As far as obscure sub-genres of punk are concerned, “noise rock” is one of the
easiest to fake. Just turn the distortion up, slow it down, forgo any pleasant
qualities in the name of “bumming people out”, and leave your Whitehouse records
out on the coffee table so people know you’re the real deal. As a fan, I find
these thoughtless imitators to be particularly annoying, which makes a band
like New York’s Pop. 1280 that much more refreshing. Their songs are as sturdy
and lurching as re-assembled IKEA furniture, with vivid lyrical descriptions
of lust, pain, desperation and city-living barked out over top. They’ve got some
insanely catchy tunes (“Step Into The Grid” and “Burn The Worm” for starters),
yet never stray far from ear-piercing guitar hiss and PA-busting synths. I
talked to band members Ivan Lip and Chris Bug with the intent to learn more about
them, and I think I succeeded.
You guys all moved to New York at some point, right? What are your
earliest memories of living in New York like?
Ivan Lip (guitar): My earliest memories of living in New York were when I lived here
for short stints in 2002 and 2003. I was in college and my girlfriend at the
time would get a dorm room at NYU over the summers when she took classes. I’d
grown up in a town with 6,000 people so New York was like an alien world to me.
I was usually around the East Village and we spent a lot of time in museums
because we had no money. I remember a coffee shop on Avenue A that sold Pussy Galore
tapes and other cool bands. We spent a lot of time there. I remember buying a
pornographic magazine from some guy in a beach chair on some street.
I went to North Six in Williamsburg to see some bands and I remember thinking
that Williamsburg was really ugly and boring. There wasn’t much there. Then I
went back to Massachusetts from about 2003 through 2006 to do other stuff and finish
school and I moved back here in 2006 and was surprised by how in three or four
years so much had changed.
How did it change? For the better, or worse?
Ivan: It’s a mixed bag. I think that there are some positives that come with most change.
I think the fact that over the last couple decades New York is safer is a good
thing. While I’ve gotten mugged and some of my friends have gotten hurt, it’s
not really dangerous. We’ve given up a lot to a police/surveillance
state in the city. Rents have gone up in a huge way, however, and more and more
people who make lower wages are being forced further out in the outer boroughs.
I don’t think that’s good. I also think that you have to search harder to
find the cool things that make New York the city it is, or was. There are a lot
more high-end restaurants and yuppie/tourist traps, but if you want to find it
there’s really great stuff all over.
Were the two of you friends before Pop 1280 existed? How did you meet?
Ivan: We met in high school. There was just a crowd of various freaks at our high school.
Some drugged out kids, honor class nerds, theatre kids, punks, a lot of long-
distance runners for some reason. We eventually just met through that group. I
went to see his band play at this venue in Worcester called the Espresso Bar that
no longer exists. Ten years later we decided to start a band.
What prompted that decision?
Ivan: We had been talking about starting a band and I had been getting frustrated
trying to play with people whose musicianship I liked but whose taste in music
or whatever I didn’t. After trying and failing to force my vision on these
people, I decided to start a band with people who I agreed with a lot of their
taste in art, and worry about musical proficiency later. Chris and I liked a
lot of the same stuff and had a similar attitude or something like that.
I really enjoy the variety of characters that are developed in the lyrics
of your songs… where do they come from? How much is fiction versus
people you actually know?
Chris Bug (vocals): It’s hard to say how much is fiction and how much is reality.
I think our sense of reality seeps into all of the songs we write. A lot of times
the people we know or people we have observed will find their way into an idea that
was originally inspired by fiction, or inspired by reading the news or something.
We get character ideas from novels, films, history and current events. Although
aside from lifting film titles for some of our song titles, no one ever seems to
call us out on any of the other stuff.
Ivan: I think for my lyrics the characters are an amalgamation of people I knew,
imagined stuff, and always a fair dose of myself. Creating a character can be a
good way to mock yourself or critique yourself without always saying “I did this or
I did that.” It’s also useful because I write some lyrics but don’t sing, and I
think it would be weird to have Chris sing lyrics in the first person that
weren’t about himself.
All your characters seem pretty bleak… could there ever be an
uplifting Pop. 1280 song?
Chris: I think that writing about dark subjects doesn’t have to just be depressing.
Sure, we all live in a world of shit, but that doesn’t mean you can’t jump into
the shit and splash around a little bit. I think learning to live in this world
is a torturous process but it’s not all bad.
Ivan: I don’t think of us as bleak as other people seem to. I think a bunch of the
songs are funny.
Your cover art has a pretty consistent look, like a crazy VHS tape on pause…
is that what they are, or was the art created in some other way?
Chris: I make most of our artwork, which is inspired by our love of the VHS aesthetic.
Most of the effects are done by looping photos or video stills through an
old TV set. I like the claustrophobia and the other-worldliness of video
distortion, like a surveillance camera in hell. But the cover for The Horror was shot
by our talented friend Nikki Sneakers; she’s the best.
Are there any TV shows that have influenced the aesthetic of Pop. 1280?
Chris: I really hope not. I guess maybe something like Twin Peaks or The Prisoner
has had some impact on my writing in a way. But I think in general there isn’t
much art in TV. The only thing I would say is that it serves as a good litmus test
for how stupid the general populace is at any given moment in history.
Is there any influence in your music that no one has really picked up on yet?
Chris: I don’t know. People always call us out on the obvious ones. Maybe one day we’ll
do an acoustic set and show everyone that half our songs are just Rolling Stones
nods. We do listen to a lot of industrial and electronic music, like Nitzer
Ebb, DAF and Cabaret Voltaire. Punk electronics. I think our next record is gonna
be even more synthed out.
