Archive for January, 2012

Culturcide

For all the ’80s industrial noise-nik Throbbing Gristle-ites out there, Culturcide don’t
seem to get their proper due. Their Consider Museums / Another Miracle 7″ is probably my
favorite American post-punk single, and even in its scarcity, you can probably find one
for less than the copy of a new indie-rock LP if you surf the web hard enough (average list
price is what, $18.98 these days?). The lack of hyped critical blathering is often the case
for the uniquely-great artists out there, but I try to do my part to get the word out,
forcing Culturcide’s Year One album on friends until they get it (and they always do). Their
music is visceral and biting without shocking for shock’s sake, delivered with razor-
sharp wit, cynical anger, and a voice distinctly their own. If you love this sort of stuff,
please make Culturcide a part of your life. Through a mutual acquaintance, I was able to
get in touch with Mark Flood (aka Perry Webb), founding member and vocalist. He’s long
since moved past the Culturcide label, creating art and music and living the dream, or at
least my dream of being a wily provocateur that maintains relevance through decades of
creativity. He didn’t even know that Culturcide’s Home Made Authority CD was finally released
after twelve years, but he was willing to revisit the group’s earliest years with me
anyway, surprised that anyone cares. Frankly, I’m surprised that anyone doesn’t care.

What was the impetus for starting Culturcide? Was there a specific intent behind
Culturcide’s sound before the band started, or was it something that just kind of congealed
later on?

I’ll just speak for myself. In 1979, I met Jim Craine who worked at Ronnie Bond’s record
store. We both loved Throbbing Gristle. I said I wish I could make a record. He said he
knew how but didn’t have the money. I borrowed it. $600.00. Boom, first single. The Wikipedia
entry covers it in excruciating detail.
Throbbing Gristle was the model and also I had absorbed the ’77 punk idea that ’60s-’70s
mainstream rock music was regressive. So I thought it was cool to avoid rock music structures,
and this was convenient for me, since I had no music skills at all.
After that first single Culturcide soon stumbled back into rock, when we rehearsed for our
early live gigs, either as parodies like the song “Terrorist”, or just because it was
intuitive and easy and fun to play. Dan had officially joined and he was a guitar hero;
Jim also had plenty of music skills. So you hear us wavering between noise and rock on the
Year One LP, a motley collection from those days.

What did you actually use to make the noise? Did you learn the actual act of
making noise with your gear from anyone, or was it solely a trial and error thing?

In the early days I had a card table with a number of cassette tapedecks playing and I would
hold the mic up to them sometimes. Each song had its tape. Sometimes Jim used the tapes
through his synth. Dan put the guitar through a homemade effects box. Over the years we had
a lot of people play noise a lot of different ways.

From the flyers I’ve seen, it seems like Culturcide was a part of the punk scene,
more or less. How did the fans of say, Really Red, react to your performances?

The early audience were all weirdos drawn to this weird underground thing. It was a small
world. They were not critical. There was a solidarity. I would say we were sometimes
appreciated, sometimes ignored, occasionally attacked. But if sometimes someone hated us,
that was enjoyable too. It was in the punk rock script from the UK. Culturcide never tried
to take it to a level of fans liking us, supporting us. We played a little, toured less,
had no interest in conventional success. I was irritated when people sometimes assumed we
wanted conventional success.

Early on, do you have any memory of being satisfied by the group for any particular
reason, or from any particular experience?

In general, there are lots of social reasons for a young person to be in a band. Also, the
joy of creating is powerful and addictive. At that time, with the punk rock energy swirling
around, I felt like I was part of a community of sorts, and we all wanted to make a mark of
some kind.

































Songs like “Hating My Father”, or the lines about working for Exxon in “Another Miracle”
struck me as particularly real, for lack of a better word. Maybe you’re just excellent fakers
and I’ve been tricked, but that sort of direct approach really struck me as far more visceral
and jolting than the usual “kill the cops / destroy the system” punk rock rhetoric. Was there
a conscious decision to speak directly about real things that affected your life?

Yes, because I learned from the Clash. All their details were drawn from their personal London
world. Just like James Joyce and Dublin. So lyrics-wise, I wanted to re-make punk energy into
something very Houston. Exxon was the biggest corporation in the world at that time, and a huge
presence in Houston. My grandparents had owned Esso stations.
Punk rock rhetoric didn’t really congeal into a cliche until the late ’80s. Earlier than that,
I remember how we made fun of people who imitated UK punks too slavishly. We called them “stuck
in ’77”.

Are you still in Houston now? What keeps you there?
I’m not sure which city this is.

How did the Hiroshima Chair split LP come about? I have never seen or heard it…
what kind of material ended up on there?

Some Australian guy wrote us. Tom Ellard was his name I think. We sent him a tape, he did
the rest. It had some material that never came out anywhere else, mainly noise.

Were you surprised that a random Australian guy wanted to release your music?
Stranger things have happened. Lots of people wanted us to contribute to cassette releases.
What was different about this was that they did vinyl.

I understand that Tacky Souvenirs caused a bit of a stir back in the day.
What sort of reaction were you expecting from it, versus what you received? I recently
played “Love Is A Cattleprod” out in public, and one person got visibly upset – I feel
like there are very few records from 1986 that could continue to provoke such a reaction today.

