Kye Records has been my go-to label for dusty, peculiar non-music as of late, and from
the label’s heady roster, Call Back The Giants are by far my favorite. They’re a duo,
consisting of Tim Goss (of The Shadow Ring fame) and his teenage step-daughter Chloe
Mutter. Not your ordinary lineup, but they approach their music with candor and creativity,
leading to a variety of song-sized excursions in electronic intrigue and cinematic
coldness. Goss has planted his foot in tape music, audio-verite and whatever it is you’d
classify The Shadow Ring as, whereas Mutter approaches her writing from a hyperspace
pop-culture point of view that only a teenager could rightly maintain. It’s a fantastic
match, resulting in music that is memorable not only for its sheer ridiculousness but
its occasional pop hooks as well. I caught up with Goss and he filled in some of the blanks.
How did Call Back The Giants first come about? Was this a project that you had clear intentions
for from the very beginning, or was it something you were just tinkering with that eventually
led to albums and singles?
Yeah, Call Back The Giants just sort of evolved out of my tinkering really. I had been
recording on and off for a few years – small things, nothing too serious. I’d made a couple
of short films and didn’t even do the music for them, but I did play about with sound effects.
Then in 2008/9 I had an idea for an LP and began working on tracks for that. I would play the
odd thing to Graham (Lambkin, of The Shadow Ring and Kye Records) when he visited from the
States but didn’t really know where it was going. Then in 2010, Graham said he wanted to put
out a single on Kye so I sent him three CD-rs, about thirty songs that I had amassed, and we
picked the two tracks for the single from those. Once that was done, it seem logical to put
out an album from the same cache of songs.
At what point did Chloe Mutter become involved? Is she more of a “hired gun”, or a contributor
to the songwriting?
Chloe is great. She has a teenage attitude that is so difficult to pin down. She does
contribute to the music when she has the time – schoolwork, Twitter and Facebook are often
her priorities, and not always in that order. I like it when we sit down and play together
though, because things take a different course. Our influences are completely polarised, she’s
a modern pop angel and I’m not. More often than not, she leaves the composition to me. I have
been encouraging her to write lyrics and come up with some tunes independently, but she doesn’t
feel comfortable lyrically. Her tunes are good though, far more complex than anything I could
compose. She has a great singing voice too (although she would beg to differ). It has a
naivety I love. All the vocal inflections are hers. I rarely say how I want something sung,
I just leave that up to her.
Has your song writing process changed for Call Back The Giants versus The Shadow Ring? Do
you even consider them “songs”?
My process of writing is very similar to how we wrote in The Shadow Ring – record the music
first, then write or piece together the lyric. It’s the only way I know how to write. I do
consider them songs, even though they might not follow an established ‘song’ format. I feel
it’s important to write songs, and I like the way the song has developed over the years. I
think the underground excels in pushing the limits of the traditional ‘song’ format, but it’s
still got a long way to go.
Has Call Back the Giants performed live?
Yeah, we’ve played a few live shows. Café OTO London in August 2010, that was our live debut –
then the KRAAK festival in Belgium March 2011 – and again in London at Power Lunches for the
launch of Still Going In Offices, that was in October 2011.
It’s playing live when Chloe really excels. She is a very conscientious musician and likes
to get things right, whereas I’m a bit more chaotic; I like to improvise and change things as
I go. We’re a good duo live because she keeps me within the boundaries to a degree, and I force
her to push a little beyond them.
More than any other emotion, I feel as though your music has a strong sense of mystery
to it, like there is some deeper purpose or theme that is never fully revealed. Am I just
reading too far into it, or is that something you’ve considered?
I like mystery and if the ‘Giants induce a sense of it then that’s great. There is usually
an idea behind a song – a mood or a feeling I want to nail with the music, a sense of something –
while the lyric can either come from whatever is going on at the time, or an obsession I might
have (and there are a few to chose from), but the lyric is there essentially to amplify that
sense of something. I am writing all the time, always scribbling in my notebook; it drives my
How important are the lyrics to you? Are they meant to be heard and understood,
or just another part of the complete product? I feel like I can only ever pick out about
40% of what you’re saying, which allows me to kind of fill in the blanks myself…
It very much depends on the song although I feel lyrics are always just another part of the
complete product, in as much as the music or individual instruments / sounds are. The fact that
you have to fill in the blanks is a good thing; I like that people have to work a little when
listening to the ‘Giants!
Is there a specific meaning behind the title The Rising?
The Rising is exactly what it says it is: the rising or the coming of something new,
a replacement for what is already here. Everything has its time and everything is eventually
replaced. It’s the Universal Rhythm; everything has a beginning and an end. I just think it
might happen without us even noticing.
The record cover reminds me of a sci-fi paperback, like a Ray Bradbury book I’d
find at a second-hand bookstore. Is this anywhere aligned with what you were going for?
Well, it fits in with the feel of the LP. Graham came up with the idea and showed me the cover
he designed. I thought it was perfect; the colours are lovely, real delicate shades. And yes,
it’s sci-fi, but it’s more than that too. The real sci-fi is something I’ve been working on,
on and off for a while now called Radio Singapore. That’s definitely stuck in the future.
In regards to the previously-mentioned Still Going In Offices compilation…
do you feel a connection in your music to The Door and the Window, or the Hollow Men? UK
DIY groups of decades’ past?