Ivan: I think there are lots of influences that people haven’t picked up on. We’re really
into music, and there’s a lot of stuff that I rip off that nobody calls us out on.
I think the electronic thing gets overlooked. I also think that a lot of our
ideas are related to early punk stuff, like Richard Hell or Patti Smith or Nikki
Sudden but nobody mentions that.
How much room is there for synths/electronics in Pop. 1280? Will there always be
guitar and live drums?
Ivan: I think that there is room for more. I really want to try to have drum machines or
sequenced synth sounds going through our music. We’re limited a bit though. We’re
not the most technically adept people in the world, and also most of our existing
electronics are cheap deals we found somewhere or half-broken things we scavenged.
I do almost always see us having some form of live drums and guitar though, even
if we start having a drum machine or synth riff going through the entire song.
Chris: We are very much interested in synths and electronics, and I think we will
continue to experiment with them more and more, though I think there will
probably always be guitar and live percussion in some form. I think electronic
percussion is cool on record, but on stage it never really has the same power
and intensity as a live drummer.
Do you have plans to tour the country? Does that sound like fun to you?
Chris: Yeah, that sounds like fun! We’re doing a big US tour in May/June out to the West
Coast, which should be mental.
Anyone you’re hoping or looking forward to playing with out there?
Ivan: Not really. I’m mostly just looking forward to getting out there. I think we’re
playing with The Frustrations in Detroit which I’m excited about. Running in Chicago.
Balaclavas Second Sight EP 12″ (Dull Knife)
Some bands print up t-shirts when they hit the road, but Balaclavas aren’t the type to take things so casually – on this current tour, they come equipped with a new 12″ EP, attractively silk-screened and ready for consumption. The title track starts it off, and it’s about as energetic as goth-rock can get, real punchy with some menacing bass/drums interplay. The perfect melody for dancing in place, waving your wrists back and forth as the black nail polish slowly dries. All of Second Sight is pretty upbeat like that, nearly recalling fellow Texans At The Drive-In on a song like “Call The Law”, where the vocals cannot hide their cowboy locale. They wrap it up with “Moon Roof”, a nice electro-dub featuring a sultry robot voice that does to me what Axe body-spray does to women on TV. Pretty sure this one can be mailordered, or it might even be sold out by now – if you are bored at the office and need to pick a record up off Discogs to make it feel like you actually accomplished something, keep an eye out for this one.
Boddika & Joy Orbison Froth / Mercy 12″ (SunkLo)
Would’ve never guessed that this would be the techno tag-team to rock my world in 2012, but that’s part of the fun of music – you never know when it will rule. The first 12″ collaboration between Boddika and Joy Orbison was killer, and while this new one isn’t quite as infectious, it’s still just about all I spend my time listening to. “Froth” propels a short, stuttered arpeggio through six minutes of hedonism, turning the power up and down at exactly the right moments. It’s as if you can feel the song getting excited and calming back down, like it’s some sort of sentient being and not merely a .wav file. “Mercy” has a similar feel, structured around a simple 4/4 beat, but this time Joy O and Boddika focus on a tongue-tied vocal loop for the track’s main fuel source (that is until the whole vibe gets tweaked in the dungeon like prime Audion). Think I prefer “Froth”, but I’ve never not listened to these cuts back to back, which has gotta be the best way to do it. Very modern tech-house, yet it’s obvious that this won’t just reek of “early 2012” when I come back to it in a year or two. Keep ’em coming, guys!
Boston Strangler Primitive LP (Fun With Smack)
Unless you’re a Boston-area hardcore enthusiast or one of the fastest Internet jockeys (I suppose the latter’s dubious honor belongs to me), there’s a good chance that Primitive has been emptied from your cart before you could click “place order”. It’s a shame, because while “most hyped hardcore record of the month” and “quality music” don’t always correlate, The debut LP by Boston Strangler lives up to the frantic distro scramble it has generated. These eleven meaty tracks of Boston hardcore waste no time, and are essentially an artisanal distillation of all that is great about Boston hardcore – Negative FX’s anger management, SSD’s impenetrable breakdowns and DYS’s “More Than Fashion” drumbeat (used in two separate songs). It’s like these guys studied hardcore for years, eventually reaching doctorate level, and this is the final thesis project. The vocalist, while probably of direct bloodline to Choke, has sort of a Paul Bearer sneer at times, which leads to intelligible lyrics (and they are often kind of great, particularly by hardcore standards) and a catchiness that other ’80s hardcore replicants lack. It really stands to be said that anyone who enjoys hardcore music would celebrate Primitive – it’s just universally great. Hopefully these “best MP3s of 2011” can find the proper distribution sooner rather than later so it’s something everyone can not just read about but experience as well.
The Bums Do It All Night 7″ (Big Nose)
Ever wonder who actually buys and uses those old-timey chrome-plated microphones besides Green Day and Social Distortion cover bands? The Bums do, and judging from these three basic garage-punk tunes, I’d say it suits them well. Adjust your fuzzy dice dangling from the rear-view and listen to these grown men having fun being drunk. It’s not bad, really – the singer has a good growl, and while they probably think they sound like The Stooges more than they actually do, these songs hit the spot just fine. They’re probably one of the few bands out there today with a full-time saxophone player that would make for a suitable opener for Easy Action, for what that’s worth. There’s really no reason for anyone outside of The Bums’ Atlantan home-base to own this record, but that said, I wish these guys were from my town. Can never have too many bands like The Bums being goofs and getting rowdy – it can be nice to know they’re there.