It was shocking from the first time we did that material on stage, which was 1984, and we got
a wide range of responses whenever. I want to release the Tacky Souvenirs live collection because
you can hear the audience’s remarks on the tapes. Sometimes fans of the original song got
upset, like when a Bruce fan trashed the mic stand at Strake Jesuit High School during our
version of “Dancing In The Dark”.
When we embarked on recording the LP, which took many painful years, two band members quit
over it. It was okay as a piece of a live show, but to make it the next LP was not acceptable.
Also, I remember having to cajole some of the engineers we worked with. It was very hard to
explain that LP before it existed. To walk into a recording studio and hand them a Bruce
Springsteen single and say “put this on tracks one and two…” it was startling. It was a
hard-sell. People got freaked out.
I remember the process – the money, the recording sessions, the creative decisions – as one
of the most grueling creative experiences of my life. Ironically, reviewers all seemed to think
we made it in one night after a couple of six-packs. I don’t know what reaction I expected.
I just felt it had to be done. I was afraid of the consequences, but I felt compelled to do
it anyway.
The legal consequences never came but we pretended they had. I felt everyone wanted us to be
punished, and once they thought we had been, they’d leave us alone. And that’s exactly what
happened. We got two calls and I never responded. We were so nothing, so small, so obscure…
it wasn’t worth their while. We got great reviews in the UK and a promoter in the Netherlands
brought us over for a brief tour. We sold out the first pressing rapidly and never did another.

For some reason, the Bruce Springsteen song seems to catch the most heat. Maybe
because he was the most socially revered of the artists you “covered”?

He was revered.

Is Culturcide an ongoing concern?
No.

Is there any Culturcide record that you are particularly proud of, or one that you
think most people overlooked?

Tacky Souvenirs hold up best because the relationship of pop to its audience is still the same.
I’m proud of the work we did, but I’m surprised people still pay attention to Culturcide. I
didn’t expect the society’s obsession with eighties underground music.

Reviews – January 2012

Actress Rainy Dub 12″ (Honest Jon’s)
Actress has always been one of the more perplexing personalities to come out of the prior decade’s dubstep / post-dubstep movement. Parts of Splazsh made no sense to anybody – listening to certain tracks made me genuinely uncomfortable, like standing in a shower that constantly fluctuates past the perfect temperature. Took me a while, but I’ve learned to love the way in which Actress forces incongruous, disapproved sounds into contorted positions. This new 12″ is a great example of his style, and also some of his finest work to date. “Rainy Dub” is like a dusty Nintendo game that’s permanently stuck on pause, even as you hit the reset button over and over. Certainly the loneliest sounding 8-bit music I’ve ever heard, yet catchy enough in its sheer repetition that I keep swirling this song around my stereo. “Faceless” is even better – it’s like he took Haus Arafna’s bleak, whip-snap synths and mimicked the early electro-experiments of Sympathy Nervous in order to create the song’s internal architecture. No one else really sounds like Actress, to the point where I don’t even think it’s possible to rip him off – I don’t see how anyone could.

Adolf Butler Holland LP (Motorwolf)
Ah yes, Adolf Butler. As an American, it’s sometimes impossible to tell just how serious certain European groups are about their offensive name, song titles and/or imagery. Maybe others can read it easily, but European piss-taking is a form of communication I will never fully understand. I saw Adolf Butler perform live in Belgium back in 2008 (the singer got naked on stage just to change his pants and the guitarist was dating the most beautiful woman I had ever seen). Talk of a Parts Unknown release never came to fruition, but it would’ve been a decent fit, as Adolf Butler seem to take influence from some basic modern noise-rock touchstones (Clockcleaner and Drunkdriver, let’s say) and pair that with their profound love for ’90s mosh-core, perhaps the result of too many hours spent watching the NYHC documentary. They even got Madball’s Euro-tour drummer to record Holland, no joke. So yeah, imagine the thuggish muscle-flexing of Crown Of Thornz mixed with Clockcleaner’s mean-spirited button-pushing and you’re in the right neighborhood (one that borders closely on the grunge-rock ghetto Soundgarden called home before Clinton took office). The songs are long and likely to wear you down, and it seems like the singer ran out of lyrics halfway through most of them, just kinda shouting random stuff once the two-minute mark is passed. Weirder music than it intends to be, I’m sure – Dennis Typhus has probably moshed to this band more than once, which is as apt a descriptor as I could render. If you’re running low on ignorant hardcore for your gym playlist, by all means…

Baby Tears Homeless Corpse / She Sells Eggs 7″ (Rainy Road)
What do you think a band with ex-members of The Faint and Run For Your Fucking Life would sound like? My guess was “an upbeat mix of Devoid Of Faith and No Doubt”, because who wouldn’t want to hear that, but nope, Baby Tears are a far more approachable brew. “Homeless Corpse” sounds like Mudhoney if grunge never existed, vaguely gothic (as is today’s popular style), but without forsaking loud, rocking guitars and shouted/screamed vocals in the process. I love the title “She Sells Eggs”, and it’s got a punker vibe, the bass guitar slobbering all over a song that Le Shok could’ve easily written a decade ago. I like both cuts, and would imagine Baby Tears are one of the more exciting acts stomping around Omaha. If I was stuck there, I’d want to make music that sounds like this too.

Jon Convex Pop That P / Your Mind (Or Mine) 10″ (Naked Lunch)
Has techno ever embraced the 8″ format? I would be into that. In the meantime, recent personal-fave Jon Convex has dropped a new red-vinyl 10″, and I’m psyched for his vinyl in any size. “Pop That P” is another winner – rather than filleting his synths into the basis of the hook, he takes some 2 Live Crew-inspired lyric and turns it into a sonic palindrome, inviting the audience to take their Ps and pop them. Some killer hi-hat work too – this is easily his gnarliest dance cut yet, stiletto heels and Timberland boots slipping and sliding on the humid linoleum. “Your Mind (Or Mine)” is far more prudish, ping-ponging its main riff from wall to wall with an occasional demon-vocal that sounds fresh out of Andy Stott’s closet. I really need to figure out a way to get in touch with Convex and personally thank him for enriching my life. I feel like he needs to know.

