So many bands are chasing that proto-glam, party-addiction garage-rock vibe these days,
but none seem to wear the clothes as perfectly snug as Sydney’s Circle Pit. If Guns N’
Roses weren’t so virulently homophobic, and The Spaghetti Incident? pre-emptively featured
tracks by Royal Trux and Spacemen 3 instead of Nazareth and Fear, it might’ve sounded
something like Circle Pit’s Bruise Constellation, one of my favorite albums of 2010. The
project of close friends Angela Bermuda and Jack Mannix, Circle Pit can come as a duo,
sextet, or anything in between, but the vibe remains essentially the same – ragged, glitzy
punk rock (n’ roll) that makes me wish I had continued my anti-social teenage behavior well
into adulthood. I asked multi-instrumentalist and singer Bermuda about the band; just as
I hoped, she completely surprised me in various ways.
Is there a cooler-looking active band than Circle Pit?
I don’t really know how to answer this, sorry…
I just think, from the Bruise Constellation cover shot, and the recent single’s
art, you guys look cool as hell. I feel like a lot of other bands that might be in your
“scene” or whatever look a lot more boring or generic.
I guess that in relation to our album and single covers, we’re big fans of the artwork
associated with glam / shock-rock bands, and rock / biker iconography – of whom place
their own image more often than not at the forefront. The majority of unknown bands that
aren’t in the same predicament as famous musicians like Marc Bolan, Keith Richards, etc.,
would never place themselves on their own record covers, because it’s seen as egotistical –
but I think rather there’s something special about having a face on the cover. A lot of
people are humbled or like to remain seemingly mysterious and/or hidden behind the music –
but Circle Pit as a entity is so much about the two of us, our lives together and seperate –
so it just felt right in those few instances to put ourselves on the cover, as the music
reflects so much of us.
I feel like, in seeing the two of you on the cover, there’s way more mystery than if
you used a colorful collage or something, because I can see the two of you and actually
wonder about you. Some random picture won’t have that same effect. So how did the band get
started? Were you friends, or playing together in other bands before?
We’ve been friends for about 10 years now. It has been a really long time when I think about
it, and how we were just kids back then. The band started when Jack and I had been playing
in another band, Kiosk, for a few years. Over time we realised that we both wanted to start
a new musical project, and that we had similar intentions. We both wanted to write new kinds
of songs and lyrics, artwork and films, with different ideals and expressions than that of
those created previously. We wrote songs and generally hung out for a year or so before we
performed live. It was a really special time.
What were the new musical ideas and expressions that you wanted to do, but weren’t
doing at that time? And what was Kiosk like?
Kiosk was a more intuitive, aggressive project, where we would write songs all together (Jack,
myself and our friend Catherine) in a rehearsal situation. The style was factored largely by
the fact towards the end of the band, Jack was playing drums and I was playing guitar. Being
the only tonal instrument, in a situation where someone else is the ‘singer’, and Jack being
limited by percussion… we felt that we had a lot more to say than this situation allowed us.
Kiosk had an amazing energy to it – especially in a live environment – but as time weared on,
the music I wished to create was involving more thought-out guitar parts and lyrics.
Did Kiosk ever put out any records?
Kiosk put out a 7″ called Growing Pains, recorded in Adelaide with Kynan Lawlor. I actually
don’t own a copy, I’d love to get my hands on one. We also released a CD-EP/tape called Sixty Nine,
recorded with Matthew Hopkins in Sydney about a year later, and finally recorded a full-length
album in Olympia with Calvin Johnson that never got released.
The name “Circle Pit” evokes a few different things, from Pagan rituals to moshing
techniques… does it have any particular meaning to you?
The term has many layers, which drew us to it. Its pretty representative of modern pop culture,
with moshing being the most obvious reference, race-tracks, UFO iconography, etc. I guess to me
it evokes more simplistic ideas, of the nature of life and death and the eternal return of the
same, the spectacle, etc.
Your single on Hardly Art is pretty different from your other material. Is this another
side of Circle Pit that’s always been there, something new you plan on continuing, or a one-off
sort of deal?
Its hard to ‘compare’ these recordings, because we had an entirely different set-up. Our album
and most recent 7″ single was recorded with a live band, whereas this time we had just the
two of us and Harriet Hudson, our guitarist. It was a lot more relaxed than other sessions we
had done, and I think that definately shines through on the tracks. The choice of synths and
keyboards was more a choice of them being in the studio at that time. That said, I think that
the potential for different sounds is always out there, and it’s something we definately want
to explore. Our 12″ EP we recorded in Melbourne and Columbus, Ohio, late last year sounds
completely different entirely, taking some influence from our first 7″ on RIP Society. We have
a few tracks that sound similar to the Slave / Honey release, so I’m sure they’ll come out
sometime or another.
Do you perform songs like “Slave” and “Honey” live, or is that strictly a studio thing?
We just played a launch show last week in Sydney and played those two songs live for the first
time. It was strange, as we couldn’t get our hands on a keyboard, so we played them on guitar.
The songs allowed themselves to a guitar format pretty well, but it was difficult to hold it
all together just the two of us, as there are a lot of parts to those songs, but I think we did
What was it like recording in Ohio? I can imagine it might be kind of stressful, away
from home and presumably on a strict schedule.
Recording in Ohio was intense. Haha. It was Thanksgiving, and our first day off in a long time…
We spent the day partying with friends, drinking and dancing ensued… We started recording
around 10:00 pm, and went untill the next morning. Everyone started dropping off at the end,
and at around 7:00 am I remember Jack waking me up to do each take, I was so over. It made the
recording a bit better in the sense it was more free and less thought out. Matt from Psychedelic
Horseshit recorded us – he did the most amazing job of it onto this old tape machine – despite
the fact the tape kept falling off the reel. Him and Beth from Times New Viking were the
greatest hosts and we had a really amazing Thanksgiving experience, as there’s not really
anything like it here.
