Death Trap more than some other hardcore unknowns, though, because their primitive ability shines through strongly here, complimented by their tendency to just shout the song title or some repetitive phrase in lieu of structured lyrics. “No Hicks” is a pretty solid slice of raging inability, like The Authorities with one hand tied behind their backs. The more I listen, the more Death Trap charm me into their world, even in spite of the band-written liner notes that earnestly use the term “LOL” (what’s next, Jello Biafra tweeting that something is “a fail”?). Fans of Chemotherapy, Maniax and other forgotten punk bands that got laughed at while performing in their high school cafeterias may want to check this one out.

Donato Dozzy Acid Test 03 12″ (Absurd Recordings)
The Absurd Recordings label is fresh from the lab with another acid test, this one spotlighting Donato Dozzy. The Acid Test series is almost like watching a couple on their first few dates, as Tin Man’s Acid Test was remixed by Donato Dozzy, a favor returned by Tin Man’s Dozzy remix here. “In Bed” is the original, and it’s very similar to the material on Dozzy’s K album, all lush and soothing and soft-core, like if you held a stethoscope up to Prince’s stomach while he was getting freaky. Tin Man ups the ante, not only flipping “In Bed” into a fit of nocturnal house, but by adding his trademark vocal to the mix as well. The energy on the remix continues to increase, as acid squelches mix with church bells, and by the time it’s over, I need a glass of water (with ice). Rashad Becker mastered this EP into his usual form of pure audio bliss, and for any American folks interested in checking out these artists under budgetary restraints, you can actually order this 12″ direct from Amoeba for $7.98 (with free shipping!), a list price that I thought only existed for 7″ singles in 2011. Go get it!

Damien Dubrovnik Europa Dagbog – Europa Diary LP (Posh Isolation)
Damien Dubrovnik’s Europa Dagbog – Europa Diary is a dismal affair, a tale of the pickpocketing, sex-club, broken-glass, 20%-unemployment-rate Europe -this ain’t Jeff Schaffer’s Euro Trip. Far from the tourist traps, Dubrovnik was clearly hanging with a seedy crowd on his holiday, as this full-length renders the uncomfortable, helpless feeling one has in a foreign-language-speaking country into musical form. Four distinct tracks here, each conjuring a different moment and sensation, making for a pretty perfect combination when enjoyed straight through. Makes me wonder if the strangulating bass-tones that open the second side were inspired by a particularly affordable youth hostel. For harsh noise, Europa Diary sure is melancholic and introspective (thanks to just the right amount of synth work), dressed perfectly by the outer sleeve’s bleak collage and the protective cardboard inner. I don’t always get sucked into albums like this, but Dubrovnik had me hooked from the start and never let up. He makes for one hell of a tour guide, that’s for sure.

Ford & Lopatin Channel Pressure LP (Software)
What a wonderful surprise (Joel) Ford and (Daniel) Lopatin’s Channel Pressure has proven to be. I stumbled upon their video for single “World of Regret” and loved it, completely Tim & Eric’d out, like a port-a-potty made out of old Nintendo 64s. The song itself was a huge part of my initial appeal too, somehow recalling a very specific strain of retro soft-rock/electro without the Nutrasweet aftertaste. That’s the basic premise behind Channel Pressure, but rather than just recalling a nostalgia that never truly existed in the first place, Ford & Lopatin have created alternate-dimension pop-hits of the ’80s and ’90s. Just dig right into “Channel Pressure” and see if the mix of Castlevania-style chiptunes, Walker, Texas Ranger soundtracking and Thomas Dolby geekery doesn’t have you chortling in delight. I still chuckle when I hear “Emergency Room”, or when the vocals first appear in “Joey Rogers”, but I’m not laughing at them, there’s no mockery here, just honest appreciation… Ford & Lopatin are so good at this music, and clearly had just as much fun making this record as I did listening to it. It’s great to know that the person behind the stoic impenetrability of Oneohtrix Point Never is able to goof off like he does here, and it makes me appreciate Oneohtrix in a different light. Channel Pressure has a few shorter interludes that remind me of Prefuse73 or some other early ’00s Warp signee, due to the rapid-fire processing/editing, but the majority of Channel Pressure is just hilarious day-glo fun that will make even the fattest, hairiest Grief fan sing in a falsetto and dance like a member of TLC. It’s the perfect album to help us break away from our carefully-cultivated self-images and just act like silly idiots for half an hour.