Demdike Stare Elemental: Iris 12″ (Modern Love)
And so the Elemental saga concludes with Iris, perhaps the spookiest Goo Goo Dolls song ever written. I have yet to listen to all four Elemental installments in a single sitting (it’s staying bright out too late nowadays), but Iris was clearly meant to close out this chapter of Demdike Stare – these three tracks are true funeral dirges, post-post-apocalypse style. Even the vinyl’s creepy on this one, with the actual music starting about two inches in from the edge in some sort of strange intended mutation. “Dauerlinie” places some weepy blips and jarring klangs over a heavy violin (maybe actually a cello?), no real beat or notion of techno to be found. “Daesin” has even less motion, like a windless cavern where dark clouds open up to release soot instead of rain. Only on closer “Ishmael’s Intent” does it feel like anything in the Demdike universe is awake at all, and the track features a nice, Burial-style “sharpening of knives” percussion-loop among the black and grey detritus. Probably the least essential of the four Elemental EPs, but at the same time, the most essential, because what, you were going to leave that last sleeve empty? Demdike Stare are coming back to the US in April – I’ll see you there.
Demdike Stare / Hype Williams Shangaan Electro 12″ (Honest Jon’s)
Finally our wallets can exhale – here’s some non-essential Demdike Stare! Honest Jon’s has been pumping out a number of these 12″s where high-class modern electronic/techno artists remix Shangaan electro music, and while I probably need to hear the Actress one, this is my first dip into the field. It’s good, but the type of good you can hear once, enjoy, and forget about. Demdike Stare are less intimidating than usual on these tracks, tip-toeing around a sparse electro beat while seagulls and a disembodied vocal-clip circle above, as if they just took a few different parts of the original, pressed down hard on the “Demdike” setting and let it rip. Their second version even withholds the beat entirely, leaving just you and those persistent gulls. Never heard Hype Williams before; they just seemed too impossibly hipster for me to mess with, and my suspicions were right – they are a Wire-heralded group to be avoided if the rest of their output is anything like the two cuts here. Generic dub with sleep-pitched vocals and a stark lack of effort. I understand that it can be considered cool to not try hard at making music, and I’d definitely be down to hang with Hype Williams at some super-exclusive art-opening somewhere, but when I sit down and listen to these tracks, the joke is on me. Of course, now I’m even more curious to know what Actress’s take on Shangaan electro is…
Drunk Elk Under Neon Lights LP (Wormwood Grasshopper)
Nice full-length outing for Drunk Elk, perhaps the loneliest-sounding band out there today. They’re from Tasmania, which has got to be pretty isolating as is, but these songs really do sound like they were recorded a million miles away, off on some small tuft of land with nary a shopping center or coffee shop. I dug their 7″, but Under Neon Lights is even better, borrowing “I Want To Be Your Pet” off the single along with seven new ones, all incredibly delicate, strangely beautiful and occasionally unnerving. It’s kind of as if Pink Reason met up with The American Analog Set in an awkward first date – there’s angst and pain behind the sweetness. It’s almost kinda “emo”, too, although they clearly have a much closer geographical distance to the Xpressway label than they do to Bright Eyes or Indian Summer. Makes for great nighttime listening, particularly after enduring a stressful day… Drunk Elk are built for commiseration.
Evening Meetings Forgotten In Seconds / Hello Mr. Evening 7″ (Dirty Knobby)
New project from one of the A Frames folks and some Factums friends, but knowing them, this could mean anything… lucky for me, Evening Meetings are supremely-lopsided Messthetics-y clonk. It’s a 33 rpm single, which gives “Forgotten In Seconds” plenty of time to loaf its way around the room, like Mad Nanna covering a Crisis tune that they only practiced once. Seems like a couple different people pass around a guitar while a simple rhythm refuses to die, even after being stomped on. Makes me think of one of those hard-to-obtain Homosexuals side-projects in the best possible sense. Same goes for “Hello Mr. Evening”, although this one swipes a pre-set Cabaret Voltaire beat as the table-setting for their various piles of slop, slowly making it all into some sort of sense. Evening Meetings have none of A Frames’ robotic professionalism, and only a touch of Factums’ rusty lurch, but they’re pretty much exactly what I want to hear right now.
Insect Factory Melodies From A Dead Radio LP (Insectfields / Fabrica)
New full-length outing for the Maryland-based Insect Factory, and as sure as you can expect someone to get chokeslammed on Monday Night Raw, you can count on a heaping helping of guitar-based drone from Insect Factory’s Jeff Barsky. These four sprawling pieces make Insect Factory’s recent split 7″ with RST feel like a ringtone by comparison, providing a much more expansive experience (even though that 7″ is a fine time itself). Been a while since I heard anything besides the split, and I was a little surprised at how thin Melodies From A Dead Radio is – it’s all very melodic, sparse and airy, without any real bass or even much mid-range to speak of, just high tones that float and twirl like dandelion seeds in an allergy commercial. This music wouldn’t hurt a fly, it would carefully record and sample its buzzing wings instead. It’s almost a bit too light to really sustain my focus (or maintain any audibility over a pot of boiling pasta), but if you’re lulling a small child to sleep (as more and more of us are these days), you may want to keep Melodies From A Dead Radio near baby’s first turntable.