You can imagine similar techniques being employed.
Can you recall the last piece of art or music you witnessed that really inspired you
to write music? Does it work that way with you, or are you always just constantly writing?
Well, I’m writing all the time, so inspiration comes from the mundane quite often. I heard a
good feedback loop from an answer phone the other day, that made me think, and the things people
say. I try not to listen too much music when recording because there’s a tendency to imitate.
A couple of the tracks I’m working on at the moment take a lot from the surrounding locality –
I can imagine Great Victorian Machines stuck in the mud. It’s like something out of an HG Wells novel.
Axemen Nutsack 7″ (Sleek Bott / Negative Guest List)
This is probably the wrong way to enter the Axemen’s meaty discography (there’s what, at least three double LPs?), but I’ll be damned if that wannabe The Far Side cartoon on the cover isn’t the perfect ice breaker. Is this what these guys usually sound like? I was expecting a noisy jumble of improvised joke-rock, like “Weird” Al sitting in with The Lost Domain, but nah, “Nutsack” is a full-bellied rock n’ groover. The singer sounds like my uncle after he had a stroke (no joke – I really do have an uncle who had a stroke, and he really does sound like that), and it’s pretty much the perfect fit for this laid-back rocker, perhaps a more jovial counterpoint to Endless Boogie. “Nut Shack Redemption Song” delivers the silliness I expected, with some budget keyboards and sock-hop guitar; this music seems intended to embarrass any teenagers in the room. I think the next time Siltbreeze unearths some original Axemen LPs and offers them up on the ‘net, I’ll bite. Can’t have too much of this crap, that’s for sure.
Blank Realm Falling Down The Stairs 7″ (Negative Guest List)
New single from Blank Realm, and a pretty big step up from previous efforts. If you blindly played me “Falling Down The Stairs”, I’d exhaust a dozen guesses before ever hitting Blank Realm, even with clues – gone are the messy, sprawling dirges, ala a handicapped bar-band, that left me hanging in the wind. The a-side sounds like The Clean covering The Lemonheads, all poppy and squeaky and friendly, complete with a sing-along chorus. Probably the most pleasant song to celebrate drunken injuries I’ve ever heard. The b-side “Exile In The Terrarium” is apparently mis-pressed, to the point where the needle skates around like I’m listening to a tiny ice-rink instead of a vinyl record, but it’s actually a fitting error. The music swirls in and out of tune, presumably from the improper vinyl cut, and it sounds great this way, as if you were passing a mild, Sonic Youth-y indie-rock band while running toward the toilets to barf. A suitably woozy b-side that I’d play a lot more if I wasn’t scared it was somehow damaging my turntable arm. Thumbs up, Blank Realm!
Stephen Chai & The No-Nation Orchestra More More More 12″ (Nobaloney)
Men in waistcoats and fedoras rejoice, there’s plenty feel-good indie-funk care of Stephen Chai & The No-Nation Orchestra on this five-track EP. I know nothing about Mr. Chai or his orchestra, but this isn’t music that requires an interesting backstory of its performers, or even a picture of the band standing in front of a tagged-up backstage wall – these guys are pros who clearly do it for the love, not the money (unless of course they have the time to mail me their records while simultaneously selling out arenas). There’s a full-on horn section, the bass player dances all around the root notes, and Chai belts it out over top. He’s got a great voice, even if it gets slightly nasally during certain high notes; I find that those small signs of imperfection can be more fun to root for than a glossy vocal-robot anyway. There are touches of African rhythms to the guitars, which makes me think of Fool’s Gold, but whereas they seem like a manufactured presentation, I hear blood pumping in the heart of More More More. Music like this reminds me that I don’t have to be a dick to be cool.
Compound Eye Origin Of Silence 12″ (The Spring Press)
Clear vinyl record with a thick plastic sleeve screenprinted with an intentional mess of lines… I cannot look at this and think of anything besides the technical metal that Hydra Head made into a cottage industry in the early ’00s. This design just reeks of The Dillinger Escape Plan, or The Luddite Clone, or Circle of Dead Children, you know? Maybe even Keelhaul! I feel like this look has been phased out over recent years, because let’s face it, the record gets stuck in the sleeve on any semi-humid day, and the plastic almost always tears in the four spots where the vinyl hits it… but anyway, none of this has anything to do with Compound Eye, unless the artist was wearing an Isis hoodie while Origin Of Silence was composed. Rather, it’s a record of four experimental electronic pieces, each drifting in its own subtle way. The a-side starts with a soft, bell-led waltz of dust and air, and concludes with two thumbs planted firmly on a synth while the other available hand adjusts the levels. The b-side takes over with a less-arrid meditation on Charalambides, maybe, and wraps things up with a Raster-Noton-esque plunge of bass and blips. Sounds pretentious I know – that post-grad vibe emanates from the relatively harmless music here, for better or worse. If only Compound Eye knew I was actually drifting off into thoughts of Converge and Drowningman as Origin Of Silence quietly spun…
Container LP LP (Spectrum Spools)
The debut album by Ren Schofield’s Container project is a solid, unimpeachable plate of acid-tinged techno. To me though, it conveys a deeper message, one beyond the vinyl’s grooves – techno is officially the new noise. I first knew Schofield through his work in costumed noise-rock duo The Japanese Karaoke Afterlife Experiment in the early ’00s, then the Harry Pussy-styled rock violence of Dynasty (whose two EPs I absolutely adore). Now, he’s making techno. I’m not calling him out, because everyone changes and grows through the years (I know I sure do), but I’ll be damned if LP isn’t another album to blatantly signify this stylistic shift, broadcasting what the next four or five years has in store for the warehouse art scene. Seriously, who isn’t trying out a 303 or Ableton at this point, leaving behind their hand-painted distortion boxes and crusty contact mics to gather dust? LP sounds good, but it’s ultimately pretty simple (layers build, fade, and stop), and clearly the work of someone trying out a genre rather than mastering it. I listened to it back to back with Levon Vincent’s Man Or Mistress EP one day, and there’s no question who is the true craftsman, but still, that’s okay – not everyone has to be the best. Really, it just bums me out to think that rather than developing my own personal taste, I am quite possibly just another mindless drone who follows these same invisible trends like everyone else. I sure hope that’s not the case, but when stuff like Container (and Heatsick, and Rene Hell, and Mark Lord, etc etc) pops up, I have to wonder why so many people are steadying the same path at the same time.