What’d you think of touring the United States?
Touring America was really fun, intense, awesome, stressfull – the whole deal. Even though
I’m sure we pissed each other off at some points, I can’t think of a group I’d rather spend
two months with. I slept in the car a lot, in the dead of BC winter. I had loads of strange
dreams in the cold.
If you had to move to an American city, which would you choose?
It would be hard to pick a city, it would depend on how much money I had… haha. I like
loads of places: Austin, LA, Portland, Philly, etc… New Orleans is awesome too.
Have you toured Australia?
We’ve ‘toured’ Australia in the sense we’ve played all the major cities, but Australia is
pretty small, so we usually just do a trip to Melbourne or Brisbane. Sometimes it’s an advantage,
as there is this definite community feeling throughout the country, but sometimes you feel
you’re stuck on the ass-end of the world. But you get that everywhere every once in a while,
I suppose. Also as the cities are so brutally far apart, there’s something awesome about
the time spent in the car, looking out the window, chatting and thinking with your friends,
listening to tunes and staring at mountains and farm animals.
Is there any particular show you’ve played at home that really stuck out as
There would be many of those. Playing shows on memorable occasions are always an extra good
time… A few times we’ve played shows on Jack’s birthday. Our first show with a live band
setup was on one of those, we blew balloons and made a silly banner. We called the show ‘Metal
Meltdown’ and it got shut down by the cops. A show on my birthday was in Melbourne with Jay
Reatard and the Dirtbombs, that was fun… We played at a house party on New Year’s Eve a few
years back in Redfern with a bunch of bands from Sydney; the next day we forgot that we had
played untill someone else reminded us. That was memorable in a different kind of way I suppose.
I still remember our first ever show so vividly, it was just the two of us and Chris Petro
on drums, at a regular event called ‘Plastic Bag’ in this really notable old linen-factory /
warehouse space in inner Sydney called Hibernian House. Actually Jack and I were living there
until just last week, but the show was put on by our dear friends The Garbage and the Flowers,
who live in the building. We played a few covers – Sonny and Cher, Spacedust… It was pretty
shambolic, but special, for sure. Even though a band is more often than not a public entity,
the most memorable moments for me would always be the more private moments like writing or recording.
What else do you do for fun? I’m trying to imagine what life is like for Circle Pit
when you aren’t playing shows or recording.
We both play in other bands, hang out with friends, hang out together, chatting and hanging
out. We hang out a lot more than working on songs together. Being friends comes before
everything else. Speaking for myself, I love reading, watching films, drinking beer, and
gambling. I’m addicted to the ‘Pokies’. My favourite machine is called Spring Carnival.
Pokies… are those like poker machines? Do you play regular poker at all?
Yeah, poker machines. I want to compose the music for them! Last night I was playing this
Australian themed machine called Big Red which is centred around a massive red kangaroo. I don’t
play poker, but I love hearts. It’s my favourite card game of all time.
Are there any particular artists or musicians that really helped you get a feel for
what you wanted Circle Pit to be like? Any specific inspirations for the band?
This is a hard question to answer – the bands I listen to most of the time don’t really sound
much like Circle Pit – I love Throbbing Gristle, Chrome, Blue Oyster Cult, etc. It was funny
the other week when I was in Melbourne, I was playing our Sewercide 7″ to Mark Nelson, who
recorded it, for the first time. I realised that because I don’t own a stereo, I’d never
listened to that 7″ or our album properly. Haha. It sounded so weird to me! Like Red Kross,
but heaps weirder. I felt so removed from something I had actually made. It’s funny when
something leaves your hands, it takes on a life of its own.
I think that the band that has ‘influenced’ Circle Pit the most would be The Rolling Stones.
We’re channeling classic rock bands in a way that I feel most bands active at current don’t
really do. A lot of current bands seem to be looking for some kind of ‘edge’ but the truth is –
you don’t really need it, because most of the time good music is that which is the simplest.
Agreed. But how is it that you don’t own a stereo?!
I used to own a stereo, but I’ve been moving around a lot over the last two years -in fact, I
don’t even own any furniture! No bookshelf, no bed! Haha. I’ll be getting these things soon
enough… I’m addicted to house sitting and subletting. It fools me into thinking I’m travelling
even when I’m not.
Anita Fix & Bam Bam Run For Joy / 20 Second Bugs 7″ (Ride The Snake)
If you remember the recent and cool Dead At 24 retrospective album that Ride The Snake put out, Anita Fix & Bam Bam is the band that followed, who I believe are still performing in some capacity, or maybe not. I hope they are, because this single is like a more distilled, punky, not-as-’90s version of Dead At 24, which means it’s pretty great. “Run For Joy” could be a KBD rocker if it didn’t get so arty… reminds me of The Girls’ “Jeffrey I Hear You” or something by Raymilland, like a new-wave group that was too punk for the pop crowd but too smart for the punk crowd. “20 Second Bugs” sounds like the live recording that it is, albeit a good one, played with a nervous energy to a crowd who seemed riled up about something other than Anita Fix. Kinda rubs me like a Moss Icon song, if Moss Icon read books that made them wiseguys instead of hippies. I don’t know, I can see this one getting lost in the shuffle (Anita Fix is probably the least self-promoting drag queen I’ve ever known), but those who stumble upon it (or discover it in the back of a singles bin ten years from now) will probably wonder the same thing: “How come I never hear anyone talk about this band?”