Crisis Hotlines Don’t Wanna Go To No Jail 7″ (Eradicator)
You ever read a record critic or interviewed band member say something like “(garage-punk band) is great, not like all those crappy ones out there”, and wish they’d name names, just once? Well, Crisis Hotlines sounds like one of those unnamed crappy bands to me, the bands that water down a genre with their mediocre music and generic aesthetic to the point where fairweather fans start to look for the next trend to glom onto, realizing this particular sponge has been squeezed dry. Of course, Crisis Hotlines are far from the worst band in the world, and perform their tracks without error, but I’ve had enough middle-of-the-road takes on The Spits and Ramones and Jay Reatard and whoever else that this record blazes through me like a greasy diner breakfast, unable to register any real impression during its brief time in my system. Hell, I still own records by The Nobodys, and they’ll suit me just fine for when I want to hear third-tier, knuckleheaded punk rock that sits on the couch all day instead of doing its chores. I’m sure this Crisis Hotlines 7″ will fill that role for dozens of other people just fine, I’ve just got it taken care of already.

Darkside Darkside EP 10″ (Clown & Sunset)
Not one to rest on his laurels, Nicolas Jaar started the Clown & Sunset label as well as the project Darkside with guitarist Dave Harrington. It’s a different direction than Jaar’s solo material, but his fingerprints are smudged all over this thing – the slinky tempos, the intelligible-yet-inhuman vocals, the dust of nostalgia on a music that is clearly modern-day. Gotta say, I absolutely love Darkside. Harrington plays these slow, funky riffs that could’ve just as easily been borrowed from Dire Straits as TV On The Radio or even Bob Marley, and they’re the perfect base for Jaar’s delicate programming, vocalizing and re-working. Only three tracks here, but I can’t stop spinning them – it’s like a new, introspective form of disco music that’s too slow for dancing but bumps just the same. I’d stop to wonder why no one else thought of this first if I wasn’t too busy riding high on Darkside’s groove.

Dead Farmers Out The Door 7″ (R.I.P Society)
More Australian garage? Sure, why not! I vaguely remember that Dead Farmers single on Aarght!, kind of “wild” and smearing their Black Lips all over the place, but they’ve toned down the youthful vigor on this new one, and I’d say it’s for the better. “Out The Door” struts at a comfortable pace, sort of a King Khan / Lyres hybrid, or for you modern-day Aussiephiles, a swinging-er Bed Wettin’ Bad Boys. “Never Enough” is cool too; it has the feel of a set-closer where the band is already soaked with sweat and either stretch their instruments beyond their limitations or simply crumble in a heap as they make it through this final song of the evening. It’s a quick 7″, with neither song lasting any longer than a couple choruses and verses can take them. I kinda wish I had more, as Dead Farmers make these songs sound easy to write, and even easier to play. They’ve gotta be due for a US tour at this point, right? Maybe I’ll just hear the rest when they inevitably roll through town.

Dntel Anywhere Anyone (Remix) 12″ (Sub Pop)
Never heard / never cared to hear Dntel, the electronic project of Death Cab For Cutie, or someone related to that family, but goddamn, when you’ve got Sandwell District dudes and Pearson Sound remixing your track, I want in on the action! I really need to get a job at Sub Pop if this is who they get to talk to on the phone all day. The first remix comes care of Silent Servant & Regis, and it’s pretty much as to be expected – the tones are somewhat sweet and poppy, no doubt care of the original version, but Silent Servant & Regis shock these sounds into their ice-crusted grid, building a Berghain-worthy track I can really stomp my boots to. Pearson Sound plays the wild card on his side, offering a beatless mix that is all sugary-ambient bliss, passing pure cane and heading into Stevia territory. It’s a nice meditation, as the original track’s vocals occasionally burst through the pink clouds only long enough to say hello. Maybe I need to check out Dntel after all, as I’m certainly on the same page when it comes to their remix decisions.

Floating Points Shadows 2×12″ (Eglo)
As a peruser of record bins both cardboard and pine, I am probably not alone in my experiences stumbling across those awesome-looking Deodato albums. For me, the actual experience of listening to a Deodato record was a disappointment, but now I have Floating Points’ Shadows, which basically sounds exactly how I wish Deodato did. There’s light, airy jazz, strings and keys and vintage synths, but rather than coagulate them into a soft cheese, Floating Points takes those elements and goes deep into house music. I wasn’t expecting this, as previous EPs came with a higher dance-floor factor, not to mention “Vacuum Boogie”‘s playlist ubiquity, but Floating Points steps back a bit from the hustle of the club and allows us to quietly reflect through these five tracks. It’s still pretty groovy, with choppy hi-hats to recall Motor City Drum Ensemble, or a particularly civilized Omar S, but you can easily hit the leather couch, dusty novel in hand, and unwind after work to the sounds of Shadows. House so deep it’ll put that ass to sleep, if an Ice Cube quote is appropriate here.

Full Toilet Full Toilet 7″ (Sub Pop)
Thirteen tracks of demented, childish, borderline-unlistenable hardcore punk on… Sub Pop. Clearly this label has one of those Scrooge McDuck gold-coin tanks, but I’m glad they’re using those funds to support idiotic tantrums like this. Imagine RF7’s classic Fall In EP remixed by Billy Bao at his most nihilistic and listener-unfriendly. Live drums are chopped and looped, or just played straight; vocals are either barked or coughed; guitars sound like they are coming from one of those ten-dollar cigarette box speakers; the bass is probably nothing more than a fine-tuned rubber-band. Fans of Cleveland’s bozo punk rock (Brainwashed Youth, Flying Trichecos, Folded Shirt, Darvocets, ad infinitum) would eat this up like soup with a fork. I can’t stop spinning it either, and look forward to the looks on the faces of all those Washed Out fans when Full Toilet opens their upcoming Canadian tour.