Jon Convex Bump And Grind / Closer 12″ (Convex Industries)
Jon Convex’s last 10″ single barely had a chance to cool before this, another 10″, on ostensibly his own new label. Not sure what sort of tricks he’s up to with the continued 10″ format, but hey, if there’s anyone that deserves the benefit of the doubt, it’s Convex. “Bump And Grind” continues Convex’s co-opted hip-hop song-title theme, and it’s a punchy little electro jam, the sort of track that works for both swiveling hip-moves and fist-pump action. The auto-tune-massacred vocal reminds me of Uffie, which of course is a good thing. “Closer” isn’t the Joy Division cover we were hoping for; rather, it’s a Sis-like floor-pounder with the sort of attention to detail that nerds like me get to enjoy while the rest of the room is just throbbing to the beat, eyes rolled far back in their collective head. This EP is probably the second weakest of Convex’s offerings thus far (placed above Radar / Vacuum States for those keeping score), but really, who doesn’t need them all?
Demdike Stare Elemental Parts 1 & 2 2×12″ (Modern Love)
What, like I wasn’t going to shell out the dozens of dollars for this fancy new Demdike Stare release? I don’t care if I’m forced to buy a £200 haunted amulet along with their next record, I’ll provide my credit card’s three-digit verification for that too. I downloaded the MP3s of Elemental while waiting for my package to arrive, and for anyone dabbling in the dark arts of Demdike Stare, please understand that listening to them on MP3 is like watching Avatar on a 16″ black-and-white television – once I threw the vinyl on, an entire new world of sound was revealed, plummeting bass and cascading tones fully intact. It’s been over a year since their last new recording, and I feel like they’ve fully locked in on the template they created – the ghosts of techno scatter from perception’s edge, alongside twisted pianos, foreign beats, unsettling library music, exotic field-recordings and an atmosphere so thick you’d expect Ichabod Crane to come barreling out of it on horseback, scared out of his mind. With so many other players in the goth-techno game by now, Demdike still sound fresh and vibrant, as their brew is uniquely their own, never reaching for the obvious signifiers or revealing their hand ahead of time. Each track plays out in unexpected ways, too – it’s like Demdike Stare are more cinematic directors at this point than music producers. Can’t wait to fill the two empty slots in Elemental‘s lavish book-bound sleeve, that’s for sure.
FNU Ronnies Saddle Up LP (Load)
After months (years?) of impatient waiting, I almost still don’t believe that the FNU Ronnies LP exists, even as I hold it in my very hands. This crude jumble of equestrian drawings is the cover art that held things up so long? A classic ‘Ronnies move for sure. They last left off with the mind-melting Golem EP, but FNU Ronnies take a step back from the sludge-punk they were seeped in there, offering instead a (relatively speaking) traditional punk rock platter. No mutated dirges, just cut after cut of Dead Kennedys riffs and Chrome’s alien distortion, all played faster than the band’s physical talent allows (I dare you to pay attention to the bass drum in particular). The b-side is almost all songs I’ve heard on their MySpace page in the past (remember that indignity we used to endure in order to hear new bands?), but they seem to be re-recorded here, or if not, time hasn’t depleted their freshness. I was expecting a lot of filler for some reason, figuring that random answering machine messages and “noise collages” would take up as much vinyl space as the actual songs, but this is all prime-cut FNU Ronnies, the type of songs you wish you heard while watching them implode on stage. Really great stuff from a band that never made things easy for themselves or anyone else. Kudos, Load!
Front Line Basic Training EP 7″ (Beach Impediment)
As yesterday’s hardcore kids become the uncomfortable uncles of today, there seems to be a constant flow of unearthed and reissued hardcore recordings circa ’81 – ’86 from every small town across the globe. I’d say that very few of them suck, but for many, the lack of a proper release back in the day is justified. Not so for Front Line though, a Virginia-based group who gigged around their area for nearly a year before calling it quits (and for most of the members, moving on to other hardcore bands). Ten songs here, as was the 1982 standard, and they fly by much in the manner of Necros and White Cross. This is definitely above your Violent Apathy-grade hardcore, raging like teenagers in their parents’ shed (or crafting basement, from the looks of one picture in the insert). Really enjoyed the anti-Pennsylvanian song too, if only because I think this is the first time my resident state felt the distinct wrath of a hardcore song railing against it. I’m amazed that Front Line were able to predict the existence of Espers decades in advance: “They like to chew tobacco / they like to grow long beards / they have a goofy accent / that makes them talk so weird.”
