There’s been some good ones, and some really bad ones, but I think Excelsior just might be my favorite
band to ever come from the city of brotherly love. If you haven’t heard them, which is surely
the case for most people out there, do yourself a favor and find MP3s or used vinyl or something –
they wrote these gnarly, catchy rock songs that were as thick as they were punk, like if The Monorchid
signed to Man’s Ruin but not without completely offending all art-rockers and stoners first. Their
social alienation is palpable, from the ridiculous Dungeons & Dragons artwork to the stories they share
below. I recently met the drummer Rod, and bumped into the bassist, Ryan, for the first time in what
might’ve been ten years, so I figured it was time we talked. It’s a long one, so if you don’t like it,
suck an egg!
How did Excelsior get started? Did you guys all know each other beforehand,
or come from other bands or what?
Rod (drums): Excelsior got started in the fall of 1997, in South Philly, in
a literal and figurative dark, dank stankhole. This hole was a basement that was
shared with a dude that lived there named Dan Gill (of early ’90s radical punk band
Kitschchao), who released some music on Brian Dilworth’s Compulsiv Label. By this point,
Dan was teaching us the ways of depravity, drugs, and drinking. We asked him if we
could build a practice space in his room, next to a soiled mattress. He would bring
girls down there, and a few times, other strange dudes would bring girls down there…
It was the nastiest of spaces, but perfect for broke losers to fulfill their unbridled,
Tim (singer) and Chris (guitar) were in another band that recently broke up, Goodbye Blue
Monday. They were emo, I was not into them, but they were swell dudes. I was in a couple
of mediocre bands that year with guys from Fracture and True Hi-Fidelity. Ten Gun Sloop
ended the year previous with me, some of those dudes, and Atom (of Atom And His Package).
Then we formed into The Sickness for awhile, minus Atom and including Jesse Boz (Fracture,
Vexers, Mountain High), Dave McCall (True Hi-Fi, Clockcleaners’ 1st bassist), and Brad
Thompson. The very moment The Sickness ended, Chris and I started playing some tunes, with our high school friend Justin on guitar as well. We were listening to heavy music at the time, and
plenty of rock, punk rock. One day Tim was bored and said “I’ll sing for ya’.” We didn’t
hear a word come out of his little bearded face for almost a year.
At this time, we didn’t have a bass player. We got another Fracture dude, Jeb Bell, to
play bass when he was around. We recorded some demos with him, and wrote some weird,
frantic songs that did not make any sense. For our first show at the First Unitarian
Church (then run by The Cabbage Collective: Bull and Joe), we didn’t have a name. The
flyer read “Tim and Chris and Rod and some other Philly Folks…” We played a few more
times around, and at Stalag 13. At about our third of fourth show, we decided to throw
a party at our new house in West Philly. We got a keg of cheap, domestic brew. Before
we knew it, we were wasted and sucking terribly. Our bass player, Jeb, had a paper bag on
his head and wasn’t plugged in, but he was sure flailing about like a spazz. That’s when
things got wild… our friend Ethan (our album cover artist) shaved all his body hair off
that day for some reason, and then attempted to suck his own wang, right there in the crowd.
This event did not sit well with Justin’s middle-aged woman-friend. She ran away, and
Justin unplugged his guitar and chased after her. I would’ve let her go, she was lame, and
the cause of Justin breaking his arm at a later date when he punched a brick wall whilst
thinking about how lame she was, no doubt. Soon after this, Jeb was away, and we wanted to
play more. So we got my big fuckin’ older brother to sit in on bass for awhile. He played
in that sick Philly band Franklin. He was a maniac, and impossible, much like me. He took
interest in our band, telling us we were good, and then showed up to a practice after
ingesting some ectasy. He was very enthusiastic! He helped us write a couple tunes, and we
started in with the open tuning. Don Devore, “the mayor” as he was known back then, asked us
to open a few shows for Ink & Dagger. They wore makeup, and tried to screw us out of money
on more than one occasion. Tim confronted Don in the stairwell to the Church after being
shorted once again. Tim said, “If he gives us any less than $100, I’m taking him down.”