Fungus Brains Ron Pistos Real World LP (Load)
I first got into Australian punk through the classics, bands like The Victims and Fun Things and Chosen Few, who have quite possibly written the greatest songs this planet has ever heard. Much like the current crop of excellent Australian groups, there’s an enormous list of classics to dig through, Fungus Brains’ debut LP Ron Pistos Real World certainly not the least of them. Throw this thing on and it’s pretty clear that they existed in a freshly post-Birthday Party landscape, what with vocalist Geoff Marks doing that Nick Cave vocal-crack like he means it and the presence of horns (yes, more than one) in basically every song. Still, the music isn’t particularly arty or macabre, instead raging like Mudhoney if they were a teenage punk band, grinding out burly riffs with the fever of youth. You think Iceage look like cool unruly kids, just check out the Fungus Brain on the back cover in the top right corner, exhaling smoke with squinty eyes and a homemade haircut, clearly unmoved by his failing report card. Definitely an album worth hearing, and while there are still a good twenty or so other Aussie classics I need before I start foraging for an original Ron Pistos, this Load reissue (faithful in every way but the center stickers) makes for a handy place-marker in my Expedit.

Hiking Trenches / Bikini Atol 7″ (X-Mist)
Hiking, a new LA band featuring Bipolar Bear and Silver Daggers personnel, out-No Ages No Age on “Trenches”. This song seriously sounds plucked direct from the first half of Everything In Between, what with its chiming guitars, big booming drums and indie-yet-inclusive vibe, complete with a Dean Spunt vocal impersonator. This might annoy some people, but it’s a seriously good tune, one that I’ve replayed fondly over the past couple weeks. I guess the kids in LA need a band to enjoy while No Age are endlessly on tour, so why not Hiking? “Bikini Atol” goes a little bigger, maybe a little Battles (and a slight touch of Hum?) added to their Now That’s What I Call Indie sound, working just as favorably as the a-side. I don’t know, some people think any band that seems to be heavily indebted to some other more-popular band is automatically bad, but I don’t mind an obvious modern homage if you can do it as well as Hiking do.

Holy Other With U 12″ (Tri Angle)
Like it or not, the theme of underground music in 2011 seems to be “everthing has already been done, so let’s just cross-breed micro-genres”… Not Not Fun Records has kind of made it their mantra, and pretty much anyone with a keyboard is looking just as much to the past as they are to the future. I’ll save my long-winded treatise for another day, but Holy Other are a pretty good example of what music is like today – as far as I can tell, it’s the first group (person?) to fuse dubstep and chill-wave, two terms sure to confuse your parents. Just check the opener “Know Where”: this is the sound of Burial on a Caribbean cruise, his disembodied, blurred vocals laying poolside with Coronas on ice. “Touch” is almost so Burial it hurts, thanks to those distant city moans, but I love it, and have yet to find the overt similarities annoying. It’s really just a great sound and style, at least in the hands of Holy Other, who knows how to organize moody, melancholy sounds into a balaeric frame of mind. Labelmates oOoOO never really moved me the way I hoped they would, and didn’t seem to have much room for growth after their last EP, but Holy Other have struck something really smart and cool in With U, the type of record that has me psyched not only on its five brief tracks, but the possibilities of what could come next. Can’t stop spinning it.