Function Ember 12″ (Sandwell District)
What may sadly be the last of Sandwell District’s transmissions as a record label, Function drops the four-song EP Ember. It’s a nice sampling of what Dave Sumner (aka Function) does with his techno music, and the Sandwell label in general – skeletal synths and lonely pads are warmed up into something vast and untouchable, like a block of ice that turns to steam. Opening cut “Descending” certainly has that signature touch, from its echoed bleeps and time-keeping whip-cracks to the ever-present hi-hat ticking. It’s like finding a bomb inside an abandoned warehouse and realizing you don’t have enough time to make it back outside. “Picabia” takes the same form, but with the tweeting and blinking of an errant spaceship on course for the sun. The flip slows things down a bit, with the ambient eavesdropping of “Ember (Field)” and the near-optimistic chords of “Inter”, which is what I’d imagine water hears as it passes through a Brita filter. I’ll stick with the sadistic tension of the a-side, but Ember is another fine work from a label that has parted ways much too soon.
Ghost Hospital Ghost Hospital LP (Teen Ape)
Here’s the debut Ghost Hospital LP on garbage-swirl vinyl, that greyish-purple mash that is created when the pressing plant throws all their old discarded vinyl bits, colored inks and take-out menus into a big vat and stamps it into records. It’s a fitting shade of vinyl for Ghost Hospital, as their home-spun aesthetic seems to make art out of garbage just the same. They’re a little softer here than the Blast & The Detergents split – reminds me a bit of Home Blitz, were Home Blitz a collective effort and not just the singular vision of a strange genius. Simple little tunes, written for people who step in gum and don’t seem to mind. There’s enough variety to keep things interesting – “Salad Shjooter” sounds like Bleach-era Nirvana with a one-handed Chad Channing, and then they bust back into a couple strummers befitting Thee Oh Sees or Tyvek. Might be a little too simple for some, as Ghost Hospital stick with public-domain riffs for nearly every song, but the overall package makes for a nice album of fuzzy post-punk that’s simple without being stupid.
Guardian Alien Guardian Alien LP (Swill Children)
Can’t help but picture Chong ranting about a guardian alien in his blacklight-postered den when I listen to Guardian Alien’s self-titled album. This is music the color of a hippie rainbow (tie-dyed), two side-long jams recorded live in front of audiences that were either rapt, bored or stoned (or quite possibly all three). I’ll never understand how such psychotropical individuals always seem to scrape together decent musical equipment, but Guardian Alien puff their smoke like it was air. They’ll start with the prerequisite microphone-moaning and bent drones, then bust into a drum-led freakout, with the stringed instruments staring directly into Ravi Shankar’s fourth eye (his butthole). It’s good, if entirely expected to the point of near-parody – if Singles was remade for the Brooklyn hipster set circa now, Guardian Alien could very well be its Citizen Dick. No Neck and Sunburned Hand Of The Man they’re not, you know? Even with that understanding, there’s nothing wrong with these grooves, so what the hell, keep on truckin’ Guardian Alien.
Heatsick Intersex LP (Pan)
Here’s a nicely-skewed take on the current techno zeitgeist from Steven Warwick aka Heatsick. Intersex targets the intersection of ’80s Casiotone nostalgia, 100% Silk’s lazy hipster-house and the avant-weirdness of Pan, and for the most part, it’s a crafty place to be. Opening with the goofy karaoke set-piece of “Taxi Zum No”, Heatsick quickly jumps into “Ice Cream On Concrete”, thirteen minutes of one sixteen-bar loop that changes only slightly through its duration. It’s kind of where 8-bit video games and Omar S collide, with the feeling that it was performed and tweaked live, even if Heatsick probably took a significant smoke break somewhere in the middle. “Tertiary” rocks the balearic drums for a good seven minutes, and closer “Von Anderen Ufer” is like an intercepted space broadcast that somehow stretches to fourteen minutes in length, nearly reaching Mattin levels of electronic disturbance. The two middle tracks play it closest to the dancefloor, and are where I’ve spent most of my time. I have a higher tolerance for repetition than most, and found myself really settling into “Ice Cream On Concrete” after a good six minutes or so, but can’t really say there is some universal truth to be gained from using one’s time to sit down with it. Still, there are probably lots of weirdos out there like me who would willingly listen to the rhythmic hum of a refrigerator if it was properly mixed, and those people (particularly those who don’t even need a beat to have fun) will surely get down with what Intersex has to offer.
