If you thought Randy Holden loved his guitar, wait’ll you get a load of Ry Wharton,
the mastermind / sole member of King Blood. Just listen to his debut album, self-
released in a limited edition, and then reissued by Permanent Records, and tell me
he doesn’t dress his axe up, Real Doll-style, and take it out on dates. King Blood
takes this level of six-string admiration and focuses it on one or two riffs per song,
hypnotizing the listener with a blown-out recording to rival High Rise or Aufgehoben
in terms of crackling low-end. It’s great. Wharton not only offers some insight into
the project during our chat, he also provides a tracklisting to what might be the
ultimate guitar-rock mixtape, and in a dream come true, offers me a chance to be a
part of the project (although he was probably just being nice). Be sure to check out
Vengeance, Man, his new 12″ release on the always fashionable Richie Records label,
out this month.
What’d you get into first – heavy metal or punk?
Metal. The first band I was in basically did Ride the Lightning-era Metallica covers
– I think this would be around 6th or 7th grade. At some point that led to
punk/hardcore. I came at that from several directions (through Nirvana/Mudhoney,
etc.), but I definitely remember picking up a $1 Septic Death CD in a used bin
because of the Pushead artwork (that I knew from Metallica). That blew my mind.
It just sounded so alien. It seemed like when I was in high school you had to be
into either metal or punk, but I always liked (and continue to like) both.
So who did you hang with, the metal crowd or the punk crowd?
I don’t know if I really ran with either crowd. I definitely went to more punk
shows when I was young, but I was hanging out with nerds, hippies, and everyone else.
At what point did King Blood start? Was Snake Apartment still happening?
I’d say it started around the time I moved to California. Snake Apartment was still
together, but since I was on another coast, jamming was few and far between. We
continued to do some dates around the country and recorded some demos, but I had a
bunch of time on my hands, and started recording a bunch of riffs on a 4-track.
It became a release that I started spending more and more time on.
Is it King Blood as in the blood of a king, or a king named Blood?
It’s a bit of both… I was thinking of a late career Jim Thompson novel named King
Blood. It’s really brutal and over-the-top, but at the same time really odd.
How important is the recording quality to a King Blood record? Your records so far
all share a pretty crusty, blown-out sound…
Definitely… I like the overblown sound, and how it starts to eliminate or mystify
the origins of the sounds. And it creates interesting phantom melodies and harmonies.
Does that mean King Blood couldn’t really exist in the confines of a slick studio sound?
I don’t know. I might have thought that the sound was essential initially. Like I
mentioned, I love that instruments and sounds can become a thick, mangled mess that
makes it hard to tell what’s actually going on within the riffs. But a couple of
new tracks are fairly clean sounding (to me), and it’s been interesting to try and
pull back the overblown quality and see how that changes the overall feel and groove.
How did the release of your first LP come out? You did that completely yourself, from
recording to the pressing… what was your intent with that record?
To get the songs out of my head. I had those tunes (and a bunch more) done for awhile,
and I was just listening to them at home all the time. I wanted to move on to doing
something else – either turn it into more of a full band, or make new songs, or
something entirely different. But I felt that I should do something with those songs,
or I would keep going back and tweaking them endlessly. I sent some CD-rs out to
friends, who liked it. A friend of mine was organizing a show at a new gallery in
Brooklyn, and he talked to me about doing something for it. I had made some prints for
it, and it used some of the artwork that I had sort of stashed away for a hypothetical
King Blood release. Out of this conversation, I decided just to press up a small batch
of the LP for his show. (I think either you or Brent (of Dull Knife Records) turned
me onto the 100 press deal?) One-hundred copies was a package deal, and I just assembled
them myself and sent some of those off to the gallery with some prints. The rest of
the copies I sent out to some friends and a couple of distros. I figured could eventually
get rid of 100 copies, and it was a way to put a fork in those songs.
Is there a maximum number of riffs per King Blood song? How intricate would you consider
One! Nah, there’s no real formula. I like capturing a slice of something, an essential
moment in a riff and expanding it. More and more I like to then sort of fill in the
color around it. Or, I hear several parts in my head that constitute one riff.
Will there ever be vocals on a King Blood record? Yours or otherwise?
There actually are some vocals on the first record. Lyrics too… but they are mixed
in with everything else and act more as texture or have a slightly rhythmic feel.
There are some new tracks where slightly more audible vocals appear. I’m curious to
see if they work – definitely interested in how they integrate overall into the
explorations of the riff that I’ve been into. Guest vocals could be really interesting
too, bringing in a different timbre. I hadn’t really thought that far ahead…
you interested in laying some down?
Anytime! Is there any particular song or riff that you wish you had written first?
What a hard (and great) question. Damn, too many to count. The riff from International
Harvester / Trad Gras oct Stenar’s “Sommarlaten” is something I could listen to all day.
One of those CD reissues has the bonus 26-minute live version that just goes on for
miles. And, it’s probably really uncool, but I would have loved to have written the bombastic
intro riff to “Carry On Wayward Son”. Kansas hit that one out of the park – such a
ridiculous riff. Is that too obvious? Or “Snowblind”, or Highway Robbery’s “Fifteen”,
some Dennison licks on “Monkey Trick” and “South Mouth”, Hendrix’s main melodic riff
in “1983…”, Horslips’ “Dearg Doom”, “Breadfan”, “Nude Disintegrating Parachutist Woman”,
or most of Budgie’s catalog, and for that matter, “Hocus Pocus” by Focus, Flag’s “I’m
the One”, Pete Cosey’s riffs on “Down in the Bottom”, or maybe BOC’s “Screams” or
“Transmaniacon MC” verse riffs. Or: the verse riff in Maiden’s “Phantom of the Opera”,
Sweet Savage’s “Eye of the Storm”, that intro to Metallica’s “Seek and Destroy”. What
about the main riff in “Deathcrush”? So obvious and perfect. Or the breakdown in
Death’s “Living Monstrosity”. Some of these are just so simple and melodic, you can’t
imagine that there was a time that they never existed. That’s the genius of a good
riff – it essentially feels instantly familiar.