Unaware of our ultimatum, Don gave us $90. I think Tim spit on him and called him a phony,
but I can’t be certain. Roy soon quit, writhing in a heap of manic-depression and paranoia,
and then left us holding our tits in our hands at a recording session. To this day, we
are arch-enemies. Ha. Here comes Ryan. Tim mentioned he knew Ryan a little bit, and we all
went to Temple together for about a year. Ryan was fresh off the recently disbanded Encyclopedia
Of American Traitors, some hardcore curb-dogs with lots of energy. I have to say, Ryan didn’t
know any of us really, but he came over, learned some songs, and stuck with us in all our
introverted insanity. Tim’s not introverted, he’s a ladies man… the ladies loved his small,
stout little body. Chris and Ryan and I never had any girls around, and most Excelsior shows
were sausage parties right up until the end. Occasionally I’ll run into a nice-looking woman
reminiscing about Excelsior, and I’ll wonder where this girl was amidst all the sweaty man-boys.
Around this time we started writing pretty decent songs, Tim was singing sorta, and we played
some shows here and there, but no one really came out, or watched us. I think we cleared some
rooms on a number of occasions.
Ryan (bass): I had met Tim when some of his other bands back in the day had played in my hometown.
And I would see him when my old bands played in Philly. When I moved to Philly, he was
here, and I would see him around at shows and we’d shoot the shit and stuff. Lo and behold,
I wound up living not too far away from Tim in West Philly. Since Tim and his friends liked
cheap beer, certain drugs, basement punk shows, and other West Philadelphia degenerate
behavior, I began to see more of Tim around the neighborhood, and through Tim, I met Rod.
I was at University when, one fine day on campus, I ran into Tim. Tim told me he had a new
band, and that the tall quiet dude with him was in the band too. That tall quiet dude was
Rod. Not sure if it was called Excelsior yet or not, but I didn’t get around to seeing them
play until they played a show in my basement one sweaty summer’s eve. They had a different
bass player at the time. There were several before I joined the band. My previous band had
called just called it quits, and one night, probably while drinking forties on an abandoned
train bridge or somewhere equally romantic, they mentioned that their band was looking
for a bass player. I didn’t know those guys too well, but I said, “Hey, if you need anyone,
I can play bass.” And it went from there. We had other mutual acquaintances and such, but
I can’t remember if Rod and I really hung out before Excelsior, or if my induction into
Excelsior was when we first started to hang and actually interact. I do remember hanging
at some bar on South Street that let underage kids drink, and talking to Rod about hopping
trains to NYC. When I tried calling him to make the plan, I couldn’t reach anyone (this is
in the old landline days). He told me later that his phone had been disconnected for
non-payment. That trip never happened… Anyway, I’m sure we were in the same place at the
same time pretty regularly, but Philadelphians are pretty awesome at interpersonal
interaction and self-introductions and stuff like that. Joining Excelsior is pretty
much how I met the rest of the band.
How did you guys settle on your sound? That first LP is a pretty strange rock
record, especially when considering the popular styles of the time (crusty punk, emo,
grind-core, youth-crew hardcore)… Was there any sort of initial plan for what
Excelsior were going to sound like?
Ryan: Hmm, coming into the group a little later, I feel like at first there was more of
a melodic-yet-angular, DC-ish dual guitar thing going on with Excelsior. Not sure if
any recordings of this exist. It was good and “rocked”, but wasn’t as heavy. Less “musical
muscle”, perhaps? (That sounds like an insult, but isn’t meant to be. It just wouldn’t be
right to say “prettier” about Excelsior.) Circus Lupus was a pretty good reference point
for those early days. I know there was a rehearsal early after I signed on where a song was
being written or re-worked, and the idea of Jesus Lizard type bass and drum interplay with
slide guitars making noise overtop was bandied about. It sounded pretty cool when we did
it – heavier and more raw. Justin and Chris were really into old blues guitar players (Son
House, Charley Patton, etc.) at that time, so they were pretty used to playing with slides
and open tunings. Once we heard how awesome those guitars sounded coming out of the Marshalls
all tuned down and opened up for the slides, it just fell into place, and we started doing
everything, more or less, in that tuning. I feel like that was a pretty pivotal moment in
developing our sound. And Rod’s oversized bass drum, the envy of many a player, definitely
played its part.
The early days of that were so dumb live, though – we didn’t have many songs, so our sets
consisted of some songs in standard tuning, others in slide tuning. We definitely maximized
audience boredom with our between song tuning and re-tuning.