Hounds Of Hate No Redemption 7″ (Katorga Works)
Lots of mixed signals coming from this Hounds Of Hate 7″ – the band name and cover photo make me think “sketchy skinhead”, the insert and center labels make me think “Prank Records-style crust”, and then the lyrics are aggressively straight-edge… it’s like they threw darts at hardcore-punk stereotypes and picked the first three they hit. Musically it’s nearly as strange, at least within the realm of hardcore – big, reverbed drums (fresh from a Crumbsuckers record) lead mosh parts into slam parts into mosh breakdowns, with a singer who sounds like a mix of Raybeez and the guy from Grudge (Carl Of Tomorrow – I had to look it up, and I’m glad I did). I could see fans of both Cold World and The Business digging this (or at least those Oi!-types who don’t go past the image when it comes to picking their music). It’s decent, and tightly played, but I just don’t understand where these guys are coming from, or what this band is supposed to be. It’d be one thing if they were creating an entirely new strain of hardcore, or sticking to one specific subset, but I don’t think what they’re going for really works all that well. I used to play music with Hounds Of Hate’s male-model bassist, and let me tell you, his music collection consisted exclusively of Epitaph CDs he bought in high school and demos of bands he’s played in, which provides no illumination toward the Hounds Of Hate mystery. Maybe there is just a huge straight-edge skinhead movement going on and I’m more out of touch than I initially thought?
Hunters Hands On Fire 12″ (Aagoo)
I mistakenly referred to this Hunters 12″ as a Swill Children product last month, but this is 100% pure Aagoo, and it’s the best place to start with this New York group. Just like the cover, most photos of this band seem to feature the guitarists in a tangled heap on the floor, but the music doesn’t quite fit that untamed image – these songs are recorded with a smooth clarity that belies their live antics. Through these five songs, it’s all pretty mid-paced, punk-ish rock, calling to mind anything from Fang to Bikini Kill and Sonic Youth, all simple yet brash. It’s funny, if this band was from some random crap town in the Midwest, they’d be playing mostly basements and the occasional bar show, but instead they’re in New York, working with indie celebrities and playing magazine openings at art galleries with an email contact for their press person on their blog. I’d probably rather root for the underdog in Madison or Dayton, but Hunters aren’t too hard to enjoy either.
John Henry West Door Bolted Shut LP & CD (Ebullition)
Just like the stray cat population, it is impossible to ever truly eliminate Ebullition, so what better way for the label to stick around than a John Henry West retrospective? John Henry West’s Gravity 7″ has been a great used-bin find for nearly two decades now, and those four tracks are here along with two compilation tracks (and two previously unreleased cuts for good measure). These songs continue to hold up over time – sure, it’s emotive and earnest and personally political, but the group conveys their message with an unbridled energy, not unlike their artier contemporaries (I’m thinking Heroin and Swing Kids), to go with their The Hated-style emotional furor. They burnt out fast, which was probably for the best, as there is nothing negative to remember them by. Door Bolted Shut comes with a CD of demo and live recordings that I will probably never listen to again, but it’s comforting to know it’s there for me, just in case.
Kim Phuc Copsucker LP (Iron Lung)
The Iron Lung label has been on a hot-streak for long enough that I’d imagine most followers just snatch up their new releases without a second thought. Can’t blame those who do, but Copsucker might be the album to leave some label fans second-guessing their itchy PayPal fingers. The album title had me expecting something along the Swans / Oxbow axis, even though I already knew that Kim Phuc are a hard-chugging, heavy rock band from Pittsburgh. Copsucker doesn’t really live up to either of those expectations, though – rather, you’ve got an album filled with reheated riffs, standard songwriting and a recording much too clean and soft for its own good. I hear hints of early Soundgarden, Excelsior, and Obits in Kim Phuc’s sound, to name but a few, but never do Kim Phuc extend themselves beyond mediocrity. “Prostitutes” is basically the same idea as Clockcleaner’s “Interview With A Black Man” (which itself was a Big Black or Melvins rip anyway), but they do so much less with the same premise. All the praise I’ve heard about this band usually comes bundled with a “well, they’re great live” or a “I know a band member personally and he’s one of the best dudes around”, so I can’t help but think others might feel the same way about Copsucker, they just don’t want to risk wounding a friendship. I hold no ill will towards the band, and look forward to checking them out next month – I’m hoping the band really does rule on stage, as this album does not.
King Dude Love LP (Dais)
Trust me, if it wasn’t for the Dais seal of approval, I don’t think I’d ever sit down with an artist named “King Dude” and give him the time of day. If the band was just called King, and the album was actually Dude Love, I’d be all over it in a heartbeat, though. Name games aside, I’m certainly glad I checked it out, because this is the album of dour gothic-folk I’ve been waiting for – no Ren-Faire re-enactments, no Ian Curtis impersonations, just a collection of weighty acoustic tunes with a vocalist who uses his natural voice like an absinthe spoon dripping with goo. At times, I’m reminded of Kurt Vile’s “Freeway” (if it referred to the crumbly path followed in The Road), Nick Drake’s ghost, Cult Of Youth without the histrionics, King Darves with the proclivities of King Diamond, or Nerve City if you removed the grainy fuzz and replaced it with a profound emotional tug. Love really simmers, quicksand-like in its ability to quietly suck the listener under. Sure, there’s a big scary bat on the sleeve, and die-cut sigils all over it, but somehow King Dude doesn’t just seem like another skinny guy dressed in black with a spooky Tumblr. I’ll be impressed if most people get past the name, but sweet rewards await those who do.