Addison Groove Transistor Rhythm 3×12″ (Fifty Weapons)
After Addison Groove juked into the spotlight with his post-rave anthem “Footcrab”, it seemed like he ended up batting .500 with all those subsequent singles, dropping fiery cuts among those that simply smoldered. Maybe it’s just been a while since I spent much time with Addison Groove, but his debut album Transistor Rhythm is a ton of fun, delivering his distinct vibe without coming off like a syndication of his previous work. The energy never dips, and the (Addison) grooves are all in peak form, never a wasted loop or pointless segue – every moment of Transistor Rhythm seems urgent and crafted for movement. The highs might even top “Footcrab” – “Sooperlooper” takes a cracked-out snap, syncs it to a mind-melting arpeggio and then kicks you in the chin with a fuzzy Street Fighter II-ish chip-tune roundhouse. Were this released on its own, it would undoubtedly be one of my favorite dance tracks of the year. Other highlights include “Bad Things”, dirtied up by Spankrock of all people, and “Ass Jazz”, if only because the track is called “Ass Jazz”. This is clearly an album that horny teenagers will enjoy, but that’s not to say it’s corny or disposable – Transistor Rhythm just nails that youthful party energy without losing confused old men like me in its wake. It’s like a shaken Four Loko exploding in your face – we all need that once in a while.
Barker & Baumecker A Murder Of Crows 12″ (Ostgut Ton)
Can’t get enough of the Ostgut Ton label… never heard of Sam Barker and his cohort Andreas Baumecker before, but took the chance based on the Ostgut seal of approval, and I’m in love. Wish Ostgut Ton would do a subscription series or something, so I could just send them a couple hundred bucks every January and then just let them have their way with me over the following twelve months – there are only a small handful of labels I trust the way I trust Ostgut Ton. Anyway, A Murder Of Crows is great – it’s got that Ostgut sound, swinging with the soul of house music but sonically dark and deviant. This one makes me think of Rrose, if Rrose had any sort of emotion hidden underneath that grey shell. Four minutes in, “A Murder Of Crows Part 1” reduces the beat to a one-two punch, a supremely satisfying eruption (flush all your pills and take this for any constipation or erectile dysfunction issues). “Part 2” plays it closer to the house with bouncy bass and a snare break, tidying up the mess that “Part 1” left behind. I’m gonna go do something else now before Barker & Baumecker excite me any further.
Black Rain Now I’m Just A Number: Soundtracks 1994-95 LP (Blackest Ever Black)
Good luck finding anything blacker than this label – even its rain comes with a distinct absence of color (or should I say colour). Black Rain is the work of Stuart Argabright (of Ike Yard and Dominatrix fame), but his Black Rain recordings aren’t mechanical post-punk or ebullient electro – these are bleak, dire techno-soundtracks that fit right in with the rest of the Blackest Ever Black roster. Quite amazing that Argabright was making this music in the mid-’90s, really… the way he turns the sound of rain on asphalt into a chilling murder scene comes straight out of Burial’s playbook, and when he swabs a fat layer of tuneless bass underneath, it recalls Demdike Stare a good ten-plus years before their existence. And when he brings the mechanical pulse to life, I’m hearing a sturdier, stainless-steel version of Raime, or Sandwell District after a particularly rough night at the pubs. I’m not a big reissue guy – I don’t need to hear the best calypso-funk tracks from 1973-1974 remastered from obscure 7″s onto a $49.95 gatefold triple LP – but this Black Rain sounds so frighteningly modern and prescient that it might be Blackest Ever Black’s most essential release yet.
Blast & The Detergents Brain Time Now LP (No Clear / Infintesmal)
Pretty sure that Blast & The Detergents share members with Ghost Hospital, a notion that intensifies upon examination of Brain Time Now – both of the groups’ full-length albums come on slop-colored vinyl and are housed in generic bulk-rate sleeves with a glued photocopy on the front. A humble presentation, but it works for both. And while I’m in comparative judgment mode, I’ll go on record as favoring Blast & The Detergents. Their guitars only make fleeting sense, puffing feedback and incorrect chords like smoke from a factory – it sounds like one long ugly cloud that just gets thicker rather than dissipating. I think Antioch Arrow hit more right notes than these guys. It really works though, because while the vocalist has a sort of Kevin Boyer-ish guffaw, the rest of the band plays their mangled post-punk with an energy usually reserved for hardcore. Almost reminds me of Necros’ IQ 32 single, were they inspired by Sonic Youth and Swell Maps instead of The Ramones and The Clash. Seventeen songs here, and while I couldn’t pick out one from another, the right sound is sometimes all a band needs.
Body Double My Life (What You Need) 12″ (100% Silk)
Now Body Double I can get into. So many people I know that are getting into techno from the punk side of things (as is my case, and I’d presume the 100% Silk label’s as well) have an aversion to house vocals, as if straight white punk guys screaming is the only acceptable vocal style. Screw that! Body Double’s featured vocalist Trevon has got some soul in his lungs, singing like he’s the younger brother of Latrice Royale or something, sopping up Jesus like a biscuit and getting the crowd to move through sheer determination. “My Life (What You Need)” is an instant hit, musically coming from a very early house background and perfectly exercising Trevon’s vocals until finally reaching anthem status. “Be Strong” is a little more tender, and less of a peak-time love-fest, but Body Double knows what Trevon needs to manipulate our emotions and works it here, too. Even Sir Stephen’s tech-house remix of the title track is great, but he was already working with the finest ingredients, all he had to do was not mess it up. As much as I love being depressed and beaten down by music, I love when it raises me up… Body Double and Trevon have taken me higher.