Happy Jawbone Family Band OK Midnight, You Win LP (Feeding Tube)
Not sure if Happy Jawbone Family Band have been feuding with Cleveland’s leading metal-punk outfit or if they’ve just given in to the following day, but I dig the title no matter what its origin. Feeding Tube is a label that can attack from any direction, but this record comes at me like one of those enormous rainbow-lollipops with a big red ribbon on the stick, sweetly psychedelic and tempting. Very much in the Elephant 6 vein, what with Neutral Milk Hotel-esque musical arrangements, Elf Power-ish melodies and Olivia Tremor Control’s drugged-out impishness. A few notches down from the insanity that is Danielson Famile, which is where I like this sort of thing to land. I can definitely picture lots of five year-olds running around a backyard as Happy Jawbone Family Band gleefully pluck away at their barely-electrified setup, at least one of the band members wearing ripped overalls. Is it possible to be from Vermont and make music that isn’t utterly happy and silly?

Hunters / Dead Wife split 7″ (Swill Children)
Don’t let Swill Children’s intriguing paper-sleeve design fool you into thinking you need this split, as it’s about as pointless an exercise in vinyl as they come. Hunters are decent – upper-crust hipster-rock that rubs elbows with James Iha (producer of these tracks) and Nick Zinner (mixer of these tracks), rocking like The Kills with hand-choruses and a touch of basement grime. The thing is though, both of these tracks are available on the Hunters 12″ EP that came out on this very same label. I didn’t care for Dead Wife’s debut 7″, and tracks like “Rx From Dr. Gay” here certainly don’t win me over. Awfully-recorded, juvenile punk rock, which is generally music I would want to hear, except that Dead Wife are just so uninteresting and dull that they make me want to sit around listening to Autechre and Jóhann Jóhannsson and pretend I have no idea who Operation Ivy are. I’m really at a loss as to why this record exists. Was it given away for free at a show or something?

La Corde / Cat Party split 7″ (Resurrection)
You know what’s worse than a split 7″? A split 7″ where each band has tracks on each side. I think my distaste for this track format goes back to the Combatwoundedveteran / Scrotum Grinder split… don’t interrupt my Combatwoundedveteran time with freakin’ Scrotum Grinder! Can you imagine if the Ottawa / Jihad split was like that? Anyway, without further digression, La Corde and Cat Party at least make for a suitable match – both bands take on punk rock / post-punk with a darker edge. La Corde open the record with “Atomic Lawn”, playing like Adolescents on 33 instead of 45, which is certainly a nice way to do things. Cat Party are far more serious than their cutesy name implies, taking the next two cuts with Gun Club’s weariness, The Cure’s self-pity and a singer who sounds like he just got dumped. Lots of wet eyeliner on the cheeks and butter knives on the wrists while Cat Party are in control. La Corde end on a similarly dour note, sullenly rocking with a serious Robert Smith / Wes Eisold vocal bent. There’s no shortage of records coming out for your local goth night, and while I might not recognize this one if I heard it out, I’d tap my velvet loafers to it just the same.

Le Face / DVA Damas split 7″ (Psychic Handshake)
The back cover of No New York has one of my favorite layouts, each band member displayed in their own weird little yearbook portrait. Le Face and DVA Damas have ganked that idea for themselves, and I like their version too, the nine of them hanging out in bathrooms and hallways, looking forlorn under the illumination of a single light bulb. The music’s cool, too – Le Face are the punker of the two, hectic and dismayed, the type of band Geza X probably would’ve tried to produce thirty years ago. It’s really close, but I think I prefer DVA Damas – they are simpler and dancier, as if Tussle and Glass Candy got together to jam some ideas in 2004 and the results were sealed in a canister, unopened until now. It’s a smart style, and they all look cool enough on the back cover that I want to hear more. (The one dude even makes a nose ring look cool.) Good splits are harder and harder to find these days, so when something like this shows up, it’s best to squeeze it and never let go.

Locrian The Clearing LP & 7″ flexi (Fan Death)
Locrian are about as prolific as they come, but it doesn’t seem to be based on a clueless lack of self-editing so much as a lot of hard work and effort. I’ve probably heard three or four Locrian albums at this point, and they all sound like the work of people who really try to get the sounds that they get; for as long, drone-y and noisy as Locrian’s music can be, it never seems loose or improvised in the studio, even if that may be the case. Four tracks are spread out across The Clearing – the first three claim the a-side, prominently working synthesizer drone and horrified moaning among their subtly-shifting, expansive guitars. I guess there was a time when Locrian were a black-metal band, but that time seems to have passed. The longer they stretch out, the better it gets, as the lengthy b-side “The Clearing” could be the world’s slowest dust storm: a subtle beeping slowly churns into a swirling sonic fudge, replete with a few well-timed kick-drum booms. A few lucky customers (including myself) received a clear-vinyl, one-sided flexi disc featuring a Screen Vinyl Image remix, an unnecessary but pleasant addition to the overall package (and honestly, probably the most exciting SVI track I’ve heard). I assume the cover’s thrashed-lobby photo isn’t the studio after Locrian recorded The Clearing, but it certainly could be.