Atelier Méditerranée Méditerranée 7″ (Bruit Direct Disques)
Not exactly sure why some messy splatters of electro-junk are so much more palatable than others, but this wacky single by France’s Atelier Méditerranée (who appear to be more of a “workshop” for kids than an actual musical group) is the type of freakout I heartily enjoy. “Méditerranée” is the sound of sticky keyboards poking at schoolchildren until the kids erupt into moans of agony, as if Slugfuckers left the rhythm section at home and just blasted their gear after a particularly lousy day at the factory. “Flunch” is a sad and woozy tribute to the French chain restaurant of the same name, followed by “Artena”, which must be French for “half breakdown, half freakout”. Atelier Méditerranée make me think of a Reynols / Leprechaun Catering collaboration, just another fantasy of mine that’ll never happen. I’ve got this 7″ though, and that’s more than good enough.
James Blake Order / Pan 12″ (Hemlock)
By this point, nearly everyone interested in popular underground techno has taken notice of British wunderkind James Blake. The dude’s not just crafting a unique style of melodic R&B-infused dubstep, he’s got a mean set of pipes to boot, putting it all together and crafting something great. I’m certainly not alone in loving it, or awaiting his next move, so while this new Hemlock EP is far from what I’d imagine to be his next progression, it’s still a cool piece of the puzzle. Don’t expect any of his soul-tugging vocals here – both tracks are cut from the same cloth: a computer-morphed jazz kit, completely instrumental in nature. This is what I’d imagine it will sound like when my great-grandkids dig through my record collection and throw on a Pearson Sound 12″ that they found uncovered in the attic, mired with decades of dust and dander. Both “Order” and “Pan” have that out of focus patina to them, like an archaeologist had to chisel this one out of the granite to play it. Certainly not geared for the dancefloor, or the pop set, but for the “heads” who want another peek inside Blake’s studio to see what he’s been tinkering with. I can’t really recommend it for casual listeners, but I’ve uncovered more curiosities out of this one each time I spin it.
B-Lines B-Lines 12″ (Deranged / Nominal)
I was at a show in Vancouver a couple years ago, on the tail-end of a trip and completely burnt-out on music, when some young local punk band took the stage and belted out what seemed like thirty songs in fifteen minutes, rifling through their set as if their parents were due to show up at any minute and pull the plug. They didn’t announce themselves, so I had to ask around to determine that it was the B-Lines I had witnessed. It was an energizing moment, one that carries onto this nine-song 12″ EP. It’s kind of like garage-punk, if you take away the leather-jacket posturing and just let the manic energy of youth grab the reins. Kind of ’77-ish, in that modern Jay Reatard way, and nearly as hooky, but you can still skate to it. I don’t know, they’re kind of a generic band on paper, but these songs really jump off the vinyl, resulting in that same “who is this???” feeling I had watching them play. B-Lines have definitely graduated with honors from Nominal University.
Bone Awl Bowing Heads / Sunless Xyggos LP (Iron Tyrant)
Been waiting on some new Bone Awl vinyl, and here it is – this one compiles the recent Bowing Heads tape and their material off the split with The Rita. These Bowing Heads tracks are killer, showcasing a particularly clean recording (by Bone Awl standards) and classic punk guitar tone; “That Awful Voice” seriously sounds like a song off The Victims’ No Thanks To The Human Turd EP, just with a black metal troll on vocals. Not sure if this is a happy accident or what, but this guitar sound, mixed with the requisite oom-pah drumming and unrelenting intensity, is sure to appeal to anyone into angry aggressive guitar music. The Sunless Xyggos stuff, recorded in 2006, shows how little Bone Awl have progressed in their time as a band, and just how little they needed to. Still, it’s slightly messier, and heavier, and more metallic, and instrumental, too; a nice companion to the a-side. Those who already claim Bone Awl allegiance will be thrilled, but Bowing Heads / Sunless Xyggos makes for a great introduction for those previously uninitiated as well. Come for the raw strumming of the a-side and stay for the metallic crunch on the flip.
Christmas Island / Meth Teeth split 2×7″ (Sacred Bones)
I’m one of the few people who will rally behind the concept of a 2×7″, particularly when it comes to punk or indie records. The act of flipping sides is a physically intensive one, providing a record with the natural breaks it was meant to have. That said, I’m not entirely crazy about a double split 7″, as it’s an almost certainty that most people wouldn’t have bought both singles together if they were given a choice, leading to the sad condition known as Record Resentment. (Haven’t we all suffered enough? Anyone who owns the Teengenerate / Bum split knows what I’m talking about.) Still, I think this pairing is ultimately a fair one, two groups in the same league (minor) and billing (mid-card), cooperating rather than competing. Christmas Island are pleasant enough jangle-pop, like the shy younger brother of high school drop-out Nerve City and state college Dean’s Lister, Fresh & Onlys. I prefer the speedy b-side “Drawing Skulls”, but that might just be because “beach” isn’t in the title. Meth Teeth are a little grittier, as if Christmas Island locked themselves in the bathroom with a handful of Pink Reason records before entering the studio (presuming a studio was involved here). Kind of a Kurt Vile vibe here too, if you pitched Vile’s vocals down to a drooling stupor. Neither band has compelled me to check them out further, but I’d rather wake up in the back of Christmas Island’s van, as they seem like they’d be the type of band to always have a designated driver and a GPS system running. Really though, I could’ve just used that Circle Pit EP that Sacred Bones has been teasing us with for months.