If memory serves, that first record was kind of a bridge between the pre-slide tuning phase
and the later, beefier stuff. I don’t think the first record is all slide tuning. That came
with the second record. And maybe I should go back and listen to the first record. I’m
intrigued by this “strange rock record” of which you speak. I’m just going by memory here.
It’s been years. We weren’t the only band to come out of the “serious” punk scene who decided
it was way more fun to just try to rock out.
Rod: Ryan hits it pretty good there. Before he started playing with us we were kind of
wimpy, unable to settle on a sound, heavily DC influenced… The Jesus Lizard, AmRep bands,
Melvins, Karp, Touch & Go, and AC/DC definitely played their part once Ryan stepped in. You
can hear some of those weird demos and early tunes on the Hot Shit Sandwich discography, minus
the last record (on Planaria Recordings). The first record (on Broken Glass Records) was
strange, and very sloppy. Bad sounds rear their ugly head on the vinyl, but it sounds a bit better on that discography. We couldn’t quite nail our ideas in the studio. I do remember playing
those pseudo “rock” riffs with tongue firmly in cheek. Sorta making fun of it at times,
getting wasted and laughing at how retarded riff-rock and solos can be… but then realizing
how riffs can rule, and how the emo, hardcore, and other sounds of the time could be
way too serious. Mixing all that together with the open tuning and heavy rhythms. First
record side-note: Phil Leone (of Broken Glass Records) showed up to Chris’s apartment to meet
us and talk about putting out a record. He entered with no less than Philadelphia punk
stalwarts Richie Charles and Sean Agnew; I think they were helping with the label at that
point. All three of those dudes helped us out more than we gave them credit for at the time.
When I say “strange rock record”, I’m thinking of a song like “All American Lover”,
which is some sort of weird silly dungeon dirge. But anyway, around that time, were
there any contemporary bands you felt some sort of kinship with, either musically or otherwise?
Ryan: I would venture to say that we were too drunk, introverted or socially awkward
to have much “kinship” with anybody… I know that I was coming out of a band that was very
much of the whole late ’90s political noisy screamy hardcore scene. And when I met up with
the Excelsior guys, they very much were not. So it took a little adjustment for me, because
I had a somewhat different musical background/vocabulary. But I think we all had some common
ground in loud rocking grooves and older punk stuff, to varying degrees. There was always a
lot of Melvins, Minutemen and Monorchid in the van. And who was that band that sang “Steve
Albini Fucked Pac Man?” They were on a lot, too…
Our existence as a band seemed to coincide with the whole garage-rock renaissance. So,
because our sound “rocked”, we shared stages with a lot of those bands that thought they
were the new MC5 that were coming out at that time. Those bands all (well, almost all) sucked –
they did not rock at all. If I had a dime for every obligatory Stooges or MC5 cover I
heard back then… If anything, I think it made us more antagonistic than kinship-seeking,
and far less interested in what was going on at the time. It kinda fit hand in hand with
our whole Planet of the Apes mentality, which is probably where our sound came from – the
desire to rock but not revert to typical sped-up rhythm n’ blues-type rock forms. Or maybe
we were trying to be Chuck Berry, but just sucked at it… Not so sure any of us cared
about much contemporary music, at least as far as the underground/independent rock vein
went. I only seem to get into bands after they have broken up. Maybe Skull Kontrol or the
Tight Bros first 7″? They were on a lot around the house. Actually, looking back at it,
that might make a lot of sense. Early on I would say a band that we had a bit in common with
was another example of a band that also emerged from the mid to late ’90s HC/punk/emo world
to play rock music to no one in basements – Hacksaw (ex-Chokehold). We did two or three
little summer tours with those guys, often with our bands taking turns as performer and
audience. Who else? Q And Not U? Oh wait… Other than that, it was Philly bands like The
Chickens, When Men Hug, Band Of The Hand, and the Pittsburgh gang, bands that were our friends,
who rocked, and who always made for the best times ‘cuz it was all of our friends just going
nuts for each other.
I just went and looked up “All American Lover.” I believe the working title was “The Pirate
Song.” Came about just by dicking around at a practice, trying to coax something new, something
cool out of the guitars, by just playing and seeing what happened. We were amused. The
idea was for it to be a warm-up tune, a tune to open the set that went into something else
that was faster and louder, kinda like how it goes into “Captain Broadshoulders” on the record.
