My communication with Haus Arafna has been fittingly odd. After previous attempts, years
ago, to release a record of theirs (I was kindly told that they had no plans to work with
any label besides their own, Galakthorrö), I contacted the group in January of this year
to do an interview. They were open to the idea, so I asked them some questions… and
received the answers a couple weeks ago. What kind of person is able to actually remember
and respond thoughtfully to an email some eight months later? And in true Haus Arafna
fashion, I have no idea who I was truly corresponding with, whether it was Mr. Arafna,
Mrs. Arafna, or some sort of Galakthorrö representative; Haus Arafna explained to me that
their answers come from the both of them, not one or the other. I probably wouldn’t like
to learn about the daily lives and record collections of a group as enigmatic and creepy as
Haus Arafna, so it’s probably for the best that their answers only slightly illuminate
their long, strange history. It makes sense that they wouldn’t discuss lyrical content with
me – there’s no reason to disturb the magic that comes from their music.
When did Haus Arafna first start? What was the musical climate like, as far as
your peers and the musical community of that time?
We started about 1992, after somebody shows us how to start with just a little money.
Before that time we couldn’t even imagine how to start without thousands of dollars, but
it was possible. There was a lot of euphoria at this time – techno grew in Germany and
discos in the south of Germany established parties with old-school industrial and
neo-folk. This trend came across to the rest of Germany and Europe in the middle of the nineties.
Where did you feel like Haus Arafna fit into that musical landscape? Was there
an immediate audience accepting to what you were doing, or did it take a while to build?
Haus Arafna was accepted immediately at these parties in the south of Germany. There was a
high demand for that kind of music at that time. The people were hungry for pain, sorry,
for “noise”. We were often visitors incognito at those parties, that means our acquaintances
didn’t know that we made this music. We kept that secret in the beginning, because we wanted
the people to listen without any prejudices.
What were your inspirations for making the music you do? Were there any other
bands, or artists, or philosophers who really impacted your approach to making music
and existing as a group?
We call our inspiration from the fail of mankind and practically from the combination of
VCO, VCF and VCA.
Please pardon my ignorance… what do those acronyms stand for?
It’s for Voltage Controlled Oscillator, Voltage Controlled Filter and Voltage Controlled
Amplifier. It’s – simply speaking – the inner life of an analog synthesiser.
Your song “The Way You Go” was the first Haus Arafna song I heard, and to this date,
it’s still my absolute favorite. Can you offer any explanation as to what it’s about?
We don’t talk about the sources of our lyrics in general. It’s because we don’t want to
codify our songs to our listeners. Many songs mean many different issues in many different
minds and moods. We find that fascinating.
Are there any specific themes that have repeatedly occurred throughout Haus
True love, murder, betrayal, dialogue with god, abstinence, isolation, vengeance, disgust,
reincarnation – never to reach that we were made for.
Are you satisfied with what you’ve done so far, as far as expressing and portraying
Yes, but this satisfaction is strangely always outdated for us, as soon as a record is
released. We have something new and better then in our minds – the next record.
How important is the visual presentation of Haus Arafna’s recordings to the overall
experience? I notice that there seems to be great thought and care put into the artwork and design.
Yes, we find that important today. We always had the imagination, that artists in the
future have to be multimedial. We’re not, but we have our own language for sound and
image. It’s important to be in contrast to others, to speak an individual language –
acoustical as well as optical.
At what point did November Növelet start? What was the impetus for starting a
new group with the same lineup, and how do you keep the two separate?
We were young when we started to make and release music and in the past we thought Haus
Arafna would be none but harsh. We felt even at this time, that neither life nor ourselves
are only harsh. Therefore November Növelet was born. It’s partially hard to separate
sometimes, but it started this way. The making of Haus Arafna is technically different
and musically it’s more industrial marked. November Növelet is softer, more round, a
special kind of minimal synth wave.
Do you perform live?
No, not yet.
Do you have plans for a live performance?
There aren’t any plans yet. We have always problems to find enough time to make necessary
preparations for a concert.
There seems to be a bit of a resurgence in industrial / cold-wave / minimal-synth
music currently, at least here in the States. Are there any newer groups that you enjoy,
who might seem to share some similarities with Haus Arafna?
We think there’s many music currently either poor or retro. We sense Haus Arafna’s music
as a composition of different electronic music styles which results in something new.
Is there any plan to ever end Haus Arafna’s existence? Could it potentially go on
for as long as you two are together here on Earth?
Fortunately we think we’re doing one kind of job, which is getting better with age and
don’t have an age limit. As long as our ears, voices and fingers work, we want to do,
what we always wanted to do – making music until we die.
Alberich Psychology Of Love LP (Hospital Productions)
Alberich is the work of Kris Lapke, a man who’s most likely had a hand in at least one noisy record you’ve probably enjoyed in the past few years, offering his production and technical support to the likes of Kevin Drumm, Prurient, Air Conditioning and Mindflayer, just to name a few. As the insert states, “Heavy Electronics” are abundant within Psychology Of Love, a grueling suite of electronic textures (and often, rudimentary beats). My favorite is probably “Rumbala”, as its molten beat has me imagining Marcel Dettmann remixing Kevin Drumm, or M Ax Noi Mach pushing a PA system past its limit. You can definitely dance to it! The beatless tracks work well too, not so much drifting as pulling with an intense gravity; these tones aren’t harsh, they’re oppressive. Some noise strives to burn the listener with matches, wheras Alberich locks you in a sauna for twelve hours. His previous discography is all cassettes, and while this rough and gravelly music is perfectly suited to such a classic analog format, I can only hope more Alberich makes it to vinyl in the future – my ears demand it.