Burial Kindred 12″ (Hyperdub)
Ah, more Burial… close the blinds, turn on the humidifier, convince yourself that your phones are tapped by the government and let Burial lull you to a restless sleep. It’s kind of crazy how Burial has maintained such a high level of quality and distinctiveness without falling into a rut, and he proves his talent once more with Kindred. I’m sure anyone with a passing interest has heard it by now, but these three tracks extrapolate on Burial’s lonely 3:00 am London vibe without feeling like a rerun – within the first seconds of “Kindred”, that tell-tale knifey-percussion is in full effect, but the song stretches to eleven minutes in length, progressing and shifting like scenes of a play. It’s much more cinematic than his previous material, as if these three tracks are complete stories of their own, not just three- or four-minute snippets that present a single thought or emotion. I love it when he breaks into a straight house beat, which he does on “Loner”, the sound of Mulder and Scully trailing The Smoking Man into a Wierd Records dance night. I never expected Burial to drop such a straight-forward arpeggio here, but he does, and it’s perfect. Not sure when we’ll get another album, if ever, but Kindred is another great reason to take the car out on a long night-drive through unfamiliar terrain. Captivating and essential.
John Wesley Coleman III Alone By The Door / I Want You To Be Like Everybody Else 7″ (Sophomore Lounge)
When I think “commercial pop suicide”, like it says on the back cover of this 7″, I think Metal Machine Music, or that silly improvised Van Morrison album, not the amiable homespun folk of John Wesley Coleman (the third). Add some cutesy synth bleeps behind a track like “Alone By The Door” and you’ve got the soundtrack to an iPad commercial, for crying out loud! Inappropriate (or ironic) message aside, this single has confirmed my suspicion that the music of JWCIII just isn’t for me – the melodies are too precious and limp, and when it all comes down to it, I just don’t care for his voice. For all I know, Coleman could be a trained MMA fighter, but he sings like a sniffly pencil-neck affecting a country twang, which simply isn’t my cup of tea. B-side “I Want You To Be Like Everybody Else” is better, but the track isn’t over before I realize I am listening to it out of obligation, not enjoyment. Apparently he has half a dozen solo albums coming out in the next month or two, so while I might be one of the few people who isn’t paying thousands of dollars to support his mission, I have to follow my heart on this one.
Petar Dundov Ideas From The Pond 3×12″ (Music Man)
Anytime is the right time for a new album from Petar Dundov, so I was thrilled to find out that Ideas From The Pond was recently released. It’s fantastic – Dundov’s techno is as panoramic and sprawling as ever before, now with an even deeper emotional resonance. His music calls to mind Alden Tyrell, Jean Michel Jarre and those Switched On Bach Moog records, focusing on the strength of a solid arpeggio rather than any sort of structural ingenuity or unusual sound patches. Within moments of the album-opening title track, I’m picturing Kit from Knight Rider weeping softly – Dundov lets you know what you’re in for right away. You could probably do some morbid ’80s aerobics to the first few cuts (“Distant Shores” was already released as a one-sided 12″, but it’s nice to have it here), but as the album progresses, so does Dundov’s vision, breaking free from techno’s grid for higher planes of consciousness. A touch of Morphosisness there, and it’s almost needed after the beautiful, stirring first half. Most tracks are right around ten minutes, and while that can be daunting, I really couldn’t deal with Dundov cutting them any shorter – it’d be like receiving a delicious slice of cake and being told to eat half. If you’ve ever listened to Kraftwerk while making love, Ideas From The Pond is an essential purchase.
Ed Schrader’s Music Beat Jazz Mind LP (Load)
After the no-wavey tantrums of Ed Schrader’s Load Records single, I was prepared for Schrader and his Music Beat to get all flush-faced and frothy-mouthed on the full-length format. That’s not quite the case, though – while there are certainly some unhinged moments on Jazz Mind (if mainly because both songs on the single appear here too), this record threw me for a loop. Most of the songs here are oddly quiet, toned down to near coffee-shop levels – Schrader has a dangerous serenity to his voice on Jazz Mind, like Alan Vega after an extended bikram yoga session. It’s almost as if he knew he was expected to flail and yell, so he used reverse psychology to leave us ill at ease. I’ll take it, because the quieter songs are some of my favorites: the acapella “Airshow” hits like To Live And Shave In LA’s Tom Smith without the manic depression, and it’s followed by the highly relatable “I Can’t Stop Eating Sugar”. Mix that with a few frantic moments and you’ve got a killer album that avoids easy categorization.
Family Curse Julia Armant / Last Days 7″ (Drawing Room)
If you’re going to simplify the packaging to the point where a colored dust-sleeve doubles as the cover, you better deliver the goods musically. Thankfully, we’re safe to proceed here, as Brooklyn’s Family Curse make up for any cardstock shortcomings with these two artful-punk interpretations. “Julia Armant” feels like vintage Monorchid to me, from the pairing of a klutzy bassline with slick guitar and vocalist Erick Bradshaw’s nonchalant sneer. He babbles when the time is right, and sings Julia’s name in the chorus with notable feeling. “Last Days” travels with the speed of John Cusack trying to drive away from an earthquake, sounding like a less-shrill Popular Shapes, and preferring warehouse parties to legal venues. This is what punk rock sounds like when kids grow old without growing out of touch – we need to support those who come out the other end with nary a fedora or pair of creepers.