Human Eye They Came From The Sky LP (Sacred Bones)
Space gorillas and cyber squids rejoice, Human Eye are back with another full-length record. I swear I’m detecting an “alien invasion” theme from They Came From The Sky, which would make sense, since that’s where most aliens come from, and if there were any band to give us an early warning, it’d be Human Eye. If you’re already familiar with Human Eye, expect no musical surprises on They Came From The Sky – they’re still a basement-glammy hard rock assault squad fronted by David Lee Roth’s Basket Case-style sibling. It’s great stuff, and if they didn’t recently change drummers, Human Eye’s percussionist must’ve downed a Red Bull / Viagra smoothie before recording this one, as he absolutely pummels, speeding through daring, exhausting rolls like it’s no big deal (his work on “Alien Creeps” is particularly vicious). With that recent Timmy’s Organism album, it’s easy to kind of feel like you’ve got enough of this stuff… I’ll admit, I didn’t think I needed this new one, but that thought ended after properly digging into They Came From The Sky. Wish these guys would hop in their flying saucer and hit the road again soon.

The Hussy Cement Tomb Mind Control LP (Slow Fizz)
Could’ve sworn Cement Tomb Mind Control was the name of a Man Is The Bastard song, and if it’s not, it should be, but in the meantime, that’s what The Hussy have called their new long-player. They’re a two piece garage rock-n’-roller unit, and pretty much offer what you’d expect from one of those in 2011 – rambunctious, guitar-fueled rock with a Killed By Nuggets charm. The opener “I’m Me” reminds me of Ivan & The Executioners’ “I Wanna Kill James Taylor”, at least in the vocal doofiness and rag-tag riffing, which you know is a shining recommendation if you’ve heard it. The rest of the album reminds me of the Rip Off Records singles that Jack White and Jay Reatard have filed in their collections through the years; not mind-blowing, but an enjoyable listen. There’s a ton of these bands out there, or perhaps the sheer mediocrity of them just makes it feel like that, but The Hussy fall in the better half of the pile, lo-fi without becoming distracting and energetic enough to keep me engaged. They also somehow sound full enough as a two-piece, a problem most of these duos don’t know how to fix. If this sounds like your sort of thing, get off my lawn, then go pick it up wherever Slow Fizz products are sold.

Insect Factory / RST split 7″ (Insectfields)
Drone split singles aren’t the easiest record to sell to an audience, but these two artists certainly make a case for ownership with this split, digging into your soul like the tearful eyes of a pound puppy. Insect Factory opens up with some morning-sunrise drone, so light and melodic that it’ll make your bowl of Kashi actually taste good. Could be guitar or keyboards or neither, just a nice solid swirl that doesn’t grow or recede, it simply hangs in the air as you walk through it. RST (I’ll just have to presume it stands for Rotten Scoundrel Truckers) works up “Burn Out” slowly, the sort of track you can see from a mile away as it heads towards you, like a Saharan dust-storm, only to disintegrate before it has a chance to overtake your body and swallow you whole. I’m more of an Insect Factory kaleidoscopic-drone guy myself, but RST suitably return to earth to close things out. A long-player might make more sense for these two, but this 7″ is still worth the effort needed for repeated flips.

Jamie XX Far Nearer / Beat For 12″ (Numbers)
From my particular point of view, The xx are an undeniably great group, moping like I don’t think anyone has moped before. There is a lot of thought going on behind the scenes of their reductionist goth-pop, Jamie Smith (aka Jamie XX) undoubtedly a significant part of the equation. Nice to see he’s stepping out on his own a bit, remixing artists both big and small, and now with this new little EP on the Numbers label, whose profile seems to be continually growing. “Far Nearer” is gonna be a pretty recognizable cut on the dancefloor, thanks to the steel drums Smith works with. If anyone can make steel drums sound sad, it’s him, and while there is still a bit of sunlight in “Far Nearer”, the moany, Burial-esque vocal smear adds misty eyes to the otherwise irie party. Really nicely done, and subtle enough that I can keep coming back to it without feeling like I’ve played it out. “Beat For” has kind of a pause/flash runway-dubstep vibe, like something you’d expect to hear at a Givenchy after-party, sleekly coated with yet another Burialized vocal. Not as immediate, but still a satisfying spin. I’ll probably start to get annoyed if people keep tearing pages direct from Burial’s book when it comes to vocal mutation, but for now, it sounds mighty fine. I think you’ll dig it too.