Autre Ne Veut Body EP 12″ (Hippos In Tanks)
After riding high on Ford & Lopatin’s infectious Channel Pressure, I’ve been able to look past the amateurish awfulness that kept me from fully appreciating Autre Ne Veut’s debut album and soak myself in it longer than I ever anticipated. He’s got a new EP, and while it’s more of the same, his uniqueness seems to have worn off a bit, or at least toned down within these four tracks. He still sounds like he’s holding his tongue with his pointer and thumb as he croons, but opener “Sweetheart” doesn’t match the jarring weirdness of “Tell Me” or “Wake Up” off the debut… it’s just kinda there. “The One” is probably my favorite, but it’s a pretty straight-up Kate Bush imitation thanks to guest vocalist She Wolf (who wouldn’t surprise me if she just turned out to be a pitch-shifted Autre Ne Veut), fitting in with what seems to be a current Kate Bush hipster-infatuation. The last two songs are alright, and Body is an alright listen… it’s just that this would’ve been a great time for Autre Ne Veut to turn up the catchiness/insanity even further. Instead, he seems to have retreated into safer, slower jams, resulting in an EP that has me wondering if there’s really any further to go with this “impish ’80s R&B gremlin” shtick.
Bed Wettin’ Bad Boys Nobody Else 7″ (R.I.P Society)
Before I even gave this one a listen, I was on board with the Bed Wettin’ Bad Boys, a group who seemed to have just been informed of their band name when the cover photo was taken (a mix of confusion and dismay is splashed across their faces). I love the name, even if it’s kind of misleadingly childish, as “Nobody Else” is an early Replacements mock-up that I enjoy more with each listen; a real Westerberger with all the fixins. “Help” updates that sound with a sort of early ’90s East Bay pop style, like something a Maximumrocknroll shitworker in a beanie would’ve played while gluing together the classifieds. I’d sure like to hear more and lend these gents my support before peer pressure results in a name change. Who says urine-positive band names are old news?
Blank Realm Hey! Little Child 7″ (Negative Guest List)
While many labels are putting out music in hopes of getting it on some mediocre MP3 blog playlist, Negative Guest List step in the opposite direction with this “Jukebox Single”, tantalizingly superfluous in this modern age. I always thought jukebox records were two-sided, but there’s only a cover of Alex Chilton’s “Hey! Little Child” to be found here, played much straighter than most of Blank Realm’s oft-annoying, sometimes-good album. Blank Realm’s version sounds pretty good, even if it’s probably a hard song to screw up (there are like two notes, and both of them are pretty sweet). Not sure who is gonna desperately want this one, let alone need it, but if a copy were to fall in your lap, how could you not jam it a couple times at least?
Crazy Spirit I’m Dead 7″ (Mata La Musica Discos)
That’s right, I was able to track down a copy of the newest Crazy Spirit single (thank you Sorry State Records). This is definitely the most difficult Crazy Spirit record thus far – not musically, but in terms of removing it safely from its sleeve… took me a while to figure out that you have to pull out the poster insert first, then carefully tug at the dust sleeve a millimeter at a time to extract the vinyl from its paper cocoon. Like the Crazy Spirit records that came before it, the effort is worth it, as “I’m Dead” is another wonderfully sloshed cut of gutter-punk, one I’m pretty sure I heard on the Remastered Demo 12″, and probably in higher fidelity on there, but who cares. Crazy Spirit could slap that intense locomotive drum-beat over anything and I’d be feeling it. The flip starts with the eerie sound of footsteps in a parking garage before it’s quickly consumed by more flailing punk that sounds like a normal punk band’s 33 rpm 7″ played at 45. It’s over pretty fast, and while I’m Dead is probably the least crucial item in Crazy Spirit’s discography thus far, I sure as hell needed it.
Eagle Boys Kambalda 7″ (Negative Guest List)
Judging from the sub-Bulb Records artwork here (the time needed to brainstorm, design, create and print the artwork could’ve easily clocked in under five minutes, depending on the sharpness of the pencil at hand), I was expecting some sort of Prehensile Monkey-Tailed Skink-ish garage nonsense, but Eagle Boys are instead a fully-functional rock band with actual songs. “Kambalda” is the only song whose title on the sleeve matches the center sticker, and it’s a pretty good rocker… kind of has a Bloodstains Across Europe vibe in its dour riffing, but still with an Australian Black Lips delivery, if that makes any sense at all. Same deal for the two songs on the flip, who go by dramatically different titles depending on what you’re looking at (not sure how “Armadale Dance” could be a misspelling of “D.I.Y. Apocalypse” – maybe you can just pick your favorite), but I guess if they don’t think it’s that important, why should I. Decent enough single, and one that falls somewhere in the middle of the Negative Guest List pack, which is to say that if I have the mental capacity to recall the Eagle Boys’ existence in September of 2012, I really have no excuse for forgetting my dad’s birthday again this year.