Italian Horn The Bells Of Spring 12″ (Dais)
Italian Horn is the work of Anthony Pappalardo, who anyone who was straight-edge in the ’90s will recall from his time in In My Eyes, probably the least-good band to ever have Pushead draw their cover art (yes, I’ve heard Cocobat). I loved youth-crew hardcore, but never really liked In My Eyes, but I’m not gonna hold it against Pappalardo; let’s see how sophisticated he’s gotten with Italian Horn instead. A few spins through The Bells Of Spring and I’m not really feeling it either – Pappalardo goes the Captured Tracks route of musical maturity, looking back to the hazy mid-’80s where New Romantic guys bumped into shoegazers at the same bar. These six tracks are unassuming and polite pop-rock that fans of The Church would probably get into, but I’m really not feeling the muffled, Blank-Dogged vocals, and none of the songs really deliver the melodrama (or memorable hooks) I’ve come to want out of something like this. I swear he even sings like Wes Eisold circa-Cherish The Light Years on “Beating The Shell Game”, but he doesn’t sound nearly as cool or on-key. They do use that same generic Cold Cave font for all the back cover info, after all. I don’t know, it’s a pleasant record, even if I plan never to return to it. How long ’til an ex-Fastbreak chillwave record?
Keep On Dancin’s The End Of Everything LP (Merenoise)
I don’t expect to see anyone do the popcorn, the hustle or pick up change to Keep On Dancin’s – this is music for swaying, preferably in an open field on the first day of spring or the last day of summer. Very sweet, soft and syrupy indie here, as if Hope Sandoval joined Dum Dum Girls and instantly took over the singing and songwriting. Maybe a touch of Chan Marshall at her most pleasantly pop, too. Not bad stuff, particularly if you’re the type of person who hears a Jesus & Mary Chain drum-beat in your head while developing a crush on the new barista at your favorite coffee shop. Certainly not my usual cup of tea (or coffee, I suppose), but I’ve been enjoying The End Of Everything for the sweet pleasures it provides – the pretty singing, simple arrangements and Quentin Tarrantino-approved mood might get boring after a while, but it’s all still pretty hard to deny.
Kelvox1 Grazed Red 12″ (Aagoo)
No, it’s not your old AOL screen-name, Kelvox1 is a Cambridge-based post-indie trio and this is their debut 12″ EP. It’s not half-bad – big, roomy drums set the stage for the various droning instruments (guitars, basses, Abletons) that drift in and out, creating vague, long-form, inoffensive songs. Definitely not dance music, but you can tell these guys probably picked up on Burial after Thom Yorke started showing interest. Someone sings through these songs, but it seems like he must’ve received the assignment after drawing the shortest straw, as the vocals are placed below the hi-hat in the mix and sung with the passion of a tenured librarian. The music reminds me of Gang Gang Dance in a way, before they started trying to write Bollywood hits and were just kinda loosely jamming over tight percussive rhythms. I had this record playing while I was on the phone with a friend, and I’ll admit, I felt like what I had to say was a little bit cooler with Grazed Red as my background music. Think I’m gonna listen to Kelvox1 the next time I check my email and see if they don’t spice that up too.
Felix Kubin TXRF 2xLP (It’s)
One of the true unique personalities to exist in today’s minimal-synth landscape (or maybe it’s more of a 2D grid), I’ve always admired Felix Kubin’s style. He looks more like an alien impersonating a human than a real human, right down to the Star Trek uniform he wears around the house, and that’s no easy feat. I’ve spent a lot of time enjoying the reissue of his teenage group Die Egozentrischen Zwei’s early recordings (sounds like robots having orgasms), but it was high time I heard what Kubin is up to today, so I dove into TXRF headfirst. It’s great – there are four sides of crazy electronic sequencing, verging on minimal techno, cold-wave and experimental electronics without ever comfortably fitting into any of those slots. Kubin twists his sine-waves into all sorts of poses but never to the point of no return; he always leaves room for my brain to actually process what’s happening. I can’t help but feel like I’m listening in on a genius when I pick a side of TXRF and let it whirl… it seems about as natural and unforced as electronic synth experimentation can get. Fans of Dopplereffekt, Haus Arafna, Suicide and Absolute Body Control, grab your forks: dinner is served.
The Larchmont Trash I Spent The Summer With… 10″ (Shdwply)
The number of people who play in trashy, garage-y punk bands could easily rival the population of Rhode Island at this point – I swear I hear like five of these records every month. This one’s from The Larchmont Trash, a three-piece from Virginia, and if being in these bands was akin to competing in the Presidential fitness challenge, I’d rank them somewhere around the 70th percentile. The guitars have that vintage (Aussie) Victims snarl, the riffs aim for an Angry Samoans-ish puddingheadedness, and the band members themselves seems to follow the adult-idiot aesthetic of The Spits. Three great artists to mention, for sure, and while The Larchmont Trash don’t pack quite the same punch as any of them, I’ve got no qualms spending at least one of my summer weekends with them. Bold move getting started with a 10″, too: the awkward uncle of vinyl formats.