Little Gold Mike Swan / Oh Dad! 7″ (Sophomore Lounge)
Following their debut, Little Gold pull out all the stops that an independently-released 7″ could possibly warrant – you know I’m referring to the horn section, which softens the honky-tonk vibe of “Mike Swan”, a song about getting hit while riding your bike. Besides like, a dying Macbook battery or bedbugs, is there a more universally-feared hipster predicament? “Mike Swan” might be a little too post-swing for my particular musical palette, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong. “Oh Dad!” was apparently a Wooden Wand song first (go figure), but Little Gold make it a pleasant little power-popper that sounds like it could be the hidden gem on whatever Weezer album came out last. I think I preferred the more chest-thumping, emo-potluck style of Little Gold’s debut, but they’ve got a handle on things, and clearly are destined for whatever they want, even if it’s just a free pair of Levis down at SXSW.

The Men Leave Home LP (Sacred Bones)
Of all the adjectives to positively describe hardcore punk, such as “raw”, “fast”, “visceral”, “ear-bleeding”, “blazing”, and so on, “long” and “drawn out” are nowhere to be found. Those are the words that come to mind for Leave Home though, an exhausting album that seems to test both band and listener. From their live show, and first album, I knew The Men as a sort of hardcore post-punk group, somewhere between The Proletariat and I don’t know, The Wipers maybe. Clearly they have grown, which is usually shorthand for “got into drugs, slowed down their songs and tried to write pop hits”, but after checking out Leave Home, I think their current sound, however disjointed, works for them. Each track sounds only vaguely like the same band as the last, which makes sense in a way, as band members criss-cross the credits, playing bass on one song, guitar on the next, and sitting out the other. I don’t have much room in my life for rock instrumentals, of which there are a couple on here (no one wanted to sing on “Lotus”? Why not?), but they somehow pull it together into a record worth checking out. And then after grooving on a few mid-paced chuggers, “L.A.D.O.C.H.” is like Noothgrush on a rainy day… which leads back into another Fucked Up-esque anthem with shredding guitar solos. And then as befuddlingly as the record started, Leave Home wraps up with a drum machine-driven attempt to converge hardcore and kraut-rock (and pretty much succeeds). It’s like the rules don’t apply to The Men, and while I can get down with Leave Home, I think when it comes down to it, I probably would’ve preferred something a little more constrained. All these different directions distract me more than they pull me in. Good for them for seeing things differently, though.

Mob Rules The Donor LP (Sorry State)
Pretty sick and burly hardcore from across the pond, courtest of The Donor. I don’t usually look to England for this sort of thing (which reminds me, I need to dust off my Voorhees LP), but Mob Rules live up to the Sorry State standard, focusing on the heavy, down-tuned, explosive end of things… the logical midpoint between Mind Eraser and New Lows, perhaps. Comes with a nice recording, too, strongly scented with that Pain Cave vibe. Mob Rules don’t write songs so much as assemble a constant flurry of riffs and breakdowns; it’s hard to tell where one song starts and the other begins, but who cares? You don’t sit and ponder their music, you use it to help complete your P90X training and transform from nerd to bully. The nice little OBI strip completes the package, a fine example of the trouble England’s other kind of hooligans are capable of.

Pleasure Leftists Pleasure Leftists LP (Fan Death)
Puerto Rico Flowers aren’t the only group flying the goth flag (or is it a cape?) on the Fan Death label, as Ohio’s Pleasure Leftists have put together a pretty excellent debut LP, featuring cover art that eerily replicates the Coconuts album on No Quarter (compare the creepy blue limbs for yourself). Whereas Puerto Rico Flowers are slaves to the sluggish, Pleasure Leftist have a variety of moves to offer, from twisting, phasered bass and unusual hooks to what is surely the prime attraction of the group, vocalist Haley Morris. She has this intense, Siouxsie-ish warble that sounds like she is crying while impersonating Dracula (which I guess is conceivably the gothiest image possible). There’s a lyric sheet, but trying to follow along is hard work, as I swear her vocal track is played backwards at various times. Even with this uniquely awesome voice, she fits her bandmates well, who remind me of Strange Boutique, or probably any other underground ’80s goth band who was still influenced by REM and U2. There’s a lot of black lace going around these days, but something about the style in which Pleasure Leftists wear it feels incredibly right.