Factorymen Yellow Eyes And The Sound Of Vomit LP (Richie)
Not sure how Factoryman Steve Peffer finds the time for his many musical endeavors (I know of Homostupids, Pleasure Leftists, Folded Shirt and Factorymen and wouldn’t be surprised if there are more), but his overactivity is nothing to complain about. Factorymen left us last with the wonderfully confounding Shitman LP, and Yellow Eyes And The Sound Of Vomit is an excellent continuation of those ideas, still reeking of late-era Vermiform cluckery. My favorite cut is easily “SEC”, a Bobby Soxx-ish ode that reveals the inherent syllabic poetry of the word “Bernanke”; I first heard it on the radio (I’m serious, WKDU has a fine Thursday morning program) and thought I was hearing some really exceptional Killdozer track before the DJ announced it. I love Shitman, but Peffer has honed his craft further: on Yellow Eyes, the musical sketches are perplexingly more listenable (I could easily leave “Interlude” on repeat) and the musicality of the decomposed rock tracks has increased as well. Plus, I doubt there’ll be a song title I appreciate more this year than “Johnny Is Really Ronnie”. (It’s an instrumental, but I was told to look for clues back in Shitman for an answer.) Yellow Eyes is tailored for freaks, sure, but I can already tell I’ll be annoyed by anyone who hates it.
Fat History Month Fucking Despair LP (Sophomore Lounge)
Spoiler alert: There’s a crude drawing of a penis in a pear on the cover. Fucking Despair, am I right or am I right? This is like the Judd Apatow of indie rock albums, an intelligent-yet-crude set of songs that harken to a time when indie rock wasn’t the style of music most people liked. Reminds me of early Modest Mouse, that first Oneida single, Pavement in a grumpy mood, Wolf Colonel’s Vikings Of Mint, or plenty of other indie bands with members who’ve always had some college-educated career to fall back on if need be (or presumably in the case of Fat History Month, to supplement their musical endeavors). It’s a dense listen at times; for every minute-long breeze like “Old Lady Smokers”, there’s a track five to ten times as long, and Fat History Month don’t always hold your hand as they wander through it. They get downright drone-y at times, but that sort of looseness works in their favor, as I find myself trying to get past some of their WAH-wah humor and unlock the cynical code beneath. If this leads to a Fat Entertainment Television channel, I’m all for it.
Funkbias Last Forever / Heaven Sent 12″ (Swamp81)
What is this, the fourth Swamp81 record in a row that leaves me kind of unimpressed? I’m starting to get worried. Don’t get me wrong, this Funkbias single is pretty cool, particularly in the Pac-Man-style vocal cadence of “Last Forever”, but ultimately it’s just another quick EP of modern bass music influenced by house and electro. It might be difficult to place Funkbias as a current artist, even, if it weren’t for the plunging bass that pins it all down. Both tracks are pretty succinct, and while I would certainly reach for “Heaven Sent” whenever I may find myself wishing for a non-existent Pearson Sound remix of Zapp, this an ultimately unnecessary purchase from a label that started off so incredibly strong.
The Haxan Cloak The Haxan Cloak CD (Aurora Borealis)
I was so psyched on The Haxan Cloak’s Observatory EP that I quickly went after this self-titled album (currently only available on CD). The two cuts on Observatory were as good as gothic and krauty techno gets, practically operating on Morphosis’s level, so you can imagine my disappointment to find that The Haxan Cloak opted for a dramatically different approach on this full-length outing. The Haxan Cloak is straight up Godspeed You Black Emperor!-style paranoia, cellos and violins soaked with fear and song titles like “Raven’s Lament” and “Burning Torches of Despair”. The whole record is like this, just evil acoustic strings, their melodies distorted and manipulated into drones, and occasional percussion accompaniment, gothic and scowling and perfect for a night of uneasy sleep. Not sure if Observatory was just an incredibly pleasant diversion, or what The Haxan Cloak’s deal is, but I hope that his return to electronic beats is imminent. You can’t put out an EP that good and not follow up on it.
Hudson Mohawke Satin Panthers 12″ (Warp)
Hudson Mohawke’s remix of Tweet’s “Oops (Oh My)” is a pretty perfect example of how good R&B can be made great with a young white English boy’s added production. I swear I’ve listened to Hud-Mo’s version a dozen times, so I figured I might as well see what he does on his own with Satin Panthers, a new five-track EP. Gotta say, if this is his deal, he should stick with remixing radio pop, as his originals have really left me hanging. “Thunder Bay”, for example, has all the makings of a Night Slugs-style party popper, but something about the way his synths are looped and lined up just seems off, like the bars are forced into an ill-fitting grid. The idea is there, it’s just the execution that falls short. “Cbat” hits the snare with the cadence of Lil Wayne’s “A Milli”, but it just gets kind of annoying due to the squeaky samples and boring beat. Maybe I shouldn’t be holding Mohawke to the same level as Weezy’s producers, but I feel like this guy has the talent, he’d just rather goof off than really try to become the next Timbaland. Flashes of “All Your Love” show me that I shouldn’t give up hope just yet, but Satin Panthers remains a non-mandatory event.
Jam City Waterworkx EP 12″ (Night Slugs)
I try to check in with Night Slugs every couple 12″s, if only because the next huge underground club hit is probably gonna come from this label and I’d like to enjoy it in its infancy. Not sure that hit lies within Jam City’s Waterworkx EP, but these three tracks are succulent ‘floor bangers nonetheless. “Aqua Box” is a pretty cool funky-house track, hopping up and down on a large bass cloud while the drums smack along. “Countess” is a good way to injure yourself during breakdance practice, and “Barely A Trak” wraps things up, the self-deprecating title checking expectations at the door for its simple thump and squirrelly “whatyouwantmetodo” hook. Much like Egyptrixx’s album, Jam City fit tech-house into the Night Slugs frame with subtle ease.