But I don’t think we ever adequately rehearsed “All American Lover”, just decided every now
and then to pull it out of the hat. And so it usually was Shambles City whenever we tried it
live… drink tickets also helped speed along that outcome.
What do you mean by “Planet Of The Apes”?
Ryan: It wasn’t a sci-fi thing for me at least – I have still never watched one of those
movies in its entirety. “Planet of the Apes” was our term for a certain bunch of folks in
town at the time who seemed, to us, to espouse some pseudo-mod retro-rock bullshit, thinking
they were full of “soul,” but they were mostly full of smack. A few of them had Small
Faces-type hairdos, which we thought looked much like the hairdos on the apes in Planet of the
Apes movies. Hence the record insert (second 12″?). Don’t know if you were around the
Philly scene much at that time, but if you need an example, check out any Delta ’72 show from
around 1999 that may be on YouTube. That should give you an idea. Also, I have no idea why
we hated on that scene so much – maybe because we couldn’t afford stylish hair products?
Rod: Ha, “Steve Albini Fucked Pac Man” is a Sockeye reference, best band ever. That first
record, Battle Dudes Unite, was rife with dungeon-y pirate, messy punk stuff. Trying to be
funny while trying to be serious was definitely not a new thing, but we’ve always been fans of
bands that didnt take themselves too seriously. Sockeye and even Karp comes to mind. A little
Monorchid, too… Reviews would mention them alot as a vox comparison, but I think Tim shed
that a bit by the second record. DC bands, Baltimore bands, Candy Machine, The VSS, Lungfish,
we traveled all over to see them multiple times. But we didnt have any kinship with anyone,
we were kinda “hard to approach”, I’ve been told – standoff-ish, but not because we thought
we were awesome. On the contrary, no one wanted us to play anywhere. It was hard getting shows
in most cities, even Philly at times, so we just played in our basement for the first two years
or so. All those “rock” bands came in a little later. Yes, as Ryan says, most were not good,
not even worth talking to. I’m thinking The Mooney Suzuki as one case in particular. Bands
like them, buncha’ turkeys. Friends’ bands that were around at the time were way more fun to play with. Oh and that CD is actually mis-labeled somehow, “All American Lover” is actually a different
song, but who cares, the vinyl has the correct listing.
I feel like you guys really beat all those rock revivalists to the punch, and put them to shame.
But it’s never the first band to do something that gets the credit, it’s always the squeaky-clean
second or third band to come along doing it. Anyway, the second record I feel like is your watershed
moment, and about as flawless a Philadelphian punk record as YDI’s Place In The Sun. How’d you get
hooked up with Belladonna out of Florida – weren’t they putting out Palatka records and screamy
stuff like that?
Ryan: I don’t think we had anything to do with a rock revival. At all. We never had any
intention to unabashedly ape anybody’s sound unless it was an acknowledged cover song, of
which we didn’t do many. There were a lot of bands that just wore their copycat schtick as
a point of pride – hey, we sound like The Dead Boys! We sound like The Dictators! We sound
like the MC5! etc… Perhaps because it was slightly before Napster, and just before everybody
with a computer knew everything about every band ever, some of the very blatant influences were
still not as well-known to the young’ns, and thus weak-ass bands could get away with a revival?
I mean, The Stooges were the best. And if you had never heard The Stooges before, but some
band was doing their songs and riffing like them, and you heard and saw that, you would think
it’s pretty awesome, right? At least until you hear The Stooges. That’s what happened…
Anyway, I don’t think we really had anything to do with reviving anything – except for broken
down vans or passed out band members… Sorry. Longwinded. Does that make sense? Did you
even ask anything about that? I have no recollection how the Belladonna thing came about. Rod?