The Lost Domain Drunken Sailor 7″ (Negative Guest List)
The Lost Domain’s sprawling double LP was a bit more than I cared to swallow, but this two-song single is far easier on the intestines. Their interpretation of the age-old shanty is a loose one, with big horns and percussion stomping around in search of the melody like gassy clowns, and the vocalist (credited as “Ragtime Frank”) barks the classic line with more than just spit on his breath. “Pool” is a Lost Domain original and far less structured… the pool it conjures is nearly empty, a nesting ground for hundreds of mosquitoes and entirely unsuitable for children. It’s a slow, creaky sprawl that makes for a nice come-down from the manic a-side, for sure. Maybe if The Lost Domain’s Blondes Chew More Gum was a six 7″ set I’d have dug it more? Whatever the case, this one’s worth however many beans they’re asking.
Magical Beautiful Here Come The Wild Waves LP (I Hear A New World)
Seems like Magical Beautiful isn’t just this group’s name, but the two main adjectives they used to guide their musical aesthetic. Here Come The Wild Waves is a pleasant, airy album that could really only be created in today’s downloadable culture, where everyone is aware of everything when it comes to music – the folks in Magical Beautiful surely have plenty of old-school prog and kraut-rock in their iTunes, along with ’90s major-label indie (Luna, Air, stuff like that) and Animal Collective’s last couple albums. They’re good players, and pair their locked-in drum-and-bass grooves with plenty of cutesy synth bleeps and keyboards, as if Handsome Furs tried out some of Man Man’s big-band lunacy, all with the modern indie mindset of “let’s write a song about nature and animals in an endearing way”. I’ll admit, none of this is really my personal steez, but the overall package (printed inner-sleeve, sturdy jacket, nice vinyl) isn’t something I’d instantly dismiss. Not sure what would make Magical Beautiful stand-out past Grizzly Bear or Panda Bear or some other child-friendly, Pitchfork-approved, animal-name indie rock, but hey, they’re giving it their best shot.
Netherfriends Angry East Coast 7″ (Cellar Hits)
Netherfriends is the work of one Shawn Rosenblatt, who decided to write a song in each of the fifty states. If the idea of an imitated Sufjan Stevens gimmick is enough to make you report Yellow Green Red to the FCC on charges of indecency, just hear me out first – Netherfriends are actually pretty decent. “Philadelphia, PA” is where he starts, and it’s a shimmery, Shins-y ditty that sounds nothing like Philadelphia. He doesn’t even sample Schoolly D! “Washington, D.C.” and “Rehoboth Beach, DE” are on the flip, and neither has the feel of their respective locales – seems like Netherfriends is just about the hazy, Animal Collectivization of indie rock, where acoustic guitars meet effervescent synths and beachy vibes. If you don’t hate that style in general, you’ll probably dig Netherfriends, as all three songs are charming and display a comfortable talent. I don’t mind these songs at all, and I’m okay with that.
Nuel Trance Mutation LP (Further)
Donato Dozzy’s Further album was a departure from the relentless, monochrome techno I came to expect from him, instead slinking into sensually-slow beats and hotel-spa electro vibes. I figured Nuel would carry the raw end of the bargain with Trance Mutation, his Further album, but much like Dozzy, he completely threw me for a loop (in the best way possible). Seven tracks here, completely outside the realm of the dancefloor – rather, it’s a glimpse into the tourist traps and beautiful parks of Old Europe, like one of those “world music” CDs that sell for $18.99 at Pier One Imports next to the cash register. There are acoustic guitars, various hand drums and pensive strings all over Trance Mutation, unanchored by 4/4 bass kicks or repetitive hi-hat. Instead, it’s like an acoustic Shackleton on holiday, free of malice and aggression, or Mr. Raoul K busking outside a tapas bar in Madrid. According to the back cover, Nuel played and produced all these instruments himself, making it clear that he’s not just handy with a mixing board, but a djembe as well. It’s really beautiful, introspective music that’s only tangentially tied to techno, and a highly recommended album for anyone who ever needs to chill out in the coolest way possible. The clear pink vinyl even perfectly matches the hand-screened sleeve… if you’re not paying attention to Further Records at this point, I really don’t know what to tell you.
Parton Kooper Planetarium Glass & Bone LP (The Static Cult Label)
I’m envisioning the Parton Kooper Planetarium as the nickname given to a Volkswagen van with stars painted on the ceiling and a thick haze of weed smoke slowly escaping the cracked window. Or maybe “Parton Kooper Planetarium” is actually a specific strain of the marijuana plant? Either way, you see what I’m getting at – Glass & Bone is a slow-mo, psychedelic hippie-dip. Reminds me of a more placid Dead Meadow, a drowsy Wooden Shjips, or one of Nebula’s sun-baked meditations… the rock flows slow and steady. Uncommonly smooth, let’s say. Not a heck of a lot beyond the fog, but it’s a good vibe to take in without waiting on a catchy riff. I guess this band is ex-Mohinder, too? After their heart attack-enducing hardcore, I can understand why they’d want to mellow out in old age.