Jon Convex Convexations 12″ (3024)
Never a boring label, Martyn’s 3024 imprint quietly released Jon Convex’s debut EP, Convexations. So glad it didn’t pass me by, as this is a monster EP of tech-house that manages to be both gritty and vibrant the same time, like a city street with a massive iridescent mural hanging over it. Convex works a killer 4/4 thump on “Convexations”, as if Marcel Dettmann exchanged his greyscale atmosphere for a technicolor one, in which Convex twirls this freaky little girl vocal, sounding like a spiritually-possessed thirteen year-old pop-star. “Falling Again” chops the vocals like Ramadanman in the kitchen, grabs the rhythm by its tail and hops down a wonderfully glitchy path. It’s really great, and while these tracks sound like they belong in 2011’s electronic vernacular, I can’t necessarily place Jon Convex in any of the many micro-micro-genres currently in vogue. There’s a “digital only” bonus track that I had to seek out, and that’s just as good, taking things in an acidic direction, like Audion on a particularly sadistic trip. Don’t make us wait much longer for more, Jon!
Crazy Spirit Remastered Demo 12″ (Quality Control HQ)
Crazy Spirit are this year’s scramble-to-buy hardcore band. Their records pop in and out of Big Cartel webstores like a phantom in the night; even the band itself runs out of copies at gigs, and everyone involved develops carpal tunnel syndrome folding, gluing and screening every available surface of their records. I enjoy the effort that they put into their records, and I enjoy the effort I have to put in to actually own a copy, mostly because their dingy, raging hardcore is gnarly, distinct and worth my troubles. Closest references would be the Filth’s side of the Shit Split, Quincy Punx, GG Allin with The Jabbers, or any sort of grime-encrusted punk with a melodic backbone and angry weasel on the mic. I never heard the previously mastered demo, but it comes through thick and raw here, even if the samples sound like they were recorded from a microphone aimed at the TV. Didn’t know about their tendency to bust out hobo-acoustically either, but it works well in the course of this fast-moving EP. Love the slowed down version of “Cool Death”, too. Throw in the fact that the LP sleeve is so thick and painty that it seems like there’s a record in there even when there’s not, and this is about as essential of a punk rock record that 2011 could hope to offer. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go track down a copy of their I’m Dead 7″, hopefully secured by the time this review is published. (Editor’s Note: It was.)
Cuffs Privilege / Archer 7″ (Ride The Snake)
Sorry Oi! fans, it’s not that Cuffs. No, this is a band of studious, Boston-area indie-rockers stepping out with two pleasant tunes. If Vampire Weekend are straight-up Burberry at this point, Cuffs are the J Crew cardigans you found at the flea market, subtly worn-in and eventually indispensable in chillier weather. Kinda reminds me of Brown Recluse in their bookish manner, even if the music of Cuffs rocks more like Ted Leo did when he first stepped out solo. I understand that the indie-pop scene is booming, what with various localized festivals, and the Slumberland label infiltrating dorm rooms the world over, but it’s never really hooked me in. (I’ll admit it, I was disappointed when I found out that 14 Iced Bears were merely a three-piece.) Still, Cuffs make for pleasant summer listening, and at two nicely formulated tracks, my tolerance is never tested.
Deadboy Here 12″ (Numbers)
There are dubstep/funky guys out there who like to impress the home-listening crowd with their more inventive, unusual creations, and then there is Deadboy, a guy whose efforts are almost exclusively tailored to the dancefloor. He’s been pretty good with mocking-up American radio R&B into a British, dance-ready frame, which is pretty much what he does on Here, probably his most formal release to date. “Wish U Were Here” is tech-house for the mainstream set, what with its repetitive diva hooks and incessant groove, the sort of thing you could squeeze between Haddaway’s “What Is Love” and a Tiesto Britney Spears remix without disturbing the bank tellers and actuaries from their Friday night hedonism. “Here 4 U” is a little cooler, closer to the Night Slugs’ thuggish rave vibe, even if it works in a similar manner. “Ain’t Gonna Lie” closes the set with a pretty cool percussion loop that seems to be built out of ping-pong balls, an understated counterweight to the gorgeous vocal hook (choice of vocalist has always been one of Deadboy’s strong suits). I like Deadboy, and this is a cool 12″, even if it’s probably as far from a game-changer as any electronic record I’ve searched out in the past year. Simple-minded music, maybe, but something like “Ain’t Gonna Lie” always hits me in a very sweet spot.
Ed Schrader’s Music Beat Rats / This Is My Sermon 7″ (Load)
I’d imagine my first experience with Ed Schrader mimics that of many others: you walk into a house show on the wrong part of town, ten unlisted bands on the bill, and as you enter the basement, there’s one guy going absolutely nuts on a floor tom, screaming until the veins in his neck reach full capacity. “Who is this guy?” Well, he’s Ed Schrader, and while this sort of thing can easily fall into “look at me” art-school posturing, Schrader’s got the vocal cords, determination and chutzpah to pull it off, throbbing as if the Coughs were consolidated into a one-man-band. Without the live visual, though, I realize just how no-wavey Ed Schrader’s Music Beat is, true to the screechy-yet-minimal bashings of Theoretical Girls or Teenage Jesus, particularly in their way of channeling a primal force to communicate all musical ideas. These two cuts go by quick (just like most of my favorite Lust/Unlust releases), and set me up in anticipation of Schrader’s upcoming Load full-length. If he ever buys himself a cymbal, who knows what the hell could happen.