Jealousy √iles LP (Moniker)
That sweaty Robert Smith-looking guy on the cover so desperately wants me to think of spiderwebs and lace curtains when I think of Jealousy, but the music on √iles (uhh yeah, that’s the title) says otherwise. There are no mystical drum rhythms or dusty coffins here; this is psychedelic electro-rock that I might mistake for Minimal Man or Moon Duo, depending on how much sleep I got the previous night. It’s not that the cover art betrays the music, so much as you could slap a picture of Father Yod or Alan Vega on the front and it’d make just as much sense. And while I don’t like the way this guy is staring at me, √iles (yep, still the album title) is a pretty killer album that doesn’t waste notes or space. It’s weird, sure, but Jealousy never loses focus of the task at hand. Turn the lights off, envision Peter Murphy with a full Jim Morrison beard, crank Jealousy and your evening plans are complete.
Kitchen’s Floor Look Forward To Nothing LP (Siltbreeze)
If a couple months ago someone asked me to quickly name five great current Australian bands, Kitchen’s Floor wouldn’t have come to mind; it’s not because I didn’t really dig their first album, more that I just really haven’t spent much time thinking about the band. Pretty sure that’s changed thanks to Look Forward To Nothing though, as Australian or otherwise, I’ve enjoyed few modern rock records with the continued enthusiasm I feel toward this one. Kitchen’s Floor haven’t changed their approach from Loneliness Is A Dirty Mattress so much as honed it, taking an Occam’s Razor approach to punk songwriting. If iTunes asks, I’ll say it’s a punk record, but Kitchen’s Floor seem to take as much influence from The Velvet Underground as they would The Sex Pistols, resulting in a batch of songs that I can totally picture Kurt Cobain singing, both lyrically and melodically (“Graves”, “Insects” and “Regrets” in particular could’ve put the “d” in “Kurdt”). Some of the vocalizing and melodies remind me of The Thermals too, but in the punkest, least-commercial way possible, and then there’s something like “Every Day”, an instrumental that calls to mind my favorite aspects of The Young. Look Forward To Nothing‘s ten tracks go by in an instant, and feel just as good on repeat as they do the very first time. They’ll have arrived in the States by the time this review is printed; I’m seeing them tonight if I can figure out what to wear.
Leather Wretch 7″ (Fan Death)
After Leather’s blockbuster 7″ EP on Jade Tree earlier this year, this four-song Fan Death follow-up couldn’t have come any quicker. On Wretch, Leather seem to be moving further away from burly hardcore-punk and closer to their own unique blend of aggressive rock music, thanks in particular to vocalist Alex Agran’s progression from a snarling squeal (imagine a mini John Joseph) to a melodic sing-shout that has me imagining The Monorchid’s Chris Thomson fronting an Adolescents cover band. Just check “Idolator”, which is based around the sort of melodic harmonizing most any hardcore vocalist would never dream of attempting. It’s a great EP, even though I still prefer Leather’s last single, which seems to be a mid-point between the rawness of their first EP and the tunefulness of Wretch. I really just need an LP from Leather to fully process what they’ve done and where they’re headed, which I’ve heard is on the way. In the meantime, Wretch is both an obligation and a necessity for anyone with a remote interest in heavy punk rock.
The Life Partners Music Is Hard LP (Ride The Snake)
If you told me six years ago that The Life Partners were a band that had five albums in them, I probably would’ve choked on my Twix, but here we are in 2011 and Life Partners continue to soldier on. Even more interestingly, Music Is Hard is probably my favorite thing they’ve done yet. I doubt any band will create a song as simultaneously real and hilarious as opening anthem “Music Is Hard”, a song that takes a Louis C.K.-like skewering to the friend rock dilemma. The rest of the album, while never as hilariously poignant, entertains much like Sockeye and The Gizmos did, although The Life Partners’ absurdist view doesn’t necessarily require potty humor. You can take these guys out to dinner, and the songs reflect that. Boston haven’t played a show in years, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones haven’t put out a meaningful album in just as long, and Aerosmith are beating each other up on stage these days… I see no reason why The Life Partners can’t become the official band of Boston.
Like A Panther Rockpile LP (no label)
Some new records can be kind of intimidating to check out, but few are scarier than the proposition of a band boasting My Bloody Valentine, Radiohead and Burial as major influences; that’s a serious Heart of Darkness trip right there. Truth be told, the actual sounds of Like A Panther are far less frightening than their alleged inspiration… Rockpile is a pretty nonthreatening, downer indie-rock record that’s not entirely unlike those that came before it. There’s not a whole lot of Animal Collectivization here, thankfully, as Like A Panther have more of a moody mid-’90s sound, like Luna or some other indie-rock band who worked with a major back when that sort of thing mattered. There aren’t any hits to be discovered on Rockpile, but for whatever reason I find myself enjoying it as more than just plant-watering background music; there are some cool ideas here. Definitely a “local band” record, but that’s what everyone said about Chronic Sick back in the day too, so Like A Panther shouldn’t be too offended.
Lord Foul Killing Raping Burning / The Devil’s Advocate LP (Dais)
If you followed the East Bay dank-core scene like I did in the mid to late ’90s, you’ve heard the name “Roach” mentioned in an Agents Of Satan interview, Plutocracy insert or Monkeybite editorial. I always enjoyed envisioning a dude named Roach in that posse, whoever he may be, but apparently I wasn’t paying close enough attention, as Roach wasn’t just a dude on the sidelines, he also recorded black metal under the alias Lord Foul. This one-sided 12″ collects Lord Foul’s two demos – pretty straight-forward four-track black metal in the Darkthrone / Impaled Nazarene tradition. Not particularly noisy, and fairly unadventurous, Lord Foul stays true to the original black metal ethos (with the addition of the “movie samples that are louder than the actual music” demo style, often prominent with Lord Foul’s grindcore bros). I don’t spend a lot of my time listening to black metal, and Lord Foul probably wouldn’t have left any lasting impression on me if it weren’t for the connection to heroes of my youth. Still, the music is good, and Lord Foul’s appeal beyond that of a power-violence curio is evident. It kinda cracks me up, the stuff that Dais digs up.