Friend Collector Friend Collector LP (Terra Firma)
Ah, so this is what that guy on Facebook with 2,536 friends has been up to. Whoops, my mistake! It’s actually the latest band from some of those guys from The New Flesh, who will forever be “New Flesh guys” to me, even if they end up joining Mumford & Sons. No signs of that happening anytime soon though, as Friend Collector are just as gnarly and strained as The New Flesh, and on record, superior. The New Flesh were a tidal-wave of ugly bodies live, one of my favorite live bands of the last decade, but they never put out a record to match that intensity – Friend Collector’s Friend Collector seems to come closest. The guitars are distorted, squeally and distressed, and the bass and drums pound together like angry twins in a fight, but it comes with a clarity and thickness that The New Flesh never managed to capture. The vocals are great, too – seems like whoever is singing gave up on even pretending to scream actual words on some of these tracks, just kinda gargling and howling his way through them, and it totally works. “Least Offensive Option” is probably the Drunks With Guns-iest song that any neo-noise rock band has written, and it’s pretty perfect. Wasn’t feeling Pfisters, that other post-New Flesh band, but Friend Collector have kicked up a real gratifying mess with this debut.
FRKSE Guilt Surveillance LP (Divergent Series)
Second full length effort from FRKSE, and a stark improvement on the first. I feel like this guy (whoever he may be) reached a lot of the same conclusions as Andy Stott, Demdike Stare and the Blackest Ever Black label, but totally on his own, like he figured it all out while watching TV or going out to grab a six-pack. It’s haunting, gauzy, foreboding electronic music, but without any techno pedigree or European mindset – it’s too raw and direct, sounding like Guilt Surveillance was put together on a Windows 95 desktop and a digital four-track on its last legs. Almost reminds me of that Nihiti album, but without any emo or Altered Zones affectations, just short, gritty grooves that creak like old floorboards and stink like mold. The deeper I dig into this album, the dirtier I get, but it’s a fulfilling endeavor for sure. Not sure where you can pick this record up, but whatever effort you expend in attempting to locate Guilt Surveillance will surely be worth it.
Gold Crowns If Looks Could Kill / Moonshine 7″ (Founding Fathers)
Here’s the debut release from both Philadelphia’s Founding Fathers Records and Philadelphia’s Gold Crowns as well. Never heard of Gold Crowns before, so I found the hand-scrawled “NO-FI” written on the center sticker to be particularly misleading – this is smooth, ’60s slow-dance music that will make your Republican parents finally think highly of you. The vocalist has a precious, tuneful voice that matches the basic “girl group” instrumentation like a cummerbund does a bow-tie. I kinda feel like Marty McFly at the Enchantment Under the Sea dance when listening to Gold Crowns, though… perhaps if they weren’t anchored to such a specifically dated sound, I might recall bits of Lavender Diamond in these two tunes. Not my thing at all, I’m more of a Gerogerigegege kinda guy myself, but who knows what you might be into…
Impalers Demo 7″ (Beach Impediment / No Way)
Five nice cuts of denim n’ leather hardcore from Austin’s Impalers, originally released via demo cassette back in 2010. Right off the bat, Impalers remind me a lot of Destino Final, which is a positive attribute for any band: Impalers play heavy, steamroller hardcore with simple-yet-powerful drumming and vocals that echo like they were sung into a cave of vampire bats. They dip a bit deeper into the Motorhead / Celtic Frost aisle though, riding metal riffs on d-beat hogs and tearing up the asphalt. At least one of these guys has to be a bartender, another screens t-shirts for a living, and the rest are either unemployed or working part-time at a record store – you can’t sound this grizzled and hold down an office job. (I am probably incorrect, as there are only two guys listed as band members, although there’s a confusing live photo of a full band playing at what is obviously Beerland in Austin, but credited as 924 Gilman in 1986 on the back cover… I’m stumped.) I’m generally not a fan of the “demo reissued on vinyl” maneuver, but the existence of this Impalers 7″ is entirely justified.
Joint D≠ Strike Gently LP (Sorry State)
Not sure if Brain F≠ are done or what, but guitarist Nick Goode has gotten things going with Joint D≠, another melodic, fuzzed-out hardcore group with a fondness for obscure ASCII characters. After the first spin, it was clear that Joint D≠ is more to my liking – the riffs are urgent but clearly defined, borrowing from a variety of classic influences without falling into any generic sub-genre. I hear bits of The Dicks and Really Red with touches of heavier hardcore (maybe even Gauze or SSD), and the probably inescapable influence of the first wave of Sorry State (Direct Control and Government Warning). It comes together to sound like some of the stronger tracks off any volume of The Master Tape, and without that mushy “the album sounds like one long song” vibe that turned me off of Brain F≠. These guys should work out a deal with Joint Damage and see if they can tour together – the material on Strike Gently has the potential to convert a number of hatchet-wielding juggalos into Void-worshiping punk rockers. I see miracles like that every day.