Pop. 1280 The Horror LP (Sacred Bones)
After some good singles and a killer EP, Pop. 1280 release the latest sacred bone, The Horror. I’m not entirely sure why more people aren’t flipping for this band… maybe the “moment” for Birthday Party-inspired noise-rock has come and gone, but Pop. 1280 understand how to fit that general vibe into their own personal point of view. Someone who already wrote them off as BP clones might turn off The Horror within the first minute of opener “Burn The Worm”, as it’s got some of the most Rowland-y guitar work I’ve ever heard outside of Australia, but the rest of the album leans further toward their own brand of doom-laced cyber-punk, heavy Korgs and pounding drums stomping deep tracks in the mud. Definitely the best use of synths in noise-rock today, if I may make such a bold claim. I’ve always enjoyed Pop. 1280’s lyrics in the past, but The Horror really steps it up, painting a picture of American cities in the spirit of Denis Johnson or Hunter S. Thompson – it’s like the world isn’t just out to destroy you, it derives a twisted sexual pleasure from your demise, too. Many references to dogs and men and dogboys and mandogs throughout these tracks, and I can totally get behind that. Iggy wanted to be your dog, whereas Pop. 1280 understand that it’s a position that sometimes can’t be avoided.
Psychic Teens Teen LP (Golden Voyage)
Heavy and dark (we’re talking at least 70% cacao) post-punk from Psychic Teens, a new Philadelphia trio. Right off the bat, I wanted to like this one – the big pink heart with a big white X on the poly-bag is a cool look, and the whole package was put together in a way that it’s evident both band and label were fully on board to make this a success. The music isn’t bad, either – seven lengthy songs of ’90s noise-rock grooves with a shoegaze glaze. They kinda veer closer to the mathy end of the ’90s noise-rock equation, never quite dazzling with obscure time signatures, but always locked in tight. I’ll admit, if it wasn’t for the vivid presentation, I probably would’ve glossed over this one, as the music hasn’t quite caused my glasses to fog up (and the monotone, generi-goth vocals don’t do much for me), but it’s a noble effort for sure, particularly as the b-side gets deeper into goth’s black lace and further from noise-rock’s muscularity. If one of them wears a cape on their next album cover, who knows what pleasures may await.
Gerry Read All By Myself / What A Mess 12″ (Fourth Wave)
Hot house alert! This new 12″ from Gerry Read has made my dark and frozen January significantly more enjoyable. I came into it with no expectations, but damn if Mr. Read doesn’t go two for two here. “All By Myself” is so damn minimal and deep, just cutting to the core of the groove with a killer vocal chant care of someone who I can only imagine to be a beautiful black man in his mid 40s. Reminds me of whoever says “I wanna see all my friends at once” in that Arthur Russell track, but smoother, and completely aware of how necessary it is to escape from one’s normal surroundings. I’m grooving just thinking about this song. “What A Mess” is nearly as great, coming through with this heavy drum beat that sounds like it was sampled off a Neubaten record, only to swivel itself into a groove I thought only Moodymann was powerful enough to conjure. Goddamn, Gerry Read… you’ve got a small little stack of 12″s out there already, and I plan on retrieving them without delay. Seriously recommended!
Reports Dinamo Cambridge LP (Ride The Snake)
Can’t go wrong with a new record by Reports, one of Boston’s best kept secrets (although when you are only pressing about 150 copies of your album like Dinamo Cambridge here, it’s hard to really spam the world with your music). I guess Reports have been filed in the “indie-pop” section for a few years now, but I’m not sure that’s entirely accurate – for one, these guys aren’t afraid to punch through a tune like a cat in a paper bag. There’s a lot of energy behind the melody, even if their dry-clean-only shirts preclude Reports from being filed with the punk records. They’re right on that tipping point between Saturday Looks Good To Me and Sleepasaurus, at least by my ears, and it’s a good spot to be. Six speedy, choppy cuts on the a-side, and the title track takes up the vast portion of the flip, Oneida-like in its krautrock repetition of an indie-rock riff. Of the few people that will hear Dinamo Cambridge, I can’t imagine many will be disappointed.
Roomrunner Roomrunner cassette (Fan Death)
Real cool debut from Baltimore’s Roomrunner, featuring ex-members of beloved hometown boys Double Dagger. I never quite got into Double Dagger, but Roomrunner are pretty tight. Remember in the mid-’90s when grunge was basically over, but that fourth or fifth wave of “grunge” bands that were really just radio-rock bands took over? Foo Fighters led the charge, but you know: Sponge, Filter, Seven Mary Three… that seems to be where Roomrunner are aiming. Not an oft-tread path at this point, but Roomrunner make great use of that starting point, putting together six guitar-rock tracks that add grunge’s thick frosting to catchy melodies and memorable hooks. At first I thought the vocals were a little too wimpy / No Age-y for my taste, but the more I listen, the more they fit the band, even if I would’ve personally boosted them a little higher in the mix. (Is the singer really saying “I would never shave for you” in “Shed”? I may never know.) I’d imagine vinyl is in Roomrunner’s immediate future – these songs are just too serious and too good to remain on cassette. Those without a tape deck should just hold tight, you’ll probably be Lollapalooza-moshing to “Bathtub” in no time.
The Sandwitches The Pearl 7″ (Hardly Art)
I’m trying to think of a single present-day San Franciscan band besides Rank/Xerox that sounds like they’ve had a valid worry in years, but it’s all just green grass and fresh coffee over there, like a ’70s “back to Mother Earth” mantra come to life. “The Pearl” by The Sandwitches is what I’m talking about – this lightly-strummed, fresh little vocal number is the music one listens to after deciding to adopt a macrobiotic lifestyle, cooking up some brown-rice scramble for breakfast. I’m pretty sure there is drumming on both tracks, but it’s only on the b-side’s “Benny’s Memory Place” that it registers with me – another track that sounds like it was written by Devendra Banhart’s aunt. It’s almost as if Fleetwood Mac came out of the DIY indie-twee scene. I hope it doesn’t sound like I’m dissing The Sandwitches, because it’s an enjoyable record, I am just kind of amazed that in such a time of discontent and fear, San Francisco’s indie groups seem more interest in tying tulips around their toes and wearing the biggest, floppiest straw hats they can find. It’s gotta be the weather.