The Love Triangle Boomerang Girl / Quick Joey Small 7″ (Dire)
I seem to encounter more generic garage bands than personal friends on a daily basis at this point in my life. There’s no way this is healthy. The Love Triangle are alright, though – “Boomerang Girl” starts with a blown-out vocal/floor-tom volley that I could happily listen to on a repeated loop (might start to sound kinda no-wavey after thirty seconds or so), but it turns into a pretty cool cut of dunce-cap garage-punk, part-Wax Museums, part-Spits. They really blew out the recording on here, and that’s basically why I’m digging it. B-side has a little more white-boy soul, like Delta ’72 or something, but with the same crusty recording of the a-side: it’s like listening with your ear to the speaker no matter how far away you stand. The lame artwork had me at odds with The Love Triangle before I even listened, but yeah, this is one of the good ones.

Maria Minerva Sacred & Profane Love LP (100% Silk)
Even if a lot of 100% Silk’s catalog misses my personal sweet spot, I like to keep up, as they seem to throw enough ideas at the wall that a small percentage is guaranteed to stick. Hadn’t heard any of Maria Minerva’s previous records, but here I am with Sacred & Profane Love and… I don’t know. The beats are decent-if-unremarkable nu-disco pop/house, certainly nodding to the Italians Do It Better roster without particularly adding anything to the recipe. The music is kind of easy to ignore, actually, in light of Minerva’s frequent vocalizing. I can’t really get down with it – her singing reminds me of one too many self-conscious karaoke singers without the proper speaker monitor to hear just how on- or off-key he or she may be. Or maybe, if Minerva was really bad (or good) I’d love it, but she mostly stays in tune through her soft, bored singing. It’s not her fault that Boomkat describes her “creativity” as “simply breathtaking”, but man, that’s the sort of hyperbole that has me scared to purchase any highly-praised record, in fear of it just being okay. Sacred & Profane Love is about as okay as it gets.

Möbius Strip Escalate. 10″ (Left Out)
Here’s ten solid inches of emotive, heart-on-sleeve punk rock from DC’s Möbius Strip. Really reminds me of 1997, when punk bands were allowed to tackle political issues without the slightest hint of irony, and back up their musings with poppy melodic punk. Somewhere between Hot Water Music, Kid Dynamite and Black Train Jack do Möbius Strip intersect, the perfect extension for anyone who’s worn out their Punk Uprisings compilation. I’m both surprised and heartened that kids are still interested in playing this sort of music, where they can melodically sing about the government (“Green Is The New Red”) and familial strife (“Safe”) in an earnest, borderline-naïve way. Bands used to cover 7 Seconds and mean it, and while that couldn’t be further from what’s cool in 2012, I’m glad someone is still proudly carrying that torch.

Morphosis Too Far (Dettmann’s Definitions) 12″ (Delsin)
Two of my favorite names in modern techno on this single, as Marcel Dettmann takes on one of the best tracks off Morphosis’ near-perfect What Have We Learned album. This 12″ opens with Morphosis’ original, and taken out of the album’s context, it’s kind of startling to hear just how utterly original, weird and great “Too Far” is. For something that rides such a simple 808 disco-beat, “Too Far” somehow conjures a Bollywood interrogation scene, the listener handcuffed to the table, nervously in wait of the next person to enter the room. I could listen to this all day, and it’s probably Morphosis’ original execution that makes both of Marcel Dettmann’s “definitions” seem pretty dispensable by comparison. Dettmann’s first take is the better of the two, but his clinical remix tones down the uniqueness of the original, resulting in a sleepy, slow-moving product. The second remix is even less appealing, dropping a basic beat over the original’s vocals, completely out of sync, eventually adding a melody in an entirely different key. Really poorly done from a guy I greatly respect. I guess it’s pretty daunting, trying to breathe fresh life into a track that doesn’t need anyone’s help, but still, this EP can and should be avoided, so long as an undisturbed version of What Have We Learned exists in our world.

Noem Panzer LP (This Charming Man)
Smart-looking LP here from Germany’s Noem, a post-hardcore band newly on my radar. Panzer has kind of an academic Youth Attack vibe to the artwork (strictly from a design standpoint – there’s no sign of women in cages or porn collages here), which I dig. The music, on the other hand… hmm. I get that they’re going for an unhinged, nihilistic, Hank Rollins-fronting-Jesus-Lizard sort of thing, but it’s all a bit too nonthreatening to hit with the impact it should, and the music is about as sterile as this sort of thing can get. It’s almost as if the try-hard aspect of Francis Harold & The Holograms was applied to the squeaky-clean riffs of Young Widows, which is to say, close but no cigar. I really wanted to like these guys, and maybe their “complaining about mundane things” lyrical approach hits a little too close to home (ie. the song about running out of toothpaste, “No Toothpaste Blues”), but they aren’t quite there yet. Took me a while to write about Panzer; I gave it over a month, hoping it might click, but no dice… something about Noem just had me coming back, in spite of my lack of enjoyment, which may have been their intention all along.

Northern Liberties Glowing Brain Garden LP (no label)
You know the type of person that has to constantly be creating something? Someone who goes to jury duty for a day and comes back with an intricate sixteen-page comic book sketched on loose-leaf? That’s the impression I get from the Northern Liberties boys, two brothers and another who dispense all sorts of art like a fountain, both as the group Northern Liberties and individually. Glowing Brain Garden features sprawling, colorful art both inside and out, with enough pencil-strokes to make Nick Blinko’s hand cramp, as well as a couple of inserts. Visually alone, it’s a labor of love. Musically, I know I’ve seen these guys in at least one basement, but Glowing Brain Garden is more realized and structured than what I remember – kind of like a low-budget version of At The Drive-in trying out some of Lightning Bolt’s signature moves. Lots of musical technicality and tempo changes, fantasy-styled lyrics and a home-spun grandeur (with an apparently endless supply of colored-markers to fuel their ship). I’ve always figured Northern Liberties were a little too Burning Man for my tastes, but at the very least, the effort they put forth to document their existence has certainly expanded and improved my perception.