Kicks The Secret / The Return Of The Action Men 7″ (540)
540 Records has been valiantly reissuing the entirety of the Savage / Shake Records discography for reasons that only a sociopathic record nerd could understand. This is the sixth release, and the first to pass through my door – I still have this unstable belief that I will eventually procure original copies of all of them (anyone want to trade a Young Identities for my 2001 Nissan Sentra?), but I checked out this Kicks reissue anyway, what might be the least-immediate single in the group. You can tell the teenagers involved in Savage / Shake had “matured” by the time this single came out, leading to moodier, slower riffing and a sense that nuclear war wasn’t just a threat but inevitable. That’s not to say Kicks seem remotely political, just less joyous and silly than their earlier cohorts. This did come out in 1981, when The Sex Pistols were a forgotten punch-line and The Birthday Party were just getting started blowing minds, after all. If you jump into this reissue series with this one first, it might be difficult to ascertain the charm, as Kicks are pretty subdued and serious here, and if someone called them mediocre, I wouldn’t hold it against them. With that caveat in mind, I feel like the whole Savage / Shake discography flows so wonderfully that they’re all integral links in Australia’s punk-rock chain, best enjoyed right in a row… Kicks are certainly no exception.
GG King Joyless Masturbation 7″ (Total Punk)
“Joyless Masturbation”, eh? I guess I’ll have to take GG King’s word for it on this thrifty new Total Punk single. Hadn’t checked in with GG King’s solo work before (although I enjoyed his prior band, Carbonas, at least through their second album)… figured it was gonna sound like Gentleman Jesse with chest hair or something, but instead, GG King sounds like the full five-piece punk band that this recording features. “Joyless Masturbation” is a pretty tight a-side, consisting of little more than a repetitive catchy chorus, but punk rock doesn’t need much more than that to thrive if done correctly. “Bag” is just as catchy, something about stuff getting put in a bag – who can’t relate to that? It’s a pretty great record, the more I think about it, certainly doing the Carbonas’ legacy justice by getting dumber and more-refined rather than “growing up”. It’s like King sold his dollar store to buy a Hooters.
Joe Kusy Popcorn Salamander 7″ (Founding Fathers)
If the name Joe Kusy isn’t familiar, you might be aware of his other group Far-Out Fangtooth, a band whose music I don’t particularly enjoy. If Far-Out Fangtooth sounded more like this solo 7″, however, I’d probably go catch them live on purpose, as this single exposes a much more unique and catchy sound. Unlike many solo indie/punk recording artists, Joe Kusy leaves me with a good taste of his personality on Popcorn Salamander, and he’s pretty damn likable – he’s wacky without getting annoying, silly without being immature, and most importantly, just a fun guy to listen to. I heard these songs once and wanted to hear them again right away, and the way he sings the title track pops into my head all the time. There’s a sort of trippy, Banana Splits-y vibe to these songs, but that seems like an unintended byproduct of Kusy’s personal psyche rather than a conscious decision. Could go for a little more Joe Kusy-style psychedelic fun in my Far-Out Fangtooth, that’s for sure, or at least more solo records like this.
Lakes Crossed With Leaves 7″ (Quemada)
Sure, it says Quemada on the label, but this Lakes 7″ sounds like it was forcibly removed from the hands of Blind Prophet, Elián González-style. I know they’re from Australia, but time and place are irrelevant when it comes to music this Death In June-y – it’s such a specific sound that if you told me Lakes was actually Group Doueh performing under a different name it still wouldn’t change the way I hear it. Pretty sure I enjoyed the LP, and I’ve enjoyed Crossed With Leaves, too – their parameters are clear (probably some sort of strange Stonehenge-esque altar) and Lakes serve them well. Nothing wrong with a little pagan acoustic storm-cloud folk from time to time, and while Lakes offer nothing remotely new, they make me feel slightly less foolish for wearing all black all the time. It won’t be the prize of your collection, but if you’ve been sticking with the Quemada label so far, there’s no good reason to skip this one…
Looks Like Miaou Looks Like Miaou LP (Bon Voyage)
Sometimes it takes a French band via an Australian label to make something mediocre, as is the case with Looks Like Miaou’s debut LP. I’ve seen the tag “no-wave” used to describe them, but it seems like that term is sometimes used to mean “annoyingly amateurish” without having to come out and say it, like a distro carrying the record doesn’t want to say “this sucks”, so they say “ehh, umm… it’s kinda no-wavey” instead. I don’t know, it’s far from the worst thing in the world, but Looks Like Miaou meanders like Cheveu lost at the mall trying to buy cigarettes, lacking any spark or inspiration. It’s like listening to Sonic Youth on a Walkman with only one working headphone – why bother? I suppose there’s a fine line between greatness and mediocrity here, as French group La Ligne Claire make lemonade out of their meager lemons in what feels like a very similar scenario to Looks Like Miaou. Some people just got it, others don’t.
Lovehandles Handled 7″ (West Palm Beotch)
If you drop a snow-cone on the hot summer pavement and stare at it long enough, you might accidentally end up peering into the dimension where Lovehandles exist. This is syrupy, hazy DIY-garage type stuff that sounds like it’s ready to barf, the various instruments and voices slathered in cheap effects. I generally prefer this style to have some sort of menace behind it, like at least an angry guy shouting somewhere in the background, or some sort of spiteful looped feedback in the mix, but Lovehandles are too sun-baked to divorce themselves from anything but inebriated, beachy fun. They kinda lose me with that; pop can start to stink if it’s laid out in the hot humidity for too long, and none of the songs here really slam home a chorus that I’ll hum in my sleep. Even so, it’s not always about the music – I feel like a remake of Dude, Where’s My Car? starring Lovehandles and Sic Alps would go over pretty big… watch as they wake up and realize a split 7″ was released, but can’t remember who put it out!