Rod: I feel like we somehow straddled the tall grass area in-between the rock revival thing,
and more underground punk stuff of that era. I think that’s sorta why we couldnt get any shows; people
didn’t get it or something. We would play weird shows with straight-edge and hardcore bands, just
because our former bands dabbled in some hardcore. The response was usually mild. When other “rocking”
bands would come around, we would play with some of them. Some were awesome, some were try-hards,
but we just didn’t care to dress well, or worry about our shtick on stage… We sorta just stood
there, and tried to play well, and if the crowd wasn’t into it, fuck ’em. Our few friends would
always show up and we just played for them. Don’t get me wrong, playing live means you want people to
watch you, and take something away from the experience, or have a good or bad time at least. But
after three years, I think the whole touring, playing live thing turned us even more cynical…
We just honed our tunes, and played. Jason Teisinger was the man behind Belladonna; I
believe he played in Palatka. He put out some Florida bands and others. He said he saw the ridiculous
record cover for the first record (Battle Dudes Unite) and checked it out. He thought the
strange semi-rock, semi-punk, semi-stupid jams on there were worthy, I guess. Nobody else was
knocking, except Troubleman, but he just blew smoke, and jerked us around. Still a phony to this day
I hear. So we played a show down there with The Dillinger Escape Plan, Converge, and a few others.
Those bands did not care for us, and we did not lose any sleep over it.
Jason wanted to put
out a record, and he had an affiliation/distribution thing with No Idea Records, so we recorded six
tunes with Terry Yerves, gathered up some more art from Ethan, made it look awful, and there it was. I
do think that record is the best. I like the third almost as much, but the second record (The Land Of
Enchantment) had some kind of strong fuel in there. Early twenties rage and insanity probably.
I feel like your Dungeons & Dragons-style artwork totally predated the underground scene’s
interest in mythical monsters and that sort of thing. And also they looked outrageously stupid,
which I loved. How did you get the entire band to go along with artwork so heinous? I love it,
but I feel like there had to be one guy that wanted something normal-looking.
Ryan: I got more enthusiasm about that first record cover than I ever heard about the music
contained within, especially when we still had the felt covers available.
Rod: At our first punk house in West Philly, I lived with five or six other derelicts, one of
which was the ‘unsung hero of making art like an eight year-old before anybody else did, hands
down’. Ethan Montgomery, a very humble man, super talented artist, and one of the most hilarious dudes
you will ever meet (same guy as the self-fellatio incident). That first record cover was an Ethan
original, a giant painting hanging on our wall. One day me and Justin were sitting below it, crushing
brews, thinking about album art and how it can really make your record seem ultra-lame if it’s real
bad. “That” he said, at Ethan’s painting. From that point forward, Ethan did all our covers, Justin
(who is a great artist as well) did some of the other art, and I filled in the pieces. Everyone
else was surprisingly on board. All of us did some art on at least one of the records…
So did most of your shows usually involve some sort of hairiness or drunken mishaps? I saw you
perform an in-store at Double Decker Records in Allentown, and remember hearing something about
you guys stealing a U-Haul to drive to the show?
Ryan: I don’t recall our shows being too fucked up by drunken nonsense, etc., I think we
usually controlled that until after we put our instruments down. The exceptions would probably be
house shows, or every now and then at The Khyber (where it feels like we played almost weekly).
There were certainly a few house shows where we may as well have all been playing different songs.
I remember a basement show with Rod turning to me between songs and asking “Dude, what song did you
just play?” (thanks to Mr. Keg and Mrs. Whiskey), but those shows weren’t really meant to be artistic
showcases, anyway. And The Khyber was always so nice to us with their abundant drink tickets (and
not checking bags to see if we were bringing in our own booze). And the shows always started way
behind schedule, which gave us a lot of extra time to kill.
What do you mean by hairiness? I mean, there were mishaps aplenty. A non-stop string of ’em. Not
really drinking-related, though. Most probably due to us being socially retarded and lacking interpersonal
communication skills. And shitty luck. As for stolen vehicles – Rod, I think this is your cue for a U-Haul
tale most excellent…
Rod: Yes, we were all social retards. Again, the exception was Tim, but he didn’t want to be
band leader, so I took the reigns. I think we broke up, or someone quit the band at least every six
months. Tim quit at least four or five times. Each time I turned on the tractor beam, and told him
how much we loved him and needed him to stand there, with his back to the audience, and yell
and scream lyrics about how much working, jobs and “The Man” were keeping us down. We did get wasted
quite a bit, but never too much before playing, mostly it was all our close friends and
housemates that would instigate stage diving and pseudo-moshing, heckling us, heckling the crowd.