Yva Las Vegass I Was Born In A Place Of Sunshine And The Smell Of Mangoes LP (Moniker)
You think that title is annoying? Try listening to this record! Moniker has a track record of working with eccentric solo artists (Kraus, Jealousy and Stacian, to name a few), and I usually end up enjoying them. Not so for Yva Las Vegass. She plays a mix of super-fast cuatro/guitar tangos and open-mic-storyteller acoustic jams, and I’m not sure which approach I enjoy less. It’s not that she’s technically bad (she has a good voice and is a talented guitarist), it’s just her personality that I can’t stand – imagine if Courtney Love ended up at a vegan co-op’s “local jam night” instead of in a world famous rock band, making sure to be a self-proclaimed “motherfucker” at any possible chance. I’m actually kind of impressed by how much I dislike this album – I haven’t felt this strongly against a piece of music in a while. I just immediately think of how horribly uncomfortable it would be for Yva Las Vegass to corner me at some bar, ranting about how crazy her life is while she puffs her cigarette in my face, unable to breathe or get a word in edgewise – this record has given me nearly the same sensation. If you’ve got Johnny Cash and “Mean People Suck” stickers on your acoustic guitar, you very well might feel differently.
The Lonesome Savages All Outta Love 7″ (Kind Turkey)
Real Cramps-ified punk blues from two names I recognize (Max Elliott and Dead Luke) and a couple of their chums. Four songs here, as if the spirit of Link Wray was reincarnated into that pigeon that roosts above your car, plastering the windshield while you’re at work. The Lonesome Savages are about as retro as it gets, but that’s why All Outta Love works for me – they don’t try to add any weird modern noise, or speed it up to hardcore’s standards, they just beat out the classic angry blues-punk as if they were hammering out train-track all day. One band member on the back cover seems to be wearing his pants over his belly button and looks natural doing so – these guys mean it. Seriously, nothing remotely new here, but to criticize The Lonesome Savages would be akin to criticizing an old pair of blue jeans and a white t-shirt – you just can’t.
Mad Nanna If I Don’t Sleep Tonight 7″ (Wormwood Grasshopper)
More Mad Nanna, this time brought to us by the fine folks at Wormwood Grasshopper Records. “If I Don’t Sleep Tonight” might be my favorite Mad Nanna track thus far – the main guy repeats the title and is all thumbs on the guitar while some other band member recreates the sounds my stomach makes when I’m having trouble sleeping at night. Although it’s constantly on the verge of devolving into a Menstruation Sisters-style compost heap, Mad Nanna always hold the song together by one thin hair, capped off by a celebratory whooping of the crowd (looks like this was a live cut). The ostensibly untitled b-side is less to my liking – sounds like the group pared down to an acoustic guitar duo, strumming their basic chords like they just missed the bus and had an unexpected three hours to kill. Had I heard this track first, I may very well have never ventured further into the world of Mad Nanna, so thank God that’s not the case. On the strength of the a-side, and with acknowledgement of the b-side’s subtle charm, this one’s worth keeping too.
Mind Over Mirrors Near Your Dwelling 7″ (Dirty Knobby)
If you like to take your bleeps with a side of bloops, this Mind Over Mirrors single is a fine way to start your day. The project belongs to Jaime Fennelly, whom I remember from Peeesseye (not sure if he was the crazy throat-noise guy or the one who controlled the drone box or what). Mind Over Mirrors is a much simpler, less-heady affair than his prior group – both tracks just kinda chug along on their own internal melodies, like a dolphin whose fin you can just grab onto if you want to catch a ride. The b-side in particular kicks up a nice little electronic tornado as it gathers steam. Even so, I’m not sure I could really explain what makes Near Your Dwelling special, and maybe it’s not (colorful electronic loops start, shift and eventually stop, that’s really all there is to it), but it’s a subtly entrancing single if you give it the time of day.
Morphosis The TEPCO Report 12″ (Morphine)
Couldn’t hardly wait for this new Morphosis 12″ after last year’s What Have We Learned opened my third eye wide and clear. Rabih Beaini, the man behind the moniker, has never been one to stay in one place for too long, so understandably The TEPCO Report shifts gears once again. A-side “Exposure” is the sound of a space-ambulance cutting across galaxies to save a life – it’s not techno, more like kraut-inspired electronic composition. Definitely a shift towards the esoteric and atmospheric. “Postatomicpoetry” falls back into Morphosis’ “psychedelic techno” format though, working a repetitive groove over a booming bass-kick and frantic hi-hat slashes. This one could’ve easily been tacked onto What Have We Learned, promising a similar state of enlightenment through locked grooves and druggy improvisation. Gonna be a while before anyone catches up to Morphosis – I’m a huge fan and still feel like I’m incapable of fully processing his vision.
Mount Carmel Real Women LP (Siltbreeze)
Goddamn… how can I properly convey how good Real Women is without making it sound like any other quality rock record? How can I accurately describe their essence, so that you, dear reader, will know that I am discussing a band that has truly captured the magic that exists deep inside the electric guitar? I loved Mount Carmel’s debut, a real blast-from-the-past treasure of Cream-y riffing and hard rock perfection, but Real Women streamlines that approach, growing from the debut’s seven tracks to nine and just knocking each one out of the park. A large amount of credit is due directly to the voice of guitarist Matthew Reed, who sings like a buttery-soft Tom Fogerty, ending each line with a diva-inflected “yeah” that would make the stars of The Voice hop out of their seats. He sings like he’s got nothing to prove, as though all of his coolness and talent is so obviously implied that it needs no mention from anyone, and he’s right. I knew he had a great voice on the debut, but the vocals come through so perfectly on Real Women that it’s somehow an entire step up. The riffs are just as workmanlike and sturdy, like those 1970s Levi’s people pay hundreds of dollars to own because of their softness and indestructibility. You’ll get into this one from the very start and only grow to love it more as time wears on – I get excited just knowing I’m about to listen to Real Women, particularly as the weather has started to warm up a bit. If some random college intern at Rolling Stone accidentally downloads this, and plays it while one of those soulpatched, ponytailed editors walks by the computer while it’s playing, who knows where things could go for these three Ohio boys…
Napolian Rejoice 12″ (Software)
I don’t expect everyone to feel the same way, but Ford & Lopatin’s Channel Pressure was such a big, fun album for me that I checked out Napolian solely on the basis that his record has been released by Ford & Lopatin’s vanity label, Software. Rejoice looks like it could be a Ford & Lopatin record too, or at least something James Ferraro-approved, from the cheesy “road of keyboards leading to a city between Roman columns” artwork (which I guess comes standard these days). I’ve spun it a bit, and while Napolian is good, Napolian is no Ford & Lopatin, that’s for sure – these six songs mine a similar ’80s / ’90s pop-music nostalgia trip, but they don’t come with any strong compulsion to listen to them again and again. I’m reminded of classic Prince and Michael Jackson productions in the specific sounds Napolian tosses around, but he wields them like a less-skillful Rustie, bonking the listener over the head with big colorful swells of music like a cartoon mallet. Vocals come in and out, but they’re only ever backing vocals, used to increase the mood rather than actually form a sentence. Maybe if Napolian found a great singer to work with (or hooked up a Game Genie), he could soar off to new heights, but for now we can only rejoice that another slice of electro-nostalgia has been added to the pile. Why do so many electronic artists insist on reliving my childhood?