Mad Nanna I Made Blood Better LP (Negative Guest List)
Third month in a row with a new Mad Nanna record to talk about… for a group with seemingly zero interest in playing music, they sure play a lot of music. Seriously, they seem even more suicidal and lonely on I Made Blood Better than before… makes Jandek seem like the charismatic life of the party when Mad Nanna crawl into the opener “Deck Song”. Don’t get me wrong though, Mad Nanna are best when they’re decrepit, tired and irritable, as they certainly are here on this surprisingly lengthy album. And while Jandek only needed his own approval to release his music, somehow Mad Nanna features five band members. It just amazes (and pleases) me that five people would agree to turn out an album this morose and unlistenable, that the entire jury would be in agreement here. I actually had the second side of the album playing while involved in an argument and it made what could’ve been a simple conversation far worse. Few can pull it off like Mad Nanna can, which is why I keep coming back.
Martyr Privates Bless / Native Son 7″ (Bon Voyage)
Pretty cool-looking single from another cool rock band out of Brisbane. I just realized that I’ve been mistakenly referring to them as “Martyr Primates” in my head, but it’s an excusable mistake – this trio struts through their rock music with the same natural ability as a neanderthal clapping stones to make a fire. “Bless” is almost the exact same song as Kurt Vile’s “Good Lookin’ Out”, strumming hard on one perfect note with a rhythm that goes back to The Rolling Stones and even further to Robert Johnson – this is some time-tested stuff. “Native Son” sounds like a Wooden Shjips / Circle Pit tour cruising down the highway with sunglasses on; classic, simplistic and self-assured. Not much about Martyr Privates really sticks out as uniquely their own… these songs are really good, but they belong more to the pantheon of rock n’ roll than any one particular band – Martyr Privates didn’t unlock some new code, they just tapped into the wellspring of rock music that’s been here for decades. If you’re feeling it though, who cares? These riffs belong to all of us.
Merchandise Children Of Desire LP (Katorga Works)
Been eager as hell for this, the second Merchandise album. These two (let’s make it three) Florida boys jolted me with their debut album (Strange Songs) In The Dark, but it all seemed so diary-honest and unstable that the promise of another stunning full-length was too much to wish for. Forget that – Children Of Desire is a grand new step from what is probably my favorite pop group going today. I always thought vocalist Carson Cox had a pretty sweet Brandon Flowers / Julian Casablancas amalgam voice, but Children Of Desire has me thinking he’s the next Morrissey, at least if anyone cared to seek such a title out. He sings freely and with less distortion, like he’s shed whatever self-consciousness he was dealing with previously and learned to embrace his own person, bruises and all. It doesn’t hurt that these are some of Merchandise’s catchiest tunes to date, guitars riffing less in a post-punk manner and more like Johnny Marr (check “Time” and “In Nightmare Room” in particular). These are melodies that elicit screams from the crowd when the band goes into them, and I worry I won’t be able to contain such excitement myself the next time I see them play. And even in the midst of such pop perfection, Children Of Desire comes with a weird, lo-fi-Springsteen intro song, and two tracks over ten minutes’ length, one of which morphs into a kraut-rock party jam – Merchandise haven’t stopped doing whatever the hell they want, surely letting Scion and Apple go to voicemail when calling up for licensing deals. It’s such an engrossing listen, but it didn’t take weeks to figure out – the first time I heard “Time”‘s opening riff I was hooked. If this somehow isn’t my favorite record of the year, it’ll be a damn good year for music, that’s for sure.
Mi Ami Decade LP (100% Silk)
After downsizing to a duo, Mi Ami’s Damon Palermo and Daniel Martin-McCormick seem to have gone big on their own too, as Magic Touch and Ital respectively. Cool to see that they’re keeping the Mi Ami magic alive for another album, even as they continue to venture further from music that requires bringing your own amps to the club. If there’s a guitar on Decades, I’m not hearing it – this is slightly-bent house music that reminds me of Move D & Benjamin Brunn’s excellent Songs From The Beehive album, or Kyle Hall when he holds a funhouse mirror up to Theo Parrish, with the often disconcerting addition of Martin-McCormick’s utterly tuneless vocalizing. I think it worked a little better for me on Dolphins… maybe he was just calmer then, or his vocals meshed better with the rudimentary Omar S-ish beats they were pushing at that time. Regardless, opener “Horns” sounds so much like Tim & Eric’s “Doo Dah Doo Doo” (the “now think about your dad!” song) that I’m a little too distracted to think of anything else. The rest of these four lengthy tracks follow a similar pattern, construction an electro-house framework and draping esoteric synths and spaghetti’d vocals over top, bouncing off Italo-disco (and regular disco) whenever the situation calls for it. Gotta spend a little more time with this one, as I’m sure it’ll click a little harder with repeated listens, but honestly I’d rather go swimming with their Dolphins or peep that Ital album than reach for Decade right now.
Nomad Nomad 7″ (Katorga Works / Toxic State)
New York’s Nomad pay tribute to Japan through sound and word on their debut self-titled 7″. The guitar feedback kicks in before I even drop the needle, I swear – just hold this record close to any audio playback device and the static starts to swirl. Pretty straightforward homage here, worshiping at the altar of Confuse, LSD and all the other spiky bristle punx that came before them. It’s essentially a half-step below a cover band, but I can’t blame anyone wanting to replicate this style. You can’t go wrong with this sound, but at the same time, no one really needs more than two 7″s (maximum) from any band who delivers such a textbook interpretation as this. Still, these four tracks made my brain drip out my nose, so we can all consider this one a success.