Oneohtrix Point Never Replica LP (Software)
I’ve taken such a shine to that Ford & Lopatin album that I decided to give Oneohtrix Point Never another go. I dug Betrayed In The Octagon well enough, but haven’t quite felt the personal connection to Oneohtrix Point Never that so many other electronic-music lovers seem to share. I know he’s got a good dozen releases out at this point, so I’m not sure if Replica is a twist from the science-fiction ambient of his other works or what, but it’s an interesting album all the same. I guess the premise for Replica is based on Lopatin cutting up old television samples, but he does so without getting overly referential or shticky. Instead, he builds these singular little pieces, each with its own heartbeat and temperament… he might get gauzy and drift into the ether, all Tri Angle-like, or chop up a vocal like an avant-garde DJ Nate, but each track possesses its own progression. It’s dreamlike, but in a restless way, calling to mind Black To Comm or maybe even Graham Lambkin, had he fallen in love with synthesizers the way he has with field recordings. Some moments even make me think of Fennesz, were he not so damn serious and intellectual. Not sure what the point of Replica is, but that’s not a complaint… Oneohtrix isn’t out to make sense, so much as make art, and he succeeds just fine here. Replica goes in all sorts of directions at once – you really just have to sit down with it and let its scenery slowly unfold around you.

Pillars And Tongues The Pass And Crossings LP (Empty Cellar)
Nick Cave has had a pretty amazing musical progression, from his teenage years with Boys Next Door to his current stature as rock n’ roll’s baddest dad. Were he to live to reach a hundred, I’m pretty sure the music he’d be making in the nursing home would sound like The Pass And Crossings by Pillars And Tongues. These slow, cheerless songs, sculpted from bass, violin, organ and harmonium, sound like Nick Cave on his deathbed, grey beard past his nipples, imparting his final words of wisdom before transferring to the great beyond. It’s like a Constellation Records band performing at a Southern Lord pace, and yet there’s no aspect of fantasy to this music. It’s all just red wine by the winter campfire, waiting for death to swoop in and pull you away. I really love it, particularly as Pillars And Tongues seem to have no real contemporaries for what they’re doing – they sound far more serious and far less melodramatic than The Black Heart Procession, who probably come closest in vibe, if not song. I don’t have enough of this sort of music in my life, so I’m with Pillars And Tongues all the way.

Pinch & Shackleton Pinch & Shackleton 2xLP (Honest Jon’s)
My interest was piqued by the time I got to the “& Shackleton” part of this collaboration. His recent records have put him at the top of his game, and while I’ve always enjoyed Pinch to a moderate degree, there was no way I’d be missing this one. And just as I hoped, Pinch & Shackleton is a beastly new entry into the world of avant techno. Shackleton’s use of exotic percussion is proudly showcased here, and Pinch’s lead-plated bass socks me in the stomach ala “Croydon House”… this record is an excellent display of their respective strengths. I suppose one could consider this to be dubstep, in the pre-Skrillex sense – depth, weight, space and pressure (or lack thereof) are all defining elements of the music, as if the listener is held in the hands of a giant, sometimes smooshed, sometimes tossed about. Honest Jon’s has really become a trustworthy dealer of exotic bass music and this most recent installment is another crucial delight.

Powerblessings Powerblessings 7″ (Manhattan Chemical And Electronic)
The goopy, pencil-drawn logo on the cover reminds me a lot of Chris Pottinger’s artwork, and consequently his solo noise act Cotton Museum, but Powerblessings are actually a forceful rock band who probably have no idea you can just blast a pile of electronics and call it music. Four songs on here, and they’re all pretty good – reminds me a lot of Hot Snakes, but with Tony Erba on the mic. Sounds like a good combo on paper, and it works well in execution, too. The music’s always driving forward, so the men of Powerblessings never have a chance to sit and contemplate their feelings, or try out that new drone part they’ve been messing around with, because they’re too busy keeping pace with the rest of the band. Workmanlike, non-gimmicky music that still manages to leave a positive impression, so I’ll take it.

Raime Hennail 12″ (Blackest Ever Black)
The first two Raime 12″s have been excellent examples of how the sound of dribbled basketballs inside of an empty warehouse can make for a satisfying musical experience, but I had to wonder where else their sound could really go after a couple EPs. Leave it to the B.L.O.A.T. (blackest label of all time) to teach me that Raime’s world isn’t just a single narrow alley but a maze of city streets. “Told and Collapsed” kicks the record off with a subtle creep that is far more musical than Raime’s previous work – it’s far more sensual, too, and while the menace is never too far behind, this is a track you can comfortably relax in. In a world where everyone is goth-techno, no one else really sounds like this. “You Will Lift Your Frame Up” is on the flip, and just as good, using a drum-break as punctuation rather than the basis of a loop. Both tracks ooze like syrup from a keg, or a snake slithering up a spiral staircase, to quote a certain long-haired troubadour. Raime always had the atmosphere down pat, but it’s clear with Hennail that they’ve matured melodically without forsaking any of the loneliness that made their first records so striking. Time for an LP?