A lot of this spazzing out, drinking and drugging heavily (mostly just reefer) came about from an
Anti-Squares mentality running through our veins. Many of our friends & acquaintances, and
bands of the time, had a little bit of the edge, or preachy about how and when to get wild, how to
have fun. Judging everyone along the way. We were tired of it, didn’t give a crap about some bullshit
scene that has an unspoken set of rules. Having fun in our basement was our pushback against
everyone who thought our music was lame, and our attitudes sour. Anyone who wanted to join in was welcome,
just as long as they curbed their square and sensitive ideas at the door. Of course, we were also as incredibly stupid as we could possibly be.
But here is a story of those two worlds colliding… We did “borrow” a large 20-foot box truck
from this art handler/mover almost all of us worked for at some point, and that truck was borrowed
again for a night of infamy at Swarthmore College. We had just played a handful of shows with Q And
Not U and Turing Machine around the East Coast. We had another show to play with Q And Not U at
Swarthmore a few weeks later. Up until then, we had been on our best behavior, But this time we loaded
up the box truck with fourteen of our closest friends, a couch, and copious amounts of alcohol.
We pulled up to the college, and our friends spilled out of the back of the truck like a ton of bricks,
completely flam-basted, raging, and ready to party. Luckily for them, there was a frat party right
across the way. There was free food, and drinks for the bands, but our friends began helping
themselves to everything, mostly the beer. Q And Not U seemed to be getting upset, although, let the
record show that they did not drink a drop of alcohol at that point in time. Ethan flipped over the
food table like a crazed maniac. We played, caused a ruckus. Beer cans everywhere, stuff flying off
the balcony, wrestling in the pit, etc… As soon as we were done, “the dudes” tried to get in
to the frat party. The frat was not having it, so they broke in through the basement window.
Everything was great for a few minutes, then the frat boys’ incredible intuition kicked in. They
realized that some of the dudes partying were not their own, and
soon there was a
brawl about to be had, but these frat boys werescared and wimpy. Nevertheless, we decided it best
to load up and roll out to another rager back in the city at the R.U.B.A., so everyone climbed
aboard, I backed into something large, thought nothing of it, and burned out of there as fast as
possible. All of this melee took place during Q And Not U’s set. They were not amused. I tried
to explain that judging us based on the actions of our friends was not the way to go, but they were
not hearing it. We almost didn’t get paid, and to this day, the best quote of the night was from Q
And Not U: “We can forgive, but we can’t forget…” Yeah.
So what brought about the end of Excelsior? Do you think the band ended too soon, overstayed its
welcome, or died right on time?
Rod: I guess we sort of self-imploded. I’d say it was perhaps a few shows too soon… It seemed
like right the moment we broke up, all of a sudden people were into it. The third record, Can We Get
Some Satisfaction Up In This Piece?, came out exactly the day we broke up. Touring on that record
would’ve been rad, but it was not to be. We came back after a year-and-a-half “break-hiatus” to
play a bunch of shows, which was pretty awesome, but did not last. I think we’d all like to see all
these records available on vinyl again. The third record never came out on vinyl, so that would be
swell. Maybe some dark brown vinyl… gatefold cover. And the other two are out of print, available on
the Planaria CD, but more vinyl would be nice. Got lots of really good live footage that would
be great to let loose as well, including a rare fourteen song set, and some 4524 Pine Street basement
shows. Anyhow… blah, blah. Playin’ in bands.
Ryan: There was some sort of final blow-up that I missed out on, if I remember correctly.
Nothing really exciting like someone screwing someone’s girlfriend or anything like that. It might
have had something to do with Tim playing synths and singing since the electroclash thing
was getting hot — just kidding. As we have probably made rather clear, our outstanding social
graces and superb communication skills put the nail in the coffin more than any one incident. I
remember at the time feeling that it was a relief. I had heard from various sources that people
were starting to give a shit about Excelsior after that last CD, but when we played those post-hiatus
shows, other than in Philadelphia, I sure couldn’t tell that anything was different – more
shitty shows for nobody all across the USA (well, I lasted as far as the east coast…). I still
think it ended at the right time. Why torture ourselves?