Ekoplekz Live At Dubloaded LP (Further)
Along with Ekoplekz’s Wire feature a couple months back, the fact that Further Records decided to release a “live” techno record was curious enough that I couldn’t resist picking up a copy. Ekoplekz’s deal is that he’s another future-bass / minimal-techno guy from England, but he creates all his music in real-time, no Ableton allowed. Pop “Ekoplekz live” into Google Image Search and enjoy a photo of the guy with what looks like a never-ending pasta bowl of sound cables and small metal boxes before him, probably the only person on Earth who knows precisely how to operate such a mess. It’s a cool trick, even if it’s one that has comprised dozens of solo noise performances we’ve all seen before, but it only really matters if it sounds good, which thankfully Ekoplekz takes into serious consideration. You can hear him starting up tracks, testing out loops and sine-waves until they are precisely aimed at the right angle, before conjuring up a groove ripe with experimentation. Sounds come together so effortlessly and nice that it comes across like those cooking shows where they throw the ingredients in a bowl and then pull out a final version of the dish due to time constraints. It’s almost like a mix of the mellower end of the Skull Disco catalog (Live At Dubloaded isn’t too bass-heavy, really) and the electronic pleasantries of Conrad Schnitzler, Vangelis or any long-winded electronic composer (with a capital “C”). Now tell me that doesn’t sound appealing.
Exit Hippies / Filth Militia split 7″ (No Real Music)
Gotta be honest: I have no idea which side of this record is which, as the center stickers feature the same minimal design, and the grooves on this green vinyl 7″ reveal no discernible tracks (the scruffy liner notes aren’t much better). If there was ever a split where the sides don’t matter, it’s this one, as both halves are pure sonic depravity from the most psychotropical crust-punks the world has ever known. I will never not buy whatever Exit Hippies end up releasing, and apparently Filth Militia are their “other” band, so there you go. One side seems to be awful noise-core crust, while the other sounds like the violent practice session that preceded it. Are you familiar with the alarming sound of an errant needle scraping the side of your turntable, or off the grooves and onto the record’s center sticker? This is basically that without the damage (psychological and audible notwithstanding). Records like these are such a good time that I often wonder why I bother with anything else.
The Feeling Of Love Dissolve Me LP (Kill Shaman / Born Bad)
I’m not sure what French city The Feeling Of Love hail from, but it can’t be far from that place where the naked ladies dance. I loved their Avant Records single from last year, just well-played post-punk indie with a charmingly drunken swagger, like that guy with bad breath at the bar who always has a beautiful date in spite of his glaring faults. They’ve got a ton of records out now, Dissolve Me being their newest full-length, and while it’s still got that familiar charm, there’s no “Waiting For The Cheerleaders To Get Drunk” smash hits, either. If anything, The Feeling Of Love seem to have calmed down a bit here: there’s really no noise or awkward moments, just bass- and organ-led grooves, falling somewhere in the super-sized Velvets / Pavement / The Fall triangle, of which much of the world’s good rock-music supply has originated. It’s a good listen, and while the pace never seems to get too excited, I don’t find myself drifting off or wondering what other things I could be doing as I wander through Dissolve Me. My advice: pick up their single on Avant Records, and if you can’t get enough, this album is right here waiting for you.
Gas Chamber Corpse With Levity 7″ (Warm Bath Label)
My turntable is probably creeped out by the large number of all-black-everything, provocatively-named hardcore bands I slap on it. I try to make a point of listening to Apples In Stereo and Chixdiggit records just so it doesn’t think I’m some sort of sociopath. Anyway, here’s Gas Chamber, who end up suffering from their somewhat unique sound (at least for the genre they operate in). Really loud, flanger- (or maybe phaser-) effected bass is the first thing that sticks out, giving the record a weird early ’90s feel, like Kito or Helmet or something, even if the music thrashes in the way that Heroin and Civil Dissident did. I suppose if the songwriting was monstrous or nasty, or if they played through Kriegshög’s rig, it would work in some marvelous new way, but Gas Chamber don’t have the chops to lure me in. Who knows though, maybe there just aren’t enough effects, and Gas Chamber would sound insanely great if every instrument was phased and flanged to an obscene degree. I’m up for hearing it, at least.
Gas Chamber Untitled 7″ flexi (Warm Bath Label)
Apparently Gas Chamber had some extra studio time after recording their Corpse With Levity single, so they opted to jam out all forest-dronelike and press the results onto a clear vinyl square flexi, a format I’ve been seeing more and more of lately. Much like the band in hardcore mode, this slow-shifting mass of ambient unease ultimately misses the mark. It definitely has the feel of a “hey, let’s quickly try something” recording, one where a few keys are held down for a few minutes, resulting in tones that rise and fall in an uninspired way. The effects are all so familiar that the untitled track offers no weight or resonance, just a quick float through swampy terrain we’ve all traveled before (and often with sharper detail or more startling results). I don’t know, I appreciate what Gas Chamber are trying to do, and the minimal presentation of this flexi is cool, but for now I can’t imagine anyone outside of their hometown getting very excited about their existence.
The Haxan Cloak Observatory EP 12″ (Aurora Borealis)
Just when I assumed I had my fill of gothy British techno, here comes The Haxan Cloak to rattle me to my core all over again. This one is closer to the techno side of things than Raime or Demdike Stare though, and manages to work a lingering sense of dread into the tendons of the music, so as to have a bit more color than the grainy beats of Sandwell District. “Observatory” is what I’d expect would happen if Theo Parrish tried his hand at a Bauhaus edit; a looping, meditative cascade of chiming loops and electronic pulse. I was hoping this record would be good, I paid for it sound unheard, but I didn’t expect it to be this great. “Hounfour (Temple)” is the “all hands on deck!” call-to-arms for all ghosts and ghouls to head directly to the dancefloor and dance like they’re on the set of Cats. Starts with a nice bass boom that leads to something that, were it to continue to grow past ten or fifteen minutes, Kate Bush would probably start to sing over. Really killer stuff, pretty dead-on as far as home-listening techno that verges on both ambient and danceable but never quite reaches either side. Limited to 200, and probably hard to find, but most certainly worth it to those who do so.