Pangea Killer Dreams EP 7″ (Lauren / Ghostbot)
No, not the post-dubstep act Pangaea, this is Pangea, short a vowel and possibly as far from electronic dance music as you can get. They grabbed my attention right away with “Plasma (Outofyourmind)”, a crazy, Dickies-ish punked-out power-pop irritant. It’s a great song that demands a level of appreciation I doubt it will ever fully receive. They follow that hit with a country-bumpkin acoustic jam, like something I’d expect Sub Pop to release and sell 60,000 copies of without me personally knowing anyone who’s ever said they’ve listened to it. It’s a strange switch, but it’s grown on me. “River” kicks off the b-side and is revved up like the opener, almost reminding me of The Hated if they existed on Stiff Records in 1981 instead of Vermin Scum in 1989. The last track is the weakest, some mutant strain of ’90s alt-grunge (I’m thinking Roomrunner, or Space Hog). Strange, right? I’m kinda fascinated by this band, as it doesn’t seem they’ve settled on a direction but have all these great options to choose from. I say put out an album filled with cuts like “Plasma (Outofyourmind)” and grab the reigns that Jay Reatard left hanging.
The Pharmacy Dig Your Grave 7″ (Kind Turkey)
“The Pharmacy” sounds like it should be a Spiritualized side-project or something, but nope, it’s another garage-rock band wearing multiple pairs of sunglasses. The hair on these guys is too good for them to go for the “hot rods and BBQ sauce” aesthetic, though, so they mix in a ’60s psychedelic melodiousness with their tuneful riffs, adding bells and piano and other tasteful flavorings to the two a-side tracks. They tone it down a bit on the b-side, calling to mind Beachwood Sparks, or some other modern-retro hippie group that likes to stare at paintings for hours on end while stoned. I prefer their more catchy a-side tracks, “Dig Your Grave” in particular, but The Pharmacy on the whole isn’t something I’m really going to remember come morning, honestly. Maybe if I drive by a CVS tomorrow, I’ll recall my time spent with Dig Your Grave.
Pig Heart Transplant Weapon / Gut Pleasures 7″ (Iron Lung)
I’ve always been kinda jealous of Pig Heart Transplant – I wish I had five or six friends willing and able to get together every now and then and churn out a pile of heavy, distorted frustration. I can’t imagine it takes these guys very long to write their songs… one of them sits behind the drums, pounds them at a snail’s pace, and the rest of the guys grab whatever instrument is closest, turn the pegs until the strings droop, and fire away. It’s an easy formula, but I can’t imagine it ever not working, especially in the capable hands of folks who do time in Walls, Iron Lung, Society Nurse and probably a half-dozen other great hardcore bands. This 7″ is particularly gruesome (“Gut Pleasures” erupts like a volcano), and while “I Videotape Your Diet” off their album Hope You Enjoy Heaven is still my favorite song title of all time, this single has found in me a happy owner.
Protomartyr Dreads 85 84 7″ (Urinal Cake)
I liked the looks of this Protomartyr single right off the bat: you get a well-detailed dope with his dog celebrating baseball on the cover, a cool band name, a funny title… what’s not to like? The music is ace too – it’s worth noting that Tyvek ringleader Kevin Boyer plays guitar (and offers his critical praise on the promo sheet) on Dreads 85 84, because there’s kind of a Tyvek vibe to these songs. It’s not nearly as messy and spastic, though – Protomartyr sounds like Tyvek if they acted like adults and stopped shopping at the Salvation Army for their winter coats. The singer has a deeper, drunker voice, but he can easily hold a melody when it’s expected of him. Really all three songs are about as close to superb as I’d hope for a swaggery, Wire-y / Fall-y bar-band to sound. See if you’re not singing along to “Cartier E.G.s” before it’s over. What kind of fool wouldn’t love this?