Planetary Assault Systems Remixes 12″ (Ostgut Ton)
Planetary Assault Systems has produced a vast amount of music in its fifteen-year existence, but what truly amazes me is that no matter if I’m following the newest material or checking out some old Peacefrog release from the late ’90s, it’s all fantastic. I knew there was no conceivable way this new EP with remixes from Silent Servant and The Black Dog could be anything less than stellar, and I wasn’t wrong – it kicks off with Silent Servant’s remix of “Bell Blocker”, and it’s a particularly lush take on the Sandwell District sound. The bass and random percussion bits are all heavy and wide, as if the studio didn’t have any drums or cymbals less than six feet in diameter, and as is often his wont, Silent Servant drops this unnerving clang that sends chills down my spine even as I’ve come to expect its presence. The Black Dog takes hold of “Beauty In The Fear” (great title) and squeezes its juice with a mighty fist. I love the mix of punchy acid bass and what sounds like stereo-jack feedback along with the usual cavernous, imposing ambiance. Sounds like a rattlesnake slithering up a spiral staircase after a couple minutes, and I find myself surprised to say that The Black Dog has one-upped Silent Servant in this battle. Really though, there are no losers here: Remixes is a success-story for everyone involved (you and I included).
Bryan Lewis Saunders Near Death Experience LP (Erratum Musical)
Oh God, it’s this guy again. With his last album, spoken-word gremlin Bryan Lewis Saunders straight-up gave me hives with his in-depth polemic on bedbugs, and now he’s back, talking rapid-fire about scary topics that no one with clean hands and sane mind would dare to broach. He covers a wider swath of horror this time around, kinda drug-heavy, but still capable of making an institution as American and safe as “the store” sound like a Clive Barker horrorscape. Saunders loses me on the one track where he just alphabetically lists drug names (he’s far too cerebral to waste his time donking me on the head with a big list), but makes up for it with the variety of (non-)musical accompaniment on Near Death Experience, from the usual post-industrial detritus to what sounds like a Load Records band clattering away on their rock instruments in the background. Oh, and it’s a gatefold album with all the type reversed, further contributing to my vertigo. I probably shouldn’t own two Bryan Lewis Saunders albums – which one should I keep? Actually now that I think about it, I’ll just leave both of them here and move out. Bad juju like this is not to be toyed with.
Scraps Secret Paradise 7″ (Disembraining Machine)
Scraps follows her Classic Shits album with three new tunes care of the thoughtfully-considered Disembraining Machine label. I dug the precocious, privatized synth-pop on that album, and Scraps’ approach has yet to deviate – these songs are sweet with substance, dripping a Casio glaze over loopy beats and rib-sticking vocal melodies (the wordless vocal hook of “Secret Paradise” is particularly gooey). It’s a well-worn conceit, the whole bedroom twee-synth thing, but from listening to these tracks, I get the feeling that she probably started with like a couple dozen songs for possible inclusion on this record before narrowing it down to these three. These tunes are just stronger than most, and as I find myself really digging on that Rad Racer-esque arpeggio that closes the single on “Simple Mind”, I’m certainly ready for more.
Sensate Focus Sensate Focus 10 12″ (Sensate Focus)
Debut release from Editions Mego’s house-oriented side-label, Sensate Focus, is a beaut. If they didn’t already give it a “10”, maybe I’d have to! Both tracks call to mind Luomo’s busy, twirly house music, where melodies double-helix past each other as the beat remains firmly in the 4/4 region. Everything seems to flutter, from the synths to the hi-hats and various vocals that appear towards the last couple minutes of “X” and through most of “Y” (which may or may not be broken up into two separate tracks themselves). There’s no doubt an intellectual mind is behind these two sides of vinyl, but he or she never negates the fun that can be had with modern dance music. Could’ve easily fit in with prime-time Perlon artists circa 2008, but it feels appropriate for today’s end times just the same. Comes with a pencil if you order it direct from the label, so those too shy to dance can sketch those who aren’t.
Sky Needle Rave Cave LP (Negative Guest List)
Hmm… I came to love the Negative Guest List label for their no-frills, no-pretense attitude towards meaty rock music, so I’m wondering how this Sky Needle album slipped passed security and out their door. Rave Cave sounds like the moment everyone doing the whole “New Weird America” thing snapped out of their hypnosis and were like, “wait a minute, why am I playing an old violin poorly while my friends moan into microphones and bang on pots?” I’ll give Sky Needle credit for getting a decent recording, as the sound here is pretty clear and well-defined, it’s just not something I’m going to willingly listen to very often. It’s like that eighth Avarus LP – probably fun for the group to get together and perform, but entirely unnecessary as a physical product sold to the public. I think Sky Needle went so far as to write actual songs here (at least they seem more defined than the usual weird-folk improv groups), they just aren’t particularly enchanting or enjoyable. Maybe Australia just hasn’t had their fill of this stuff like we have here in the States? I swear, for a while there you couldn’t go to a Nautical Almanac show without at least two Sky Needles fumbling around beforehand, making sure you don’t get a decent night’s sleep before work the next day…
Stripmines Crimes Of Dispassion LP (Sorry State)
Stripmines offer some incessantly angry hardcore on their awkwardly titled Crimes Of Dispassion LP. What does that even mean? Anyway, if you’re anti-racist, anti-society, anti-capitalist, and looking to supplement your daily Muay Thai routine with more than just creatine, this is the record to help you reach maximum performance. It’s down-tuned and brutal, but cleanly recorded, so you can listen on headphones without getting annoyed. If you know an Integrity fan who tried to get into Youth Attack, but was turned off by all the feedback, lack of chord progressions and frequent black metal influences, Stripmines is probably the best thing for them. Vocalist “Matt” looks like he’s about to beat your ass in his insert portrait… it’s Mona Lisa-esque in the way his gaze follows me around the room, ready to stomp me down for having a 401k or going to church. Lucky for Sorry State, it’s a cool album, because if he asked your label to put out his record, what are you gonna do, tell him no?