Iron Hand Liquid Assets 7″ (Safety Meeting)
There’s gotta be a scarier economic phrase to use for one’s crust-punk 7″ than Liquid Assets, but that’s what Iron Hand went with… I’m sure Hewhocorrupts already used all the good ones anyway. As for Iron Hand’s sound, it’s not as metallic as their logo might imply – this is fist-pumping American crust, hardcore colored a brownish shade of grey due to lack of personal hygiene. State Of Fear and Tragedy have tread this path well, and come to mind while listening to Liquid Assets. Iron Hand cover The Screamers’ “122 Hours Of Fear” to wrap it up, an odd choice (and one that worked better for Le Shok), even though I appreciate Iron Hand stepping outside of their stylistic guidelines for inspiration (man cannot live on Disclose alone). Iron Hand certainly don’t disgrace their genre, and even if these songs are ultimately unremarkable, they have proven themselves patchworthy.
Kid Romance Scared Of Outside LP (Skrot Up)
More spooky-goofball home recordings from the Skrot Up label, this one from a group that seemed to go quiet shortly after the first Blank Dog wave crested. Chances are they were just saving up for Scared Of Outside, as it’s an LP packed with bedroom anxieties and plenty of cheapo keyboard rhythms. You don’t need a Musician’s Friend catalog to dissect what’s going on here, a quick trip to Walmart could probably supply you with Kid Romance’s gear list. This is definitely “Always Low Prices” music, proudly beating you in the face with sloppy strumming, pitchless singing, pre-set techno, unanticipated feedback and frequently awful mix-downs, the band wearing their mistakes like merit badges. I’d prefer another Dharma album, or maybe even another Grave Babies single, before taking this Kid Romance album into my record family, but Scared Of Outside is still enjoyably tweaked, even if obviously flawed; I’m just not sure how often I need to hear it. Those of you who still haven’t gotten over how great it was that Ariel Pink originally made the drum sounds with his mouth may want to saddle up to this one, though.
La Ligne Claire Cheri 12″ (Bruit Direct Disques)
Bruit Direct has been on a roll lately, nicely stocking the “Euro-WTF” racks of any decent record shop. Those who enjoy guitars played with the opposite hands and drummers who only own one stick will deeply dig La Ligne Claire’s Cheri, a messy six-song EP that bridges the gap between the Messthetics, no-wave and art gallery scenes through a stunning lack of dexterity and single-minded determination. It’s slow-moving, off-key and gracious, like a drunk relative trying to pretend they aren’t as they stumble toward the fridge. I’m reminded of Menstruation Sisters’ quieter moments, Reynols interpreting the Velvet Underground catalog, or The Foams, had they grown up in a barn. Somehow, in spite of the looseness, there is an undeniable link between the players (and occasional vocalists), as if they were sealed off in soundproof rooms while recording, maintaining some sort of psychic link to keep the songs together. Some of the best worst music I’ve heard this year, that’s for sure.
Love Cuts Love Cuts 7″ (Nominal)
For supposed Love Cuts, these aren’t lustful jugular slashes, more like accidental papercuts from a “do you like me check yes or no” note. This Vancouver trio relies on simplicity through the five songs on their debut EP, frequently emphasizing their lack of chops (whether real or feigned, I can’t tell) and surplus of whimsy. “Lone Wolf” and “Mimes” remind me of Go Sailor in the bass tone and through their wistful melodies, but never quite deliver that same tender touch. I don’t know, Love Cuts have an alright sound, but it seems like they purposely hold back; I get that it’s punk to play sloppily, but I think Love Cuts are the type of band who would sound better with more rehearsal, not worse. The lyrics are fun though, songs about being mimes and befriending the moon, memorable enough that if the music ever catches up, Love Cuts could become a good band instead of just okay.
Mental Powers Homoh LP (Badminton Bandit)
If The UV Race’s Homo wasn’t enough, please enjoy Mental Powers’ Homoh. Maybe these bands are playing a game of musical H.O.R.S.E., or Australia just really likes that word, but here you go. If you are familiar with the kling-klangy, restricted-improv stylings of Mental Powers, this record won’t shock you, and if you give it a spin, you might even agree that these four lengthy cuts are some of their best work yet. The a-side has a seedy, tempered tune-up that proceeds into a rhythmic jam most notable for its electronics, like a DIY, jam-band take on minimal-techno phrasing. Cool stuff. “Hamneck” opens the flip like a kraut-rock train made of paper-mache and coathangers, crisp and feeble as it rolls down the rail – and someone sings! Maybe if Trans Am were a ramshackle bedroom outfit they’d have sounded like this at some point. It ends on a wild note with “Boogaknee”, their guitars seemingly involved in a community pool splash-fight that results in multiple ejections. Only 150 copies pressed, so if you can’t locate a copy, you might as well email the label and tell them to make a couple hundred more. Just look at their discography, they clearly have nothing better to do than continually inflict Mental Powers on the world anyway.