Bruno Pronsato Lovers Do CD (Thesongsays)
No vinyl version, Bruno? Not cool. Still, I had to check out the latest full-length from Bruno Pronsato, one of the more curious Villalobos acolytes to branch out into his own direction in recent years. The Make Up The Break Up was a particularly stunning long-form groove, complete with a haunting Nico vocal grab, but that sort of emphatic moment isn’t found on Lovers Do – this is a wine-after-midnight record, for when you are the last remaining couple in the bistro, blissfully unaware that your waiter would like to wrap things up. The tracks are long, smooth and organic, in a Theo Parrish way, like it’s a completely cool jazz band tuning-up rather than a single man in his studio. Among the various vocal hooks, electronic clicks, dusty hi-hats and Rhodes ticklefests, Pronsato will filter in various conversations or field recordings, giving Lovers Do an incidental feel, like you’ve accidentally stumbled into the coolest wedding reception imaginable and snuck some gruyère off the table without getting caught. Don’t expect to dance, because that’s not on Pronsato’s invitation – settle in comfortably and he’ll just make sure you leave feeling better than when you arrived.

Psychedelic Horseshit Laced LP (Fat Cat)
The cynic in me thought Psychedelic Horseshit’s move to Fat Cat was an odd one – what does that big-time label want to do with a couple of Midwestern wiseguys and their junky cassettes? The adage about assumption-making proves true yet again, as Laced is not only a great fit for Fat Cat, it’s a totally killer album in its own right. First thing you have to do to enjoy it is kind of forget what you already know about Psychedelic Horseshit – opening with “Puff”, which sounds like the sort of joint mid-period Black Dice would’ve smoked, this is clearly no bedroom lo-fi indie rock record. The rest of the record is as loopy and tropical as the intro, put together by the same obsessive minds that previously attempted to perfect pop music while under the self-imposed handicap of cardboard drums. Doesn’t hurt that bandleader/vocalist Matt Whitehurst’s nose is still clogged with all sorts of frustration and anxiety, his voice one of the few remaining links to the Psychedelic Horseshit of Christmas past. You can just tell from cruising Laced that this isn’t a lo-fi chill-wave disposable; Psychedelic Horseshit have put together a weird, enticing and surprisingly addictive album of looped percussion and wacky noises, as if they came to the same conclusions as Animal Collective but through an entirely different route. Probably the most angry current band that’s writing hazy songs about beaches, and for my money, the best.

Puerto Rico Flowers 7 LP (Fan Death)
It’s summer, and Puerto Rico Flowers are once again squirting their red white and blue pollen in the form of lugubrious new-wave music. After writing that first Puerto Rico Flowers song, it couldn’t have been too difficult for John Sharkey to write the other eleven originals, as each track starts in near-identical fashion – either the same basic bassline or slow-on-the-tom drumbeat opens the procession, then the other shortly follows, and before you know it, three-finger melodies are swooping out of the synth while Sharkey lays down the cold hard truth about being sad. This is probably the only band I want to hear apologize to someone named Eleanor, which Sharkey does here (and in perfectly dramatic fashion, of course). Both of Puerto Rico Flowers’ previous EPs were some of my favorite music that came out in 2010, but something about the sameness of 7 hasn’t resulted in the immediate appeal I’d come to expect from PRF. There’s no chorus as instantly satisfying as “Voice of Love” or “This Is Murder”, and while I’ve listened to 7 a whole bunch, and enjoyed it too, I can’t help but feel a little disappointed by the lack of stand-outs. Still, I remain optimistic, as album closer “After The Weekend” is probably my favorite thing here. It’s just Sharkey and a couple of his keyboards, softly offering the most heartfelt moment of the album, a poignant and understated ballad that would appeal to fans of both Zola Jesus’s early work and David Gray’s “Babylon”. I’m pretty sure he coos at his infant child in the final moments of the song, a perfect example of the tenderness I know Puerto Rico Flowers still has up their sleeve.