John Maus We Must Become The Pitiless Censors Of Ourselves LP (Upset The Rhythm)
Good or bad, I’ve been enjoying mostly all of the modern synth-pop attempts popping up these days, mainly because they are either real good, or if bad, hilariously so. Like many of the current synthy crowd, from Silk Flowers and Cold Cave to Martial Canterel and Mueran Humanos, John Maus knows his way around a synth or two, chiseling his moody new-wave epitaphs with the hand of a seasoned pro. Maus doesn’t come across as gear-fetishy as others, though – the songs on We Must Become seem intended as songs that could work in a variety of contexts, rather than vessels to showcase synthesizer features. Along with these catchy, chilly melodies, you’ve got Maus vocalizing in a deep, echoed tone, generally repeating some sort of nonsense that seems more like a fleeting thought that would pass through Lil B’s brain than any sort of pre-determined, well-considered prose. I didn’t care for that aspect at first, but I keep listening to this record, and as I’ve grown accustomed to Maus’s many eccentricities, I find myself enjoying tracks like “Head For The Country” and “Hey Moon” more than I ever imagined. Not a fan of his “I’m a spaz” live persona, it just doesn’t seem to make any sense in the context of his music, but I’ve only seen videos thus far, and feel content to let this album quietly grow within me longer than many of the other modern synth-pop records I’ve enjoyed and promptly forgotten about.
Mendo Stages Of Life 12″ (Cadenza)
In a world of constant change, it’s nice to know I can just pick up some random Cadenza 12” and instantly be transported into a world of funky-tribal tech-house beats, replete with schoolchildren chants and jazz saxophone. No idea who Mendo is, but he or she sticks to the Cadenza template just as I’d like. And who can blame Mendo? Following the latest “future bass” offerings can be exhausting and often fruitless, but Cadenza’s trademark style, while far from electronic music’s current spotlight, is dance-floor comfort food. Specifically in Mendo’s case, I get a Luciano vibe from “Inocencia” and a Reboot (or maybe Michel Cleis?) vibe on “Old School”, but that’s really just splitting hairs for the fun of it. Neither of these are a smash hit, if that’s the sort of recommendation you’re looking for, but I’m actually digging Stages Of Life more than the last couple Sis singles, who is probably my favorite guy operating in this style today. If this sounds appealing, take off your shoes and socks and step right in, the water sure is nice and warm…
Miles Facets EP 12″ (Modern Love)
Miles Whittaker, the taller half of Demdike Stare, steps out for the first time under his given name with this intriguing EP. I’m pretty sure he got dressed up as Millie a year or two ago (you might remember those bleak and crunchy dubstep/techno 12″s), but Facets seems to represent the more experimental, open-ended music of Demdike Stare than any kind of rigid dance-floor cut. Opener “Flawed” is probably my pick of the EP, utilizing a trash-compactor groove and my favorite digital ride-cymbal sound, one that I recall Demdike Stare tapping somewhere along the way (it sounds like grains of sand slowly dripping onto a 28″ ride). The beat fades, leaving an unsettling couple of ambient minutes before “Flawed” comes to a close. The next two tracks creep along similarly, not entirely unlike Demdike Stare, but with the gothic overtones replaced by a Philip K. Dick-ish sci-fi malaise. Think of a post-singularity dance party (no humans, of course) where the sentient Numark mixer takes full control. Closer “On The Fly” sounds like the live recording its title implies it to be, Whittaker in solitary confinement, flexing and repeating loops and beats like a Jamal Moss “bathroom session”; it’s definitely the least essential track here, but an intimate window nonetheless. I love this guy, and I love what he does, Facets included, but I can’t say this will particularly excite anyone not already feeling Whittaker’s oeuvre. Dig in, just make sure you have someone to hug or shake hands with after listening, as Facets will have you clamoring for humanity once it’s through with you.
The Monkey Power Trio Who Cares What The Vultures Want? 7″ (Pocahontas Swamp Machine Recordings)
Leave your brain at the door, this is the sort of moronic music that gets my kettle boiling. First of all, The Monkey Power Trio is actually a five-piece (and have been so for fifteen years, apparently), and they make dumb punkish rock songs in the vein of Sportscreme, Boy In Love, Dads, or pretty much any band that has recorded music you can’t believe anyone actually bothered to rehearse and lay to tape (or WAV file). “I Love Bread” is a sentiment I can get behind, but the El Duce-with-a-trombone style of “Rug Burn Party” probably takes the top spot. As someone who wasn’t in the room when this 7″ was recorded, I am probably enjoying Who Cares What The Vultures Want? much more than I should (and I didn’t even enjoy the Terry Schiavo punchline to “American Lady”). Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna go pull band-aids off my arm-hair and drink a warm Powerade to fully enhance my Monkey Power Trio listening experience.