Seapony Sailing / I Saw You 7″ (Hardly Art)
I figured out why Seapony is indeed the perfect name for this group – listening to these two tracks feels like you’re feeding carrots to an ocean mist. Very carefree, quaint indie music, like a hopeful Bright, or one of the less wrist-slittable Sarah Records bands. There’s gotta be at least one guy named Tristan in this group, know what I mean? “Sailing” comes off particularly pleasant, with the best use of bells I’ve heard in a while, and “I Saw You” picks up the pace, complete with drum rolls and cascading guitar melodies as harsh as soap foam. Their parameters are set, and they glide effortlessly through them, sun-bleached clothes on a bicycle built for three. I’ll admit, I planned on being unimpressed by Seapony, but I am enjoying both of these songs quite a bunch, particularly “I Saw You”. Some groups just got it.
So Cow GMT 7″ (Ride The Snake)
Always dug the name So Cow (particularly the idea of using “cow” as an adjective) but it’s taken Ride The Snake for me to finally hear him. I understand he’s from Ireland, so I was pleasantly anticipating the scent of black pudding on his breath, but I’m not really hearing any sort of accent, just a normal American white guy voice that could be from Toledo or Sacramento or anywhere. With that voice, he sings over his rickety, shambolic guitar-pop like so many before, but with just enough charm and tact for me to understand why so many different people have paid money to release his records. “The Other Tiger” is probably my favorite of the four here, telling a story in a way that sounds like The Jam recording music for a children’s television show. I’m not blown away here, but I can understand the appeal, and hope that another So Cow record makes it into my orbit sometime soon. On a side note, this is probably the nicest-looking 7″ vinyl I’ve seen in a while – sturdy and thick with a smooth curved edge, cool white (with black splatter) color, smooth center stickers. I need to find out where this was pressed.
3 Toed Sloth I Didn’t Know I Loved You (‘Til I Saw You Rock N’ Roll) 7″ (Negative Guest List)
The second edition of Negative Guest List’s Jukebox Single series comes care of 3 Toed Sloth. I like to think that 3 Toed Sloth purposely recorded these two songs back in 1993 for this single’s release some nineteen years later, but it’s more than likely they were just sitting on a shelf until the ‘Guest List came calling. Still not sure I understand the label’s definition of a jukebox single – it’s composed entirely of covers? And possibly one- or two-sided? But no matter, these two songs are more shot-from-the-hip garage jams of moderate strength. The title track has a decent little tempo, but I realize that if it’s the tempo I am praising, I am really just trying to find something to enjoy about it. The b-side’s Pere Ubu cover, “Non Alignment Pact”, is a little more interesting, maybe on par with whatever the worst track on that recent Bloodloss album I’ve been enjoying is. I don’t know, I appreciate the effort here (someone even spent time glittering each cover), I’ve just determined that I do not particularly enjoy the music of 3 Toed Sloth. Not everyone can.
Watery Love Two Thrills 7″ (Negative Guest List)
This Watery Love single seems to be the only one out of the recent Negative Guest List batch to demand a thick, card-stock cover, and rightfully so – these two working-class dirges cannot be contained by mere copier paper. They’ve always had the knack for choosing cover songs that seem to be written specifically for a Watery Love interpretation, and the Cramps’ “New Kind Of Kick” has that tailored fit – rather than get sleazy and greasy on it, it’s a call for help, the sound of singer Richie Charles’ social radius shrinking to a quarter mile beyond his living room. “A Condom” has been a live set staple since the band first got started, but I never was able to understand the words until now – the passing of Leslie Nielsen hit a lot of us Philadelphians hard, and the Naked Gun commentary in the protagonist’s quest for romance is a fitting tribute. If you’re an American, I know it’ll cost like triple to get a copy of Two Thrills compared to the previous two Watery Love singles, but what are you gonna do, not buy it?
Wymyns Prysyn Three Song EP 7″ (Scavenger Of Death)
First off, I should mention that the first copy of this Wymyns Prysyn 7″ arrived with a warp just substantial enough to render the vinyl unplayable. I wrote Scavenger Of Death to let them know, and without hestitation they sent another – please understand that this is a label whose customer service and friendliness come with a gold star rating. Anyway, back to the band that can’t seem to buy a proper vowel – Wymyns Prysyn (of no relation to Women In Prison) are an Atlanta three-piece who do the blown-out garage-punk thing that so many others do, but they do it pretty well. Two tracks on the a-side, both nearing hardcore speeds (much like Carbonas used to) as they attempt to spit the hair out of their mouths. The recording is blown out, of course, but there’s still plenty of heft, and they all keep up well enough that I’m digging it. Weird choice for a b-side, though: “John Titors Blues” is an instrumental (as far as I can tell); the guitar runs with the melodic phrasing that a voice otherwise might, resulting in an affable rocker that seems a little too polite in comparison to the a-side scorchers. These wymyn may be in prysyn, but they’re already softening up.