American Snakeskin Turquoise For Hello 12″ (Janitor’s Closet)
American Snakeskin were yet another short-lived group that came out of that whole Cult Ritual / Merchandise axis of Tampa-based punk rock weirdness. Sad to know I’ll never get a chance to see American Snakeskin grow up (they left us far too early!), as they managed to carve a distinct little sound for themselves on this EP… it’s like if cold-wave sat around watching Breaking Bad all day. They play slow because it’s just too hot and arid to move fast, the guitars jangle like Slaves with a Morricone fetish, and the singer speaks with a quiet toughness that belies his age – I can picture the boy from Blood Meridian playing his part. But no, it’s actually one of those Cult Ritual guys instead. Maybe even Moss Icon fans would dig this (or one of those weirder Vermin Scum one-offs), if they allowed the hippie-dippiness to be consumed with fear of nature’s violence. Snakeskin is cool to look at, but it was shed from an animal that could very well poison you, and American Snakeskin seem well aware of that fact. These folks have probably already started and stopped four other cool bands since Turquoise For Hello was released, and I hope to find out about all those, too.
Bandshell Dust March 12″ (Hessle Audio)
I hope someone besides me is paying serious attention to what Hessle Audio’s been doing lately, because it’s going to take more than one brain to make sense of what has become one of the most fascinating modern electronic labels. I suppose they’re still releasing dance music, and not necessarily in the avant / Raster Noton-esque electronic experimentation sense, but this Bandshell EP is a great example of how unique Hessle Audio has become. “Dust March”, in particular, drives that point home – it’s a slow, barely-there dirge of radio interference and clanging bottles. The track is at once distant and direct, like part of “Dust March” is happening a mile away while the rest is an inch from your face. This could’ve just as likely come out on Vanity Records in 1980; it’s that hard to classify, and it’s great. The three following tracks, meanwhile, could actually be considered some species of dance music. They work familiar dubstep rhythms, but are equipped with a sound palate that consists of air, murmurs, accidental percussion and fuzz. Freaky stuff. Really fantastic EP that doesn’t just run up to the edge of dance music, it falls off into the unknown void beneath. Check out “Dust March” and tell me I’m wrong!
Blues Control Valley Tangents LP (Drag City)
Been excited to hear this new Blues Control album for a while, after being teased by live performances of some of these songs for the past few months. It’s finally here though, and in fine fashion: the art is beautiful (and completely hand-crafted by Blues Control themselves), housed in a back-flapped Euro 12″-style sleeve that they personally designed (not just the art – the actual sleeve itself!). I truly appreciate all this attention to detail, but it wouldn’t mean diddly if the music didn’t back it up. Lucky for us, Valley Tangents is an excellent album, pushing the sound of Blues Control forward into a genre that doesn’t yet exist. The ingredients remain the same (tapes, guitar and keyboard), but they seem to have gotten so comfortable and skillful in this particular set-up that both Russ Waterhouse and Lea Cho find various moments to peacock through these tracks, sharing the spotlight they’ve created. Gotta give the victory to Cho, though – her piano playing is both loose and mathematical, no matter if she’s grooving Peanuts-style or slaying like Eddie Van Halen with his eyes rolled in the back of his head. It all results in something that feels like Keith Jarrett or some other soft AM jazz, but sounds like an undiscovered kraut-rock or Actuel gem that came from the future. I know that Blues Control spent a lot of time making this record, and it was all worth it, as however long they spent making it, I am sure I will find myself grooving to it far, far longer.
Charles Sharp 6 Exits LP (Empty Cellar)
When you’re an avant-jazz sextet, you can either blow it out ’til the windows burst, sit quietly while one of you softly sucks a reed, or compose something interestingly in-between. Charles Sharp 6 take the middle road, weaving entertaining musical personalities into each of these jazz-based instrumentals. Their music generally moves with such purpose and direction that I’d presume most of Exits was predetermined, reminding me a hell of a lot of Barnacled’s last album, Charles (coincidence?). If I ever organized an egg hunt, I’d probably want to put on Exits, as this record sounds like it’s geared toward the sensation of pleasant surprise, the group’s various horns croaking and squawking with the delight of discovery as the basses (there’s two of them) impishly wander the field. Sometimes a dose of playful jazz like this reminds me that tempo changes and hundreds of musical notes can hit the spot just as well as a static black-and-white beat.