Prurient Bermuda Drain LP (Hydra Head)
Bermuda Drain, just another spoken-word / noise / tropical-horror / techno record from Prurient… wait, what? That’s right, this is a perplexing, frequently-hilarious and consistently great new album from Prurient, a guy who pursues new ideas and personal musical freedom with disregard toward the personal feelings of the stodgy noise conservatives out there (who wants to appease those dorks anyway?). I haven’t followed everything Prurient has done, but I’ve been a fan for a number of years now, as no matter how goofy or awesome his ideas may be, there’s always a level of thoughtfulness and precision most other prolific noise artists can’t match. This one’s a pretty big step, even for him – the endless feedback textures and gutteral vocals are significantly reduced, making way for his spoken voice in stunning clarity, usually describing some eerie island crime or punishment (he even mentions “rotten plantains”), backed with synthetic atmospheres and analog loops. Sure, there’s the Cradle of Filth-via-Mortal Kombat-soundtrack cut “A Meal Can Be Made”, but it’s an anomaly that fits well within Bermuda Drain, offering a weird high-point of emotion early on. “Palm Tree Corpse” is probably my favorite, thanks to the ridiculous lyrics (you’ll have to check it out for yourself, no spoilers), but the album works so well as a solitary statement that I have trouble starting anywhere but the beginning and finishing anywhere but the end. It’s still harsh, and discomforting, and oddly poetic, like all good Prurient material, but it’s also a strange departure from anything he’s done before. I feel sorry for anyone too intent on upholding the noise status quo to avoid swirling into the Bermuda Drain.
Puce Mary & LR The Closed Room LP (Posh Isolation)
Posh Isolation have certainly developed a clear aesthetic, probably the closest modern stylistic successor to Broken Flag. Hospital Productions comes close, but Posh Isolation are just so damn grim and industrial in a specifically European way, oozing a particularly crushed, spiritless vibe that Americans can never truly muster. What better demonstration of such than this collaboration between Puce Mary and LR, two Danish downers that create crude, imposing industrial dirges, particularly while working together. Lights flicker here and there, but most of The Closed Room is just that, a bleak and windowless drywall prison where fingernails are the only means of escape. It’s so airless and distraught that much of this record makes Damien Dubrovnik’s Europa Diary seem melodic by comparison. For a proper full-body experience, turn off the air conditioning and blast the side-long “Iron Tulip”, as the stuffiness and discomfort of your space will align with the music’s Maurizio Bianchi-esque anguish like Dark Side Of The Moon and The Wizard Of Oz. These Posh Isolation LPs aren’t cheap here in the US, but I’m starting to get concerned that I may need to own them all.
San Francisco Water Cooler Five Song EP 7″ (Sun Sneeze)
San Francisco Water Cooler improve upon their debut album with these new five cuts, all ripe for a buzz bin that sadly no longer exists (petition your local cable provider to create Guitar Entertainment Network). I remember their album as kind of a hippie, sun-bleached take on lo-fi psych-rock, but these songs come from a more business-minded perspective, cutting right to the hooks and ripping into their guitar solos around the sixty-second mark. The riffs take on classic power-pop forms here and there, but it’s still fairly blown out and wild, two things for which the buttoned collars of classic power-pop never allowed. If there were a Purling Hiss, Milk Music and San Francisco Water Cooler tour package, these guys would play first, but it’d be an exciting night for anyone who longs for the days when guitars were allowed to be guitars, segregated from synthesizers and non-denim trousers.
Screen Vinyl Image Siberian Eclipse 7″ (Fan Death)
Screen Vinyl Image follow-up their Fan Death album with a quick two-song single. I like looking at the two of them on the cover, as they make for a pretty attractive shoegaze duo – there’s an ice queen in black lace looking kinda pissed next to a guy who obscures his face with shades and long hair, not quite gaunt enough to be a junkie. I can just picture them moodily grooving on “Siberian Eclipse”, firing up the Portishead-esque drum beat and letting their pedal chains launch their guitars into melodic infinity. “New Visions” starts with the sound of Mars’ ocean tide (before it dried up a million years ago) before it congeals into a happy little groove; it’s like a mix of Spiritualized and Hooverphonic, right as the sun comes up. Neither songs will flip your eyelids inside out, but Screen Vinyl Image have a pretty good handle on what they want to do, and they do more of that here. If not for the introspective pedal-heads amongst us, the Fan Death completists.
Sopors Golden Era #267 LP (Mongo Bongo Top Ten Hits)
Sopors kick off their album with “It Turns Me On”, a track that you’ll swear is Home Blitz, from the ADD guitar-jangle and vocals that sound like they are being sung an inch from your face (if your face were a Radio Shack microphone). The rest of the album, while still sounding a lot like Home Blitz’s west coast embassy, is a fun way to spend twenty-some minutes. I doubt these guys actively imitated Home Blitz, but instead arrived at the same conclusion through a fairly sharp template – polite and classic melodies played with the sloppy confidence of a boy genius in a jelly-stained polo. Kind of noisy, kind of Lookout! pop-punky, kind of something The Jam would’ve, uhh, jammed. Wasn’t totally sure at first, but by now I’m a good dozen listens deep and am eager to hear what they put together next.
Terrible Feelings Impending Doom 7″ (Sabotage / Lack Of Sleep)
I wonder what specific feelings these Swedes are dealing with… restless leg syndrome? One plate too many at Old Country Buffet? Whatever the case, I don’t think many people could use “terrible” to describe their sound, as it’s polished, angsty guitar rock that falls somewhere between Murder City Devils and Sleater Kinney. Their press sheet talks about playing shows with Cheap Time and Tyvek, but Terrible Feelings don’t really fit that snotty basement vibe; this is pro-gear underground rock performed capably well. This sort of good music isn’t generally my style, or at least I don’t spend much time with this sort of thing, but plenty of well-adjusted people out there do enjoy slightly melancholy, angsty garage-rock such as this. I guess if you still pull out your The Pattern records and wear your nicest pearl-snap flannel when you’ve got a dinner date, Terrible Feelings could only enrich your life further. There’s nothing wrong with that.