The Native Cats Process Praise LP (Ride The Snake)
Everyone’s favorite Tasmanian post-punk group are back at it again with their second full-length effort. For those not already initiated, The Native Cats are a duo who utilize electric bass guitar, rudimentary drum machines, occasional piano/keyboard, and vocals; it’s a narrow frame, but they manage to accomplish a great deal within its confines. On Process Praise, the inner-sleeve photo montage of ‘Cats in the studio seems to be more than eye-catching filler, as guests provide additional vocals (for what I believe is the first time in Native Cats history) and most songs are supplemented by a diverse selection of instruments. They clearly hunkered down in the studio for Process Praise, and the attention to detail is justified. Still, no matter how many instruments may or may not appear, the most striking aspect of The Native Cats remains Peter Escott’s lyrics; Escott is constantly conjuring alluring images both foreign and mundane, his characters as likely to be subjected to international espionage as a bar fight (“he tried to pluck me like a ripe tomato” is probably my favorite of the many memorable lines here). I really hope he writes a book someday, but in the meantime, his lyrics have found a suitable home with The Native Cats’ moody, Young Marble Giants-y instrumentation behind them. The songs are as cool and coy as ever, more of a “cup of coffee on a rainy day” listen than their debut LP, but just as solid (even with a lack of blatant pop hits). If you buy one Ride The Snake release this year…
Ovens Ovens 7″ (Catholic Guilt)
Everything about the look of this 7″ screams “rabid hardcore punk” to me: eight songs, recorded by Bart Thurber, released on a label called “Catholic Guilt”, the band name, the cover art… but lo and behold, Ovens are an anthemic, heavyish pop-punk band in the vein of Love Songs For The Retarded-era Queers and early Weezer. Who woulda thunk it? And as it turns out, Ovens are quite good at the form they’ve chosen, marching through these eight songs before the sweat starts to show through the pits of their button-ups. I still can’t get over what I’m hearing, not just because I think the wrong music was pressed on this record, but because it’s all so effortlessly good.
Psychic Ills Telesthetic Tape LP (Skrot Up)
Psychic Ills have kept the same basic and cool logo since their first 7″, a strategy I personally admire. Can’t say I’ve checked in with them too often since, but Skrot Up dropped Telesthetic Tape on my doorstep, a reissue of a tape (no surprise there) from 2010. People seem to really love or hate this band, which is frequently a good thing in my book, but I don’t have significant evidence to support either side just yet, as Telesthetic Tape is a noted diversion from their normal studio work; rather, this is a collection of practice space material, the sort of odds and sods too aimless, formless or stoned to make the cut onto any coherent album. It’s kinda funny, because if I had to stand around and watch Psychic Ills dick around like this in a music venue, I’d get bored in two seconds, but listening to this on vinyl has a pretty calming, satisfying effect. I’m not paying close attention, but my mindset is enhanced while it’s on, and let’s be honest, if this was some Japanese private pressing from 1982, a puddle of drool would form on my loafers. Guess it’s time to check the rest of their discography and see what they can do when they perform their actual songs.
Rank/Xerox Rank/Xerox LP (Make A Mess)
A bunch of hotly-anticipated albums seemed to have dropped this month, Rank/Xerox’s debut certainly not the least of them. Their first 7″ is one of the last decade’s greatest left-field punk stunners, and while Rank/Xerox doesn’t quite knock me on my seat in the same way, it’s another excellent helping of this San Franciscan trio. For the most part, they’ve restrained their assault from a Feederz-style flail-fest to something moodier (but not remotely gothic), like Wire’s Chairs Missing infused with the no-wave isolation of Mars. Something like “Nausea” would’ve even found a good home on Gravity, had it come out right after that first Rapture album. The more I’ve been able to settle into Rank/Xerox, the better I’ve been able to understand their shift to a more solemn complexion, even thought they still couldn’t be confused for anything other than a punk band. Really hope people get around to checking this one out, as Rank/Xerox don’t really mess around with the modern media self-promotion game that’s becoming more and more of a sad necessity to get one’s self noticed these days.
Rational Animals Bock Rock Parade LP (Katorga Works)
I’ve always admired long-hair hardcore-punk: bands like Corrosion of Conformity, later Black Flag, early Meat Puppets, Give, and most recently, upstate New York’s Rational Animals. Hardcore was essentially founded on buzzcuts, so when a band deliberately grows wild manes while still staying true to the hard/fast musical ethos, good things can happen. And interestingly enough, I can hear some Corrosion of Conformity, and certainly plenty of Black Flag, in Bock Rock Parade, a hardcore record that also touches upon grunge and slow-mo Flipper anguish through its varied grooves. Closest modern companions would probably be Slices and Double Negative, bands unafraid to stop a song at the moment you least expect or let the bass player jump into a complicated riff once in a while. Rational Animals are probably my least favorite of the three, but they’re still really good, and they never forget the aggressive energy that separates “hardcore” from “alternative”. The more I listen, the more Bock Rock Parade speaks to me (and Will Killingsworth’s top-shelf recording certainly doesn’t hurt). As a bonus, you could probably trick your Pitchfork-y friends into thinking they’re going to see Kurt Vile if you show them a picture of the band beforehand. Surprise!
Bryan Lewis Saunders Bedbugs 1-3 LP (Private Leisure Industries)
Didn’t care for the Trophy Wife single that Private Leisure Industries released, but this oddball “stand-up tragedy” album by Bryan Lewis Saunders (renowned multimedia artist, or so the press sheet says) is a doozy. It’s a pretty simple concept – Saunders rants about horrifying interpersonal relationships (briefly) and bedbugs (at length) with the sound of post-industrial squalor in the background, as if Saunders was a quarter-mile from Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and some looters broke out into a gunfight while this album was recorded. Saunders hardly shuts up for the duration of Bedbugs 1-3, but he has no reason to do so, as his wounded, nefarious voice sits on your shoulder and burrows into your ear slowly and effectively. He sounds legitimately mad, in the “tragically insane” sense, especially as he describes the gruesome, horrifying habits of bedbugs. There’s no way you won’t be checking under your mattress after Saunders is through with you. I can’t imagine I’d ever play this record for anyone else, it’s simply too uncomfortable to hear in the presence of another human being, but it’s the legit fright and grotesqueness Saunders invokes that makes Bedbugs 1-3 such an engrossing experience. Save the money you were planning on spending on Saw 8 and creep yourself out with this instead.