Redshape Throw In Dirt / The Land 12″ (3024)
Can’t get enough of Martyn’s 3024 label lately, so I figured I should check out this new Redshape 12″, appropriately adorned with various red shapes on the sleeve. It’s fun stuff – “Throw In Dirt” kicks a lazy electro-house beat to the curb with a wild vocal hook that plays the role of the angry, unpaid landlord. It works a lot of angles, jittery enough to entertain those of us at home while still offering an ample groove for the breakdancing contingent. “The Land” is a little less accessible; the track still operates under house rules, but Redshape finds various loopholes to exploit, be it a weird vocal hiccup or mood-changing synth-line. It’s a strange little single, by no means experimental or hard to follow, but it doesn’t easily fit into any modern sub-genre either. While not this month’s crucial dance 12″, it’s further proof that I can’t allow any new 3024 releases to pass me by unlistened.
SFV Acid Grown 12″ (100% Silk)
This SFV Acid 12″ on 100% Silk is pretty much the textbook definition of “hipster-house”. Six tracks of uninspired bin-filler that is just talented enough to squeak past Soundcloud and onto a vinyl record, but why? Because the guy behind the music is cool and lives in the same town as the label and they all hang at the same bars and show spaces together? If someone asked me what was so great about electro/techno/dance music and played me this record, I could not come up with a good answer – there’s no emotion, no personality, no inventiveness, no flashy moves, no technical prowess, just a variety of loops, arpeggios and beats put together with the loving hand of an iPod factory worker. If it sucked, that’d be one thing, and it might be kinda fun to hear the unquantized errors and foolish flubs, but instead it’s just so mediocre and fleeting that I can’t even have that sort of fun. How dare this guy call himself anything “Acid”, you know? I’m not inspired to dance, or root for the artist, or wonder what he was thinking, or wish I came up with one of these beats first – I’m inspired to stand smugly, arms folded, thinking to myself how cool I am for liking techno without actually really liking techno, and I hate that.
Shed The Praetorian / RQ-170 12″ (50 Weapons)
I always thought Shed was the weak link in the Ostgut Ton chain. Not sure what it was that drew me to check out The Praetorian / RQ-170, then – maybe the weird title? Whatever the case, I’m glad I did, as this is some head-scratching electro that makes me feel much happier than it should. “The Praetorian” opens with a farty 4/4 beat punctuated by what sounds like a cymbal crash, were the cymbal made out of ice… real gnarly slow stuff, like it’s a lost dog who ran away from its master, Galakthorrö. Shed takes the opportunity to spritz it clean with weightless new-age synths, making what could’ve been a dungeon beater into something soothing and fresh – the perfect soundtrack to a Turkish bath house, let’s say. “RQ-170” is a strange number, too – echoed beats whiz past each other, and before long, a wood-shop buzzsaw starts turning trees into a new desk. Very tense atmosphere, and often quite crusty, as if to suggest that Shed’s been spending his time in the company of Emptyset. Just barely dance music, and so uniquely weird that I find myself replaying it over and over. Much like Andy Stott, Shed seems to have wandered off the generic genre-path with fantastic results.
Slices Still Cruising LP (Iron Lung)
Fresh from the oven, here’s the newest platter of Slices we’ve all been awaiting. The title would imply some sort of continuity with their debut, but it seems more like its own singular work. It certainly sounds different than Cruising – there’s less static-laden crunch to Still Cruising, and as they tend to employ some more garage-y riffs, it’s an appropriate shift. I say “garage-y”, but this is still very much a hardcore record, just one that knows how to swing… it’s not all rapid-fire oom-pah beats. They come across more humorous and less creepy than on their debut, and knowing what I know about these guys, it is a perfect and true representation. Almost makes me think of what Fucked Up would sound like if they continued to improve after their first few singles but moved in a deliberately raw and hardcore direction, rather than becoming an operatic indie theater project. The songs are great and varied, making for one of the most compelling hardcore records I’ve heard in a while. I don’t mean that like every other indie critic means it though, ie. “they have given new life to hardcore by no longer sounding like hardcore” – this is as raging as ever, and surely one of the best hardcore albums that will be released this year.
Sros Lords Evil Spawn / The End 7″ (Urinal Cake)
This, the second Urinal Cake release, doesn’t look nearly as appealing as the first, with a barfing, bloody, cartoon praying mantis on the cover. Looks like a ’90s skateboard deck graphic, and not in a cool way. Musically, Sros Lords pick up the slack – these two songs are pretty short and simple, but they do the trick. Both tracks makes me think of Human Eye covering Chain Gang with the vocals provided by someone’s younger brother, certainly an appealing thought in my book. The synth bleating is just right, and they stomp through a couple basic hooks nicely. The comic book-y art makes more sense with the music, going for that sort of pulpy sci-fi aesthetic. Anyone who collects old Mad magazines will dig right into Sros Lords, and many of the rest of us will too.
Stag Get Used To It 7″ (Disembraining Machine)
Imagine if Carcass used cookbooks instead of medical journals for their Reek Of Putrefaction cover collage – that’s what you get with Stag’s Get Used To It 7″. I could’ve gone for some gastronomy-based death metal, but Stag’s sound is equally cool – danceable, early-’00s post-punk that sounds like the best parts of Hot Hot Heat and Sleater Kinney collaged together in an attempt to resemble Kleenex. Powerful, pep-rally vocals lead disco-drum beats and needle-y guitars to a pretty nice result. Not sure if everyone is ready for “indie dance parties” all over again (we’re all too busy getting our “goth nights” started), but Stag make a pretty good case why certain styles will always work when performed by a select few. Don’t worry, Stag – I’m used to it, and I dig it.