Sewn Leather Sikknastafari Slash Crasstafari LP (Hundebiss)
Sewn Leather is one Griffin Pyn, coming from that particular species of punk rocker that crashes on your couch far longer than the single night you offered, accidentally getting cassette tape stuck in your deck and never discarding the empty bag of Ruffles that came in with him. As Sewn Leather, he leads a variety of simplistic electro beats through a distortion field, ranting over top in the style of a certain Pyn more famous than he. It’s almost as if those Nirvana “Smells Like Teen Spirit” cheerleaders started their own band. Reminds me of M Ax Noi Mach in a lot of ways too, mainly in sound and presentation, although Sewn Leather is bursting with youthful energy and willing to dance into anyone not already having a good time, even if his lyrics are nearly as bleak as M Ax’s. Music for art-punk basement parties in houses where you realize the basement is actually also someone’s bedroom toward the end of the night. I’m really enjoying Sikknastafari Slash Crasstafari though, as none of the dirt and gristle that went into the recording has the capability to leap off the record and stink up my room. Add in the beautifully-printed origami sleeve and it’s a hard record not to enjoy.

Shoppers Silver Year LP (Feeble Minds / Drugged Conscience)
Been hearing good things from a variety of sources about Shoppers, Syracuse’s newest and possibly only “queer noise punk” band (Earth Crisis do not count). It’s weird to think that we’re practically fifteen years removed from the first wave of screamo, which itself was equally removed in time from the first four Dischord singles (still can’t fully wrap my head around that). It’s with that distance that it makes sense that people aren’t opposed to Shoppers’ style, which is to start, stop and intercede every song with sharp pangs of feedback, much in the way that Honeywell or Reversal Of Man used to do it. The music’s a different story though, flailing through a variety of riffs and tempos and genres, reminding me of groups as varied as Antioch Arrow, The Party Of Helicopters, Erase Errata, maybe even a little Brain F if we want to get contemporary. I swear, “III” even sounds like it could’ve been a Foo Fighters song, had it been thoroughly disinfected and sold to VH1. Sounds like the basis of a strange mixtape, but Shoppers claim it all as their own, mostly thanks to the sheet of feedback that covers each song like a tent. It doesn’t always click with me, but the fired-up poetry-slam vocal approach, along with its “through a guitar amp” fuzz-factor, is fairly novel, and has room to grow and change along with the rest of the band. Cool record overall, certainly one that thinks outside the usual genre confines so many other bands grasp at for dear life. I bet their next record will be even better.

Silent Servant Hypnosis In The Modern Age 12″ (Sandwell District)
After ordering this new Silent Servant 12″, I decided to go back and listen to all the other Silent Servant records I own in a row, kind of psyching myself up for its arrival. Upon doing so, I came to the conclusion that every Silent Servant track is basically the same. This would be awful in the wrong hands, but I’ll be damned if Silent Servant couldn’t captivate me with a hundred more records just like this one. A-side “Mad Youth” is an excellent demonstration – persistent, throbbing bass nearing 130 BPM and a manic inertia that chugs forward while mechanical processes hum in near-stasis over top. It’s like being suspended in an air bubble, floating above that rave scene in the third Matrix movie. The listener is at once both spinning around and standing still, and the effect truly is hypnotic. “The Self” on the flip is even better, as if that Matrix rave got attacked and you’re now crawling through the sewer pipes to survive. Sandwell District has done it again, perhaps the Youth Attack of techno labels – add a deliberately dark and mysterious aesthetic, beautifully-packaged vinyl records (often on colored wax), and the “collect ’em all” mentality is hard to resist.

Taco Leg Printed Gold 7″ (Richie)
Some dude recently tried to give me crap, saying that Taco Leg had to be some fake band I just made up. It’s a name that lends itself to such disbelief, but that hasn’t prevented numerous American record labels from catching on, a testament to the group’s music. Richie Records steps up to the plate with Printed Gold, a quick three tracks of Taco Leg’s signature “Eddy Current Jr.” punk rock style. They look like little boys on stage, and that sort of naivete comes through their innocent rock songs – they just use guitar, drums and vocals to write these concise tunes that don’t seem as though they were created for mass consumption. That’s certainly their charm. The two on the a-side sound a little more serious and/or depressing than what I’ve heard in the past, though – maybe they’re growing up? They cover Fang’s “The Money Will Roll Right In” on the flip, and anyone dabbling with Fang clearly has a few ghosts in the attic to work out, so who knows, maybe they’re just growing up and meeting the wrong people. It’s like watching a high school drama play out in the form of musical releases – I hope this is just Taco Leg’s “we tried marijuana in the woods behind the school and felt guilty about it” record, and that they are currently working on their “we each got our first girlfriends” release.

Tenshun & Babel Fishh Tenshun & Babel Fishh 2×7″ (Ooohh! That’s Heavy)
Yeah, I have no idea what this either. Coming in a thick, resealable plastic sleeve ala my lunchtime sandwich, these two characters offer six tracks of noisy, art-schooly, creepshow rap across four sides of 7″ vinyl. The beats are slow, possibly played by a live kit on some tracks, and smothered in a fog of static and tones of undetermined origin, like the worst This Heat live recording set to a trip-hop drum loop. And the dudes that rap don’t rap so much as rapidly recite, like a nasally Denis Leary getting all fired up over scratched copies of the earliest Cabaret Voltaire EPs. Tenshun & Babel Fishh hits me like that cLOUDDEAD triple 12″ did, as the rappers ignore their own nerdiness and rap so furiously that I can’t help but forget that they’re nerds too. Not sure that an audience exists for this yet, but that’s the fault of the masses, not theirs. If I were any sort of matchmaker, I’d set them up on a blind date with Sewn Leather and wait for the connection to spark.