Scapegoat Scapegoat LP (Painkiller)
After Scapegoat’s tracks on the Brutal Supremacy compilation, I was a little concerned about this, their debut full-length. Their tracks on that comp were great, but just so specifically Crossed Out-sounding that I only really needed one side of a 7″s worth of that sort of worship. Scapegoat is still pretty Crossed Out-reliant, but thankfully has enough of their own flavor (or at least a wider mix of influences) to keep me mentally stimulated as I violently mosh in solo. Along with the Crossed Out riffage (and anti-human lyrical sentiments), you get the hectic speed and unexpected changes of vintage No Comment, the pummeling anger of early Napalm Death and probably some slightly-metallic Mind Eraser influence for good measure. There’s really not a heck of a lot to say about this record; it executes its purpose so flawlessly that you either sit there and soak it in or will never, ever understand hardcore-grind. I am both humbled and honored that Scapegoat speaks a language I easily comprehend.
Skream Exothermic Reaction 12″ (NonPlus+)
It never hurts to keep up with Skream, this new 12″ with a title ripped from the pages of Popular Science magazine. And like the oppressive grandeur that title suggests, Skream is in macho dubstep mode here, like a male peacock flashing his impressive tail. He substitutes the crack of an electronic whip for the snare hit on “Exothermic Reaction” as the wobble-bass’s intensity fluctuates, fixed up about as smart and stylish as this sort of heavy bass-mongering can get. “Future Funkizm” is the flip, and fits its title as well. I’m reminded of Joker’s “Purple City” for a brief moment, that is until the laser-beam bass blinds me. I am generally scared of any music that references “funk” in the title besides, well, funk, but Skream classes up the joint with this one, maintaining a strict “no ballcaps/camera phones/baggy jeans” door policy. I understand that Skream is probably an artist of the past to many people, but those fools are missing out on some sweet fire, as evidenced here.
Gary Stewart / John Wesley Coleman III split 7″ (Sophomore Lounge)
Interesting split single concept here – John Wesley Coleman III (of Golden Boys fame) covering Gary Stewart’s “Ramona” with Gary Stewart’s original version on the a-side. I listened to Coleman’s side first, a simple and tender ballad that falls directly between Will Oldham and Kenny Chesney. Real nice, and enough to make me dust off that Golden Boys album I never quite clicked with. My appreciation of Coleman’s track is quickly usurped after spinning Gary Stewart’s original, however, as it’s completely void of Coleman’s friendly smile, replacing any silly wink with an emotional earnestness that cuts me down like a redwood. I wasn’t previously familiar with Stewart, but “Ramona” is the sort of track that Kenny Rogers would kill a backup singer to own; timelessly beautiful. Cool idea for a single, this pairing of old and new, but this record’s true value is the entry of Gary Stewart into my life (time to go Blogspot that back catalog), even though the two versions of “Ramona” within its grooves are mighty nice indeed.
Ghédalia Tazartès Diasporas LP (Dais)
If the Mutant Sounds blog was a university, I couldn’t think of a better mascot to represent it than Ghédalia Tazartès. His music and persona pretty much embody the old-Europe / NWW List / avant-psychosis I’ve come to expect from what is essentially its own specific genre, and one we all find so appealing. He’s playing accordion in a kilt inside his insane ancient hardware shop of a home if you Google image-search him, for chrissakes. He’s released plenty of music in his day, and all that I’ve heard is pretty enthralling, but Dais’ recent reissue of Diasporas is as smart a place as any to start one’s discovery of Tazartès. He does things with his throat that could confuse an entire zoo, then he loops it, plays tuba over it, whatever, there are no rules. Suddenly, your roommate’s costumed drum-and-bass duo seems a whole lot more plebeian.
Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments Burning Trash / Price Of My Words 7″ (Negative Guest List)
It’s cool when labels finagle the release of one of their inspirations, which I assume comes into play with this Negative Guest List release of two sixteen year-old Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments songs (and presumably where the label/zine picked up its name). I was never a big TJSA guy, even though my recent pick-up of their Fat Day split 7″ kinda shook me by the throat with its Midwestern rage. These two tracks were plucked from a 1995 demo, one of which apparently made it to an album around that time. (I’m using a cheat-sheet here – trust me, I couldn’t pick a Cheater Slicks album title from a Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments one if my life depended on it.) Both songs are good, even if it’s somewhat evident why these versions didn’t leave an expired demo tape for over a decade. I don’t really need to hear this single many more times, but hey, sometimes a label’s gotta put its money where its mouth is when it comes to respecting their elders.
Total Control Henge Beat LP (Iron Lung)
Been awaiting this one for a while, and I’m so glad it’s finally here, complete with the gatefold cover’s big red optical-illusion sucking all matter sharply into its vortex. Total Control are a gnarly post-punk band as well as an electronic synth-wave project; Henge Beat offers plenty of both, mixed together like conjoined twins that couldn’t survive without each other. They were great as a live punk band, but I’m at a loss as to which style I prefer here – they jump from Suicide to Wire to Simple Minds and I’m right there with them, appreciating the record’s flow and later finding myself mumbling their “taking pills to remember to take pills to forget” chorus at inopportune times. If you’ve dug any Total Control before, this is a pretty essential disc, and if not, now’s as good a time as any to get on board. Those of you waiting to order it alongside the new Slices album, I applaud your postage-consciousness… I just couldn’t deny myself this pleasure a moment longer than necessary.