Terrible Truths Terrible Truths 7″ (Small Town City Living)
Terrific post-punk from Terrible Truths, yet another cool new Aussie group. Four songs here, but I could go for an album right off the bat – they’ve got a vibe similar in spirit to The Slits and The Raincoats, but Terrible Truths seem a bit more subdued, like they probably don’t jump around on stage and wouldn’t be out of place opening for The xx. Kinda funky, but just because the bass lines are so moist and thick… it makes for pretty much the only funkiness I would want out of my post-punk. The two singers seem to sing most of the lyrics at the exact same time, and it really sounds great that way. I don’t know, Terrible Truths are doing a pretty specific thing, but they seem to have gotten it perfectly right, straight out of the gate. Did a little Googling, and apparently Bedroom Suck will be next to bring us some new Terrible Truths… I can’t wait.
Voices From The Lake Voices From The Lake CD (Prologue)
Just as he promised, Donato Dozzy comes through with his Voices From The Lake project with co-conspirator Neel (not to be confused with his other frequent collaborator, Nuel). Doesn’t really matter who’s responsible for Voices From The Lake, though, as it’s a subtle, anonymous-sounding album that requires little back-story to be enjoyed. It’s broken into eleven tracks, but it flows like one long (I’m talking long) track, morphing from one loop to the next at such a slow rate of change that it becomes easy to forget exactly how you wound up in your current location. The beat is constant, and often locks into tight little patterns, but it’s never something I could imagine dancefloors erupting over – this is thoughtful, humble techno that sounds like the work of people who put in weeks of twelve-hour days, composing and conducting this giant sprawling soundtrack without ever getting sick of it. The sounds are inclusive but intriguing, and the groove is never interrupted (at least until Ricardo Villalobos eventually steps in and remixes it). It’s a tasteful record, one that could easily slip right by you, but those willing to take a dip will leave feeling invigorated and refreshed.
Walls The Future Is Wide Open LP (Iron Lung)
The folks at Iron Lung are pumping out the killer hardcore-punk at a furious face, this new Walls album not the slightest of the bunch. Is it possible they’ve gotten even angrier? The singer screams “you’re just a fucking piece of shit” within the first couple minutes, and I’ll admit, I took it a little personally. I guess that’s how it goes with Walls though – no fun, no hope, no pleasure, just anguish, annoyance and frustration. The music backs their torment well, quickly shifting from blood-soaked dirges to tech-y hardcore and brooding punk rock, bordering on a variety of hardcore’s sub-genres. If City Of Caterpillar had at least two guys wearing Swans t-shirts and another in a Void shirt, they probably would’ve come to sound like this. Screamo as any meaningful form of music is deader than dead, but Walls seem like its next proper iteration, taking some of those spastic, heavy influences and melding them to standard-issue hardcore/grind. These guys just know how to make ugly music and they really take joy in their plight.
War At War For Youth 7″ (Sacred Bones)
Sorry Eric Burdon fans, wrong War – this one is comprised of the vocalists of Sexdrome and Iceage in a Danish punk super-group of sorts. One could call it a consolation prize for those anticipating new material from either group, but I’d be digging this single even if the band was a couple of nobodies from Tacoma. Three songs here, all of which follow a similar aesthetic (murky, disorienting basement fog) but work different styles: “At War For Youth” is a slogging punk number that sounds like a cross between an Iron Cross bootleg and Raspberry Bulbs, and it’s followed by “Kains Marke”, a synth-led marching song, like something you’d expect schoolchildren in Yugoslavia would be forced to listen to as part of their morning exercises if Mark McCoy was their principal. Real good stuff, but the b-side is my favorite – “Brodermordet” sounds like a crude, amateurish take on Andy Stott, or maybe an ecstasy-fueled Vatican Shadow, and while anyone could probably “do it”, I really like the way War did it. Figure this’ll get written off as a gratuitous side-project for those already at war with the popularity of Iceage, but screw it – this is a great 7″, and I hope At War For Youth isn’t where War ends.
White Car Everyday Grace LP (Hippos In Tanks)
Imagine this: you’re planning your dream wedding and decide to book Matthew Dear as the musical entertainment. Costs are adding up, so against your better judgment, a pushy cousin convinces you that he knows a group that’s just as good but will do the gig for a quarter of the price – lo and behold, White Car are playing your wedding. Sorry, but I really can’t help but think of what a budget Matthew Dear White Car is while spinning Everyday Grace. It’s very similar in style (bumping house/electro meets modern EBM weirdness with rubbery vocals), although shades of Autre Ne Veut’s wacky amateurism shine through this album frequently. White Car doesn’t quite have the voice, or the musical prowess, so they try to make up for it by adding another distorted vocal track or crowding the mix with another synth. It’s not bad by any means, though, and I’ve had a good time spinning White Car – there are some highly enjoyable tracks here. I like the Sex Pistols and I like half-assed attempts at the Sex Pistols too, you know?
White Load Wayne’s World III b/w Godfather IV LP (Load)
Twenty six songs of dirty rotten hardcore-punk from White Load on this ambitiously-titled debut LP. Sounds like Rusted Shut trying to write a Dwarves record, or Rupture before pornography completely melted their brains, just mercilessly bashing through what might as well be the same riff without any consideration toward anything. They kinda lose momentum halfway through the second side (aka Godfather IV), like they got into some inter-band argument or the drummer broke his sticks, but they finish up pretty strong. Even a band of crazies like Homostupids will take a moment to gather their thoughts or grab a drink, whereas White Load are utterly relentless – there’s little doubt that these guys are true maniacs. Great LP, and further proof that Load Records is less a record label and more of a teenage delinquent babysitting service these days. Can you imagine coming into the office with voice messages from FNU Ronnies and White Load waiting for you?