Titan Blood Too Much Talk 7″ (TB Collective)
Another punk rock single from Texas, another photo of the band members uncomfortably standing around and waiting for the photoshoot to end. I don’t hold it against Titan Blood though, because I don’t want to listen to garage-punk bands that are comfortable in front of a camera – this is music meant to be played by people who have to drink to function socially. Reminds me of White Crime’s recent single, and not just because they’re both from Houston – each band has kind of a flat, simple sound, the mids turned up and the microphone rusty with spit. Titan Blood are the better of the two, though – something about their approach reminds me of those early GG Allin singles on Orange, maybe because the singer has a variety of ways in which he hates us and he tries to cram them into every song. The two b-side cuts are the strongest, showing off a little more personality and swagger within their rowdy garage-rock. I can certainly picture the guys in Balaclavas asking for their tab when Titan Blood saunters into the same bar, but I’d stick around at least long enough to see what sort of trouble they get into.

To Live And Shave In L.A. The Cortège LP (Fan Death)
I was pleased as punch to hear that Fan Death had plans of releasing this, the “final” To Live And Shave In L.A. album. Here it finally is, and it’s all I could’ve hoped for, ringleader Tom Smith taking me through the spooky carnival tunnel of his psyche one more time. It’s actually a great pairing to that Pillars And Tongues album – whereas Pillars And Tongues are stoic, peaceful and meditative in the short hours before death, The Cortège is a violent resignation. Smith made this record while dealing with some intense personal strife (as outlined in a short statement on the insert), and it’s clear that this is a record made out of frustration both in life and art. It’s absolutely great – he still caterwauls like a drunken Roy Orbison fronting Van Halen, and those lyrics ride his seemingly unplanned cadence into unusually familiar places. As usual, various noise celebrities are responsible for the amp fuzz, oscillators, looped effects and backing vocals, and they’re all positioned at the perfect distance behind Smith, just beyond spitting range. It sucks to think there will be no further To Live And Shave In L.A. records after this one – this long-running group has been such a moving, unique force in underground music, but after crawling deep inside The Cortège a few times, it kinda makes sense. Their mission is complete.

Video Leather Leather LP (Play Pinball)
Denton, TX is one of those unlikely punk-rock hubs, and Video is its latest export. This simply-named group features members of Bad Sports, Wax Museums and Wiccans (among probably a dozen lesser-known projects), and as far as I’m concerned, this is the one where they’ve truly hit their stride. I enjoy Wax Museums a bunch, but with Video they seem to take things more seriously, or at least just seriously enough that no one could rightfully accuse Video of being a novelty act. It’s mid-tempo, classically-influenced punk rock from the, umm, darker side of life, but not too dark – these guys grew up reading Mad, not Highlights, but haven’t ever walked in on a dead body in their living room or anything. Leather Leather kinda reminds me of The Mad at times, in that it has that slightly twisted, gutter’s-eye view that colors the band’s approach, and they incorporate that with catchy, almost-melodic punk rock (think Redd Kross at their most foul). Throw in some occasional proto-punk hard rock guitar moves (Alice Cooper comes to mind) and Video’s winning formula is complete. “Leather Leather” is probably the biggest hit, but “Images” swings like X’s “Simulated Lovers” (lyrically as well as musically), and “Teenage Death” has a snotty West Coast vibe ala The Weirdos or Crime… there are no duds in the bunch. Hope these guys make Video their focus and hit the road soon, as I’d like to supplement my home listening experience with some live Video (har har). Definitely worth checking this one out.

Weird Party Honey Slides / Sarah Palin 7″ (Sex & Death)
Elliot Smith’s happier younger brother adorns the cover of this Weird Party single on the newly inaugurated Sex & Death label. “Honey Slides” doesn’t sound like that guy looks, though – this track has kind of an “elder statesmen of modern garage” vibe, like it wouldn’t be out of place on a Dirtbombs or Reigning Sound setlist. Nearly reaches hardcore speed for the chorus – definitely a bit more aggro than I had anticipated. Titling a song “Sarah Palin” is kind of asking for instant dated-ness, but how many songs written these days are timeless classics anyway? It definitely sounds like they wrote it after a full day of CNN on the couch, disgusted and confused and needing to impart those feelings to the world. The snotty-but-melodic hook calls to mind a slicker Whatever Brains, and is probably more suited for the a-side position than “Honey Slides” (if side placement was still a significant concern in 2012). It’s pretty easy to tell which groups know how to play rock n’ roll, and which are just trying to figure it out or fake their way through, and Weird Party are clearly the former. I’m interested to see what both band and label do next.

Gary Wilson Forgotten Lovers LP (Feeding Tube)
I could devote my life to exploring outsider / cult-worshipped weirdo musicians of the 1970s without ever hearing them all. Gary Wilson is a name I’d seen but never heard prior to Forgotten Lovers, probably because I just figured he was one of the Beach Boys’ cousins or something, but damn if this isn’t some great stuff. I am just going to go and assume that Wilson wrote and orchestrated all these tracks, and he truly deserves that “misunderstood genius” tag, as these previously rare and unreleased tracks could polish anyone’s yacht. It’s very clear he was working under the shadow of disco, had a working knowledge of pornography, studied jazz and listened to DEVO while putting the screws to these songs. Forgotten Lovers is frequently funky, with breaks to satisfy the loneliest beat-digger, but Wilson puts that funk to use on actual songs. If you know someone who throws wine and cheese parties without any sense of irony, bring this along and see if it doesn’t raise their perception of you. I love the brown-cardboard jacket it comes in too, very sturdy and slick, and while it vaguely smells of spray-paint, I can’t tell if that’s real or just my reaction to the music within.