Roska Error Code / Abrupt 12″ (Hotflush Recordings)
Roska separates himself further from Rusko in my tangled brain with this brief new Hotflush EP. “Error Code” is a nice n’ glitzy party track; visions of synths with rainbow-colored lights dance in my head as the staccato rhythm floats through scales. I could picture anyone from Yelawolf to Natasha Bedingfield adding some vocals to this track and it would still totally work. “Abrupt” is real nice too, like a Svedka Vodka commercial where everyone is so excited to get drunk on tasteless booze that they start breakdancing in a plastic room. If you told me “Abrupt” was a Pearson Sound cut, I’d probably wonder “where’s the bass?”, but would otherwise believe you, thanks to the cool wordless vocal bit and overall atmosphere. You know kids in England can just go to any old pool hall or kebab shop and hear a DJ play this stuff, right? Makes a diet of beef Wellington and Yorkshire pudding suddenly sound appealing.

The Shirks Cry Cry Cry 7″ (Grave Mistake)
Even if the hardcore punk and garage-rock scenes have been at odds throughout their histories (not everyone is as open-minded as my dear readers), records like this Shirks single have always existed. You know what I’m talking about: music that is garage-y by melody, yet blazing with a hardcore sensibility, represented through the years by Angry Samoans and The Dwarves up through The Candy Snatchers and Carbonas. It’s always been there, and categorized seemingly based on the fashion taste of the band and/or record label. No matter what associations The Shirks will receive from their Grave Mistake sponsorship, this is garage-punk that would turn heads over at Headache Records headquarters, the sort of Devil Dogs-ian attitude that is just begging for an “all band members in black sunglasses” promo photo. Three songs, all pretty much in the same vein I’ve already described, none of which rub the wrong way. Not quite exceptional enough to inspire me to smoke, but I can’t see myself ever turning down The Shirks if they came on the radio, only up.

Sightings Future Accidents LP (Our Mouth)
Voila, another Sightings album, this one care of Our Mouth. I am pretty sure Our Mouth is run by at least one Mouthus dude, and it’s an appropriate pairing for Future Accidents, as it’s the most Mouthus-y Sightings material I’ve ever heard. Opener “To The World” has that same sort of humid, claustrophobic guitar and drum sound, as if it was recorded in a small room made of plywood without any sort of proper ventilation. These four songs, while different, all share that vibe, and remind me of one of the less-important Mouthus albums I jammed once or twice and forgot about (like Follow This House or The Long Salt, ironically both on Important Records). “The Knotted House” is a bit hairier, and side-long “Public Remains” is kind of majestic in a digging-through-the-rubble sort of way, but ultimately Future Accidents is less exciting than Sightings’ last two full-lengths. They’re still better than most anyone else playing with noisy guitars and drums, but Future Accidents seems a bit too monochromatic when compared to Through The Panama or City Of Straw. I guess I was just hoping for this to be the eventual broken-techno record I want Sightings to make. A small step back, maybe, from a band who please me most when they don’t just step forward but blindly jump off the roof, hoping for a balcony or timely helicopter rescue.

Sump / Sexdrome split 7″ (Posh Isolation / Legion Blotan)
There’s rare punk, raw punk, and punk that been burned to the point of inedibility. That’s where both Sump and Sexdrome exist, not just on the charred edge, but a complete pile of dried-out ash that’s difficult to clean up without getting it all over your clothes. Three cuts from Sump, who fall more on the inept black-metal side of things, as if Raspberry Bulbs tried to play Ildjarn songs from memory and failed. Repetitive, mid-paced and uncomfortable. I’ve been meaning to check out Sexdrome, and maybe it was just the weary state of mind that Sump left me in, but their two tracks don’t stand up to most of their Youth Attack labelmates. I dig their precious, Prurient-esque lyrical poetry, but their riffs are a little too thrashy for my particular enjoyment, especially when given the lo-fi recording treatment. I am going to assume that this split 7″ isn’t their finest work, and will try to check them out in the future, if only because of their song that Iceage covers and the perplexing idea of what a “sexdrome” could possibly be. My least favorite Posh Isolation release thus far, but mainly because the rest have all been pretty great.