White Lung / Nu Sensae Clown Life 7″ (Deranged / Nominal)
White Lung and Nu Sensae are two bands I really want to like. They’re punk, they seem cool, and from what I’ve heard, both bands killed it when they came through Philadelphia. I missed it, and I don’t know, as much as I truly want to dig these bands, I haven’t found the right record just yet. White Lung are my favorite of the two, though: Their song is called “Aristocrat” and it’s a driving, LA-ish punk song, something with the musicality of the Dangerhouse scene and the energy of an early Maximumrocknroll compilation. Good, but no particular hook of which to speak. Nu Sensae are slightly less traditional, a bass/drums duo that seem to mash hardcore and ’90s Olympia. Not a bad idea, but from their album, and “Eat Your Mind” on here, I haven’t heard a single song I can particularly recall or specifically want to hear again. Maybe it’s the mediocre vocals, or just the songwriting, but I can’t get into this group, hard as I try. Maybe if both groups stick at it, they will knock it out of the park, and I certainly hope that they do, but this split remains some of the least thrilling punk music I’ve heard this year.
Wiccans Skullduggery LP (Katorga Works)
I’ll admit, I was disappointed to learn that Wiccans aren’t actually a hardcore band comprised of wiccans, instead just your usual selection of dudes in black band t-shirts and flannels. Whatever, I will keep hope alive that eventually such a band will exist, and in the meantime enjoy the hardcore punk of Wiccans. It’s no-frills, speedy, and aggressive, not far from Double Negative for a modern reference, and maybe 86 Mentality or Tear It Up if you want to go old-school. Kidding! It’s pretty good stuff, and the vocalist at least has his own sound (like he’s in the middle of a yawn while screaming his lyrics), but so much hardcore is good these days that I haven’t found the je ne sais quoi to keep Skullduggery fresh on my brain. Now watch as it turns out these dudes really are wiccans and my limbs slowly start to atrophy for typing this.
Zomby Dedication 2xLP (4AD)
Anonymous dubstep joker Zomby (not to be confused with the pseudonymous dubstep artist Joker) steps onto the big stage with his 4AD album debut. I’ve always enjoyed Zomby, but never to the degree that I obsess over many of his contemporaries, like Ramadanman, Burial or Cosmin TRG… something about Zomby’s material always seemed like it came from a sketch book, rather than a gallery wall. His only other full-length, Where Were U In ’92? was a cool retro experiment that exhausted one specific idea (in a good way), but everything else has been good, if fleeting. Dedication seems to step up the quality all around, but it’s not without that same ADD production style, where most tracks wrap up under four minutes (or half that), bouncing from idea to idea before anything has a chance to really marinate. It starts off great, though: the skittering, water-torture hi-hat on “Witch Hunt” sets the tone nicely, followed by “Natalia’s Song”, an above-average cut of vocal-based dubstep, wherein the lead vocal hook is chopped and splattered like the finest Hessle Audio single. After that, the tracks don’t particularly stand out from each other, but Zomby manages to assemble the record as if he was invited to put together his own Fabric mix. It bumps with a constant momentum, like it was a playlist for a club filled with elite, gear-minded techno aficionados, rather than inebriated party-goers. While Dedication may not be on the forefront of my mind in a few months, it also might be, as I’ve been spinning it a lot more than I expected, finding that its unusual twinkles and cunning beats have snuck their way further into my brain than I had originally planned.
Brutal Supremacy compilation 2×7″ (Painkiller)
As obvious fans and supporters of power-violence, I bet the Painkiller crew got sick of compilations that featured like six great bands and fourteen crappy ones… I know I have! They trimmed the fat for Brutal Supremacy until only the top four remained, all experts of the genre: Iron Lung, Mind Eraser, Hatred Surge and Scapegoat. Each band has a track called “Brutal Supremacy” (Iron Lung even went so far as to bestow that name on all three of theirs), and each band blasts with a level of quality that rivals their full-length efforts. Hatred Surge and Mind Eraser are sick as ever, but Iron Lung particularly impress me, as I love those guys personally but never totally connected with their music. (they have a guitarist now, right? Maybe that’s it.) Scapegoat are probably most notable here, though, in that their seven tracks are so specifically indebted to Crossed Out that it takes on an eerie, Single White Female vibe… the snare drum is identical, the vocals an exact replication, and they even go so far as the copy the extra-long silences between tracks that accidentally made the original Crossed Out single so distinctly intense. I mean, if you have to copy any band, Crossed Out are as worthwhile a goal as any, but the impression here is borderline tribute. If you like grindcore, I would expect that you probably own this one already anyway, keeping those Painkiller guys on a shuttle to and from the post office. If not, you’re missing out on some of the most vital music this scene has to offer.
Princess Nicotine: Folk And Pop Sounds Of Myanmar (Burma) Vol. 1 compilation LP (Sublime Frequencies)
Armchair ethnomusicologists rejoice, Sublime Frequencies have reissued on vinyl the somewhat ground-breaking Princess Nicotine compilation, at least in the way it started the shift of this sort of international curation out of the hands of stuffy old white people and into the hands of, umm, weirdo crazy people. Unlike the other recent compilation reissue, Folk And Pop Sounds Of Sumatra, this is almost entirely insane music; wild, virtuosic clatter that will humble any budding Yngwie in seconds. It’s enticing stuff, music that jumps with life and color and makes No New York seem like not that big a deal. Through most of these nine tracks, I have no idea what I’m hearing (percussion is a big part of the equation, at least), but it’s not about figuring out what is happening so much as immersing one’s self in this foreign, astounding atmosphere. I love it.