Unknown Artist Sicko Cell / Knock Knock 12″ (Swamp81)
It’s kinda confusing, but I think I cracked the case: this isn’t a producer named “Unknown Artist”, it’s just how the record is billed on the Internet, as no particular person takes credit for these two tracks (even though it has since been revealed that Peter O’Grady aka Joy Orbison aka Joy O is behind this 12″). Maybe O’Grady just kept reducing the letters in his moniker until there were simply none left? Anyway, not entirely sure why he wants to distance himself from these two cuts, but “Sicko Cell” has been blazing up the dubstep charts, and I can see why, because what group of partying young people doesn’t get some sort of enjoyment (be it ironic or sincere) out of singing along to the big “cocaine powder” vocal hook that’s stamped all over “Sicko Cell”? It’s kind of a disjointed cut, like its various parts don’t gel into a single groove, but I’ve grown to enjoy it more as familiarity sets in. “Knock Knock” is not nearly as fractured, and plays like a minimal dubstep track circa 2008 or so, before all those guys started flirting with house music. “Sicko Cell” is the clear standout here, but unless you live and breathe dubstep, or DJ a party that requires a constantly updated rotation of new tracks, you probably only need one solid listen of “Sicko Cell” before moving on with your life.
Vanishing Leper Vanishing Leper LP (Cold Vomit)
Dry Rot ended their existence last month with a run of East Coast shows, and if you were wise enough to attend one, you may have picked up the Vanishing Leper LP from their merch table much like I did. It’s a collaboration between Dry Rot’s Jordan Darby and Justin DeTore of Mind Eraser (and nearly every other good hardcore band from Boston). No matter how you may combine those two in your head, compiling their various discographies and influences, there is no way you’ll ever wind up at Vanishing Leper, who are probably the first Eastern-tinged alt-rock group I’ve checked out. Imagine Billy Corgan getting deep into the Qur’an, or Ned’s Atomic Dustbin without any nuclear power. Seriously perplexing music, particularly in that it’s actually well-recorded, and a level of effort above “fleeting” is found in the songwriting. I can’t imagine myself jonesing for a dose of Vanishing Leper too often, my tastes just haven’t matured to that point quite yet, but the times that I do give it a spin, I’m always pleased that I did. It comes with a sticker and a poster, and while Cold Vomit only pressed up a very limited edition of 100 copies, I suspect it’ll be available for at least a couple more months – your usual generic hardcore kids into Dry Rot and Mind Eraser may not be as kind to Vanishing Leper as I am.
Wolfgang Voigt Kafkatrax 1 12″ (Profan)
Ahh, Wolfgang Voigt! I absolutely love this guy, as he has recently focused on making techno music that seems to irritate everyone in the world but myself. I can’t blame people, though – Freiland Klaviermusik is one of the most stressful listening experiences you can ever undergo, the type of aggravating mind-melt that will force pregnant women into labor and jittery co-workers to scream; Voigt’s music will easily set you over the edge, even on a good day. These two tracks, as you might’ve guessed from the title, utilize spoken fragments of a Franz Kafka recording to equally maddening effect. “Kafkatrax 1.1” is my favorite, as it has this swinging house beat that refuses to change or perform any meaningful act, while a multitude of stretched and twisted vocal snippets quickly pile on top. It’s like setting yourself a nice warm bath, but the water is never turned off, and you end up flooding your entire bathroom and incurring thousands of dollars in drywall repair. “Kafkatrax 1.2” is even more unhinged, as the beat is little more than a clowny one-two march with those same damn voices popping up from every direction until they cloud your senses entirely. Can’t wait to check out Kafkatrax 2, a series that I hope goes well into double-digits. Anxious music for similarly anxious times.
Waste Management Power Abuse 7″ (Painkiller)
More angry hardcore with quality you can count on, care of Painkiller Records. The cover cartoon image is rife with mid-’80s Agnostic Front / Crumbsuckers / “the world’s on the verge of annihilation” sentiment, but Waste Management are clearly rooting for the Red Sox, not the Yankees, as they follow a Kids Will Have Their Say / Negative FX approach (how long ’til some straight-edge band from the Netherlands names themselves Negative FX Approach?). Six songs in just as many minutes, and while I loved the first Waste Management EP, I think this one tops it, as you’ve got obvious crowd-favorites in “Power Abuse” and the hardcore change-up of “Too Much Unity”, whose lyrics I can stand behind. Anyone with a taste for hardcore has probably placed a Painkiller order in the past couple months; if Power Abuse wasn’t in your cart, you’ve got some explaining to do.
Womankind Womankind 12″ (Nominal)
A four-song 12″ EP with a line drawing of flowers on the cover… we could be dealing with anything here, but Nominal generally likes to rock, specifically in a punk fashion, so that’s my best guess for Womankind. After giving it a go, I’m not too far off, but Womankind have a little more Touch & Go in their systems than your average Nominal artist, like they mixed Polvo and Fugazi in with their vibrant Vancouver hometown scene. It’s a sound bands have been doing for years now, one that stretches from scruffy emo, rooted in basement parties and community activism, to the aforementioned Midwestern chug, and ongoing into the future. I like Action Patrol, and I like Microwaves, and I like The Red Scare, and I like Womankind, too. (Hell, I even like I Hate Myself.) Can’t rightly say this one moved me to any sort of profound experience, or that Womankind evoke any new perspective on this well-worn sound, but they do right by it, at least. Every local scene needs one of these bands (…but one good one is probably enough).