Surgeon Breaking The Frame 2xLP (Dynamic Tension)
Can’t go wrong with techno-deviant Surgeon, particularly on his carefully-prepared new album, Breaking The Frame. It’s nice to hear someone who so clearly understands how to make people dance test his own limits and boundaries within that realm, as Surgeon slips his avant-garde tendencies in with the mass-appeal 4/4 thump, like covering a pill in peanut butter before feeding it to a dog. None of the sounds he works with are particularly familiar, yet something like “Remover Of Darkness” hits a zen-like state of concentration, at least until “The Power Of Doubt” brings it back to a familiar Downwards Records / Ostgut Ton sensibility. You can just tell Surgeon had some sadistic fun in creating this album, knowing the different paths and turns the listener would be led. My favorite cut is probably “Presence”, anchored by a maddening flashback-sequence sound that infinitely repeats with subtle variation, presented with the disarming false-comfort of someone like Sudden Infant. If a cop on CSI found a dead body near a stereo playing Breaking The Frame, I guarantee no one is solving that murder in an hour. There are just too many possibilities with music like this.

Vein Cranes True Believer 7″ (Florida’s Dying)
Pretty run-of-the-mill modern-garage 7″ from Florida’s husband/wife duo Vein Cranes. Jangly, dirty guitars; live drums; two people hollering; a small potpurri of xylophones, synths, drum programming and organs; you know the drill. The ’50s-ish chorus of “Pink Motherfucker” is a pet peeve of mine, a track that otherwise reminds me of Eat Skull, and is probably the best thing on this EP. I wouldn’t accuse Vein Cranes of sucking, because they don’t… they just meddle through three jumbled tracks that were probably a lot of fun to make, but far less so on the listening end. Maybe if I were personal friends with the group, and got drunk on their couch from time to time, I’d get into it a little more, but I haven’t yet had the opportunity. If you intend to purchase every single 7″ record that ever comes out in 2011, however, be sure to add this to your list.

Ricardo Villalobos & Max Loderbauer Re: ECM 2xCD (ECM)
Pretty cool idea here: give Ricardo Villalobos access to the vaults of ECM’s entire catalog so that he may remix the label to his heart’s content. I know ECM as possibly the finest dollar-bin jazz label to ever exist, and I know Max Loderbauer as the guy all those techno heavyweights call in when they want extra processing power. (I’m still not entirely sure if “Max Loderbauer” is a human being or actually some sort of new mega-Ableton mainframe software.) I’ve dug in deep to these seventeen lengthy tracks, deeper than most people would probably be willing to venture, and it’s with a heavy heart that I offer my findings: Re: ECM is a pretty boring album. Maybe it’s a case of blown expectations, but I was hoping for at least some sort of tech-house pulse within Re: ECM; if not on every track, at least a couple. Instead, this is entirely electronic music of the Raster-Noton variety: impenetrable, out-of-focus, incredibly high-brow and often boring. For multiple stretches of ten minutes or longer, Villalobos and Loderbauer will just skitter around some hi-hats and piano chords to no apparent destination, punctuated by the sound of a buzzing fly across the room. Next track will be the same deal, just with the addition of some visionary clarinet, and so forth. If you thought the percussion on that new Moritz Von Oswald Trio was lightweight, think again, as the few times a recognizable beat appears here, you have to strain to hear it (maybe that beat I thought I heard was just the pumping arteries in my neck after all). “Reannounce” is the only track that has any sort of motion, and it’s a pretty sweet ethno-march if I ever heard one, but its six minutes do not save the rest of this long and frustrating album. After that careless Marvin Gaye remix, and now this, I am starting to worry that Villalobos has forgotten that people outside of his club appearances like to listen to quality modern techno music. Give us the good stuff, I don’t need any more aimless electronic collages.