Tacocat Take Me To Your Dealer 7″ (Hardly Art)
Taco Leg, Tacocat… there’s gonna be a shortage of ground beef and shredded iceberg lettuce if this indie band-name trend really takes off. I wonder what the connection between cutesy naivete and Mexican food is, as both aforementioned groups share a sort of sweet, wide-eyed optimism, resulting in a gentler, friendlier form of punk rock. Tacocat, however, take the more timely and predictable route by sounding like a mix of Tiger Trap and Best Coast, even nailing the “we have a case of the munchies and love cute kitties” aesthetic in their art and lyrics. The Etsyfication of punk, perhaps. Nothing wrong with these four songs though, even if a Saturday Night Live sketch written to parody the genre would probably come up with song titles like “Cat Fancy” and “Spring Break Up”, both featured here. Before I go any further critiquing these cute, carefree, fun-loving young people who spend their time playing rock music, I’m going to end this review, lest my “old man yells at cloud” status be confirmed.
Tokyo Storm Warning High Times At The Black Eye LP (Mind/No Mind)
Sometimes it’s just nice to finalize a project with a highly-limited vinyl pressing… it adds a refined sense of closure to any band, possibly the finest form of documentation mankind has created. I was ready to show my solemn respect to Tokyo Storm Warning and move right along, but after a listen, I’m confused as to why this little-known Cleveland punk band from the mid ’00s hadn’t already hit wax. Featuring Family Curse, This Moment In Black History and Neon King Kong members, Tokyo Storm Warning were another tuneful, driving punk band in the vein of those that came before. They sound great, and hit that weird sweet spot where I wouldn’t be surprised if High Times At The Black Eye came out on either In The Red or No Idea, like it’s poppy and youthful sounding while still cutting into some mean garage-punk. Not sure if it was just the harsh environs of Cleveland that kept Tokyo Storm Warning from being heard, or if I was just severely out of the loop in 2004, or if they themselves just got high and played Playstation 2 all day, or what… perhaps we’ll never know, but this crudely assembled LP makes for a fine closing statement regardless.
2562 Air Jordan 12″ (When In Doubt)
Whether intentional or not, 2562’s music is pretty gimmick-heavy these days, from sourcing Fever‘s base recordings from his dusty old disco records to this new EP, created from field recordings in Jordan. While I was disappointed with the lack of slam-dunk sound effects, Jordan is a pretty vivid place to transform into post-dubstep techno (or whatever you want to call it), and 2562 makes short work of it. Think Sublime Frequencies gone techno – children play in the street while strange percussion is quantized into loop form and random men shout through bullhorns. Not a heck of a lot of bass here, and it sounds like everything is sourced from field recordings, not just a loop or two – I get the sense that the snare hits are probably an old woman flapping a goat hide or something equally unique. “Jerash Hekherken” is the only wild-card, an esoteric think-piece that is probably what Demdike Stare would sound like under the scorching daytime sun. 2562 is doing his own thing, for sure, and while I certainly enjoy it, I hope he understands that he still owes us a basketball-themed record next. So many dribbles and squeaky sneakers, just waiting to be sampled…
The Von Zippers Nothing Can Bring Me Down 7″ (Lemon Session)
Here’s another Lemon Session, this time from the dubiously honored “Calgary’s greatest garage rockers”, The Von Zippers. I dig the Tom Bagley cover art – looks like some smelly hipster in front of Beavis and Butthead’s couch, and the songs come with a similarly goofballish level of fun. Both tracks are classic garage covers, and being familiar with neither, I can’t compare The Von Zippers to the original artists, but I can commend their choices. They’ve both got some prominent yet tasteful organ that leads them through some party-time garage rock… kinda sounds like Mudhoney celebrating someone’s birthday. Not sure I’ll remember to put this one on too often, but if The Von Zippers came through town, I’d probably have to make sure my wet bar is locked and my porno mags properly hidden.
The Zoltars Should I Try Once More? LP (Sundae)
There’s a seemingly endless array of nerd voices out there, from puberty-creaked teenagers to computer-science over-pronunciators, but some nerd voices sound really cool, like the person is so fascinating and peculiar that you’d happily sit down and listen while they read the classifieds out loud. That’s how I feel about the main guy in The Zoltars, a sleepy-eyed, Austin-based rock group who make no bones about the holes in their pockets and tears on their cheeks – this vocalist clearly has been stuffed in more than one locker in his day, but there’s a complexity to his sadness that I want to figure out. Their songs are simple and dreary… if Should I Try Once More? was an Easter candy, it’d be one of those hollow chocolate bunnies that lingers in the basket. It’s a good sound, one that has definitely grown on me, and one that I certainly don’t often reach for (I’m thinking somewhere between The Clean, Nada Surf and Kepler, although my vocabulary of morose indie rock bands is limited). It’s rainy and unseasonably cold right now, and The Zoltars seems like the perfect bunch to commiserate with.
Zulus Surgery 7″ (Lemon Session)
Fans of modern short-lived punk bands take note – from the ashes of Battleship and Teenage Nightwar come Zulus. The Pacific Northwest seems to have no shortage of bands that pound out their punk rock all mid-paced and heavy-like – might be the A Frames effect, or simply something in the coffee. Zulus are pretty cool – “Surgery” sounds like Karp slowed down from 45 to 33, pounding the drums hard, with the locked-in stomp of a soldier’s march. B-side “Demons” has a similar feel, but with reverb-drenched guitars and a slightly friendlier approach that has imagining me No Age at the gym. Would be nice to hear more from Zulus… they seem to have found a pretty nice sound for themselves, but knowing the way these bands seem to go, I’m sure I’ll be telling you about the new ex-Zulus band in four months. If only all bands could afford Metallica’s therapist.