Chook Race Chook Race 7″ (no label)
Can’t even begin to guess what a “chook” is, let alone a chook race, but it’s a name that’s stuck with me, and that’s the whole point of a band name, right? I mean how boring would it be if these guys were “The Brood” or “The Veins” instead? Anyway, I’m sad to report that Chook Race’s name is the most exciting thing about them at the moment, as the three tunes on this self-released single don’t do a whole lot. They kinda do that popular Television Personalities crossed with Nuggets style, and while that’s fine with me, none of these songs are particularly memorable. They try out mid-paced, upbeat and slow tempos here, and all three directions are performed fine, if unremarkably so. It’s recorded decently enough, and the singer has an alright voice… there is just nothing here that I’ve remembered after a handful of listens, or would want to tell a friend about. Still, I’d never tell a band named Chook Race to hang it up, just practice and get better, as I’m waiting for the day when I can wear a Chook Race back-patch with pride.
The Christmas Bride Planet Earth’s Motto: Someone Just Shit Out A Perfect Sphere LP (Sophomore Lounge)
So the band is called The Christmas Bride and have kind of a Christmas-themed metallic band logo, with a cover image of an oil-covered guy about to get cleaned by two guys with Youthbrushes on the beach, and then there’s that ridiculous title… there has to be at least fifty inside jokes that just flew past my head and I haven’t even listened yet. The music is far less wacky than the packaging, mercifully – this is poppy punk rock that occasionally swings all the way back to the late ’70s but generally sticks to the ’90s for inspiration. Maybe if The Ultimate Fakebook or The Impossibles were on a “modern punk bands cover classic punk songs!” compilation CD it’d sound like this. I kinda miss the days of crappy melodic-punk sampler CDs, and while The Christmas Bride know better than to ape that sound specifically, their upbeat attitude and quirky music isn’t out of place with that vibe. Songs like “Hey, He Thinks I’m Experimental Gay” and “Ge Rm Ans” (“The Germans are my favorite Nazi punk band” – what?) are Ween-ishly crass, and I guess that’s probably the point. Figure it’s gotta be kinda hard to sell this one to anyone outside of The Christmas Bride’s social circle, but I admire Sophomore Lounge’s gumption in trying.
Confines Some Sick Joke 7″ (Labor Of Love / Side Two)
Confines are back with another well-designed 7″, continuing to wear their political conscience proudly as they put a darkly cynical spin on the usual war-atrocity montage. Wasn’t expecting “Some Sick Joke”, though – it pretty much sounds like Chokehold covering Black Flag, for real. I can picture size XXL t-shirts with sentence-long slogans and baggy Dockers flailing in the pit to this one, neck-beads and all, brought into 2012 only by the gnarly guitar improv and eventual conclusion of the song (the second half speeds up into your standard modern-day brutal hardcore-punk). Kinda wish the whole 7″ was as slow as that first part, but the two ragers on the b-side are great too… the riffs are just complex enough to be unique, and the drumming is machine-precise, rifling through songs that are as musically indebted to No Comment as Urban Waste. I’ve come to expect Confines to do things their own way, and it’s appreciated now more than ever.
Crazy Spirit Crazy Spirit LP (Toxic State)
Now we’re talking, the first official full-length album from New York’s Crazy Spirit. Just as the cover art is essentially the exact same as all their other records, the music of Crazy Spirit isn’t going to convert any non-believers, but for those of us who’ve answered their call, it’s another fantastic slab of raging, snotty hardcore-punk. Some might complain about the use of samples that interfere between songs, but I dig it – from The Crucifucks to Zoinks!, all sorts of punk bands have woven weird/annoying/funny samples into their albums, and Crazy Spirit add themselves to that lineage here, forcing you to wait through random crackly talking and radio static to get to their tunes. I’ve enjoyed the entire experience, as nearly all their songs still feature that locomotive drum beat, and the vocalist still has the voice of a honey badger talented enough to sing along with the melodies of the riffs. They even branch out a little weirder toward the end – I appreciate their occasional use of acoustic guitars (and the insane “I Become A Man”). It’s different, but still undeniably Crazy Spirit, who have quickly become one of 2012’s hardcore groups least likely to be forgotten by 2022. Bravo!
Cynarae Cynarae 12″ (A389 Recordings)
Many might associate the Pacific Northwest with grunge and wimpy indie-rock, but I swear there’s a specific strain of metallic hardcore just as deep in the soil out there. Cynarae are the latest to plow that field, skipping out on the frills of tricky time-changes and intricate guitar solos for a pretty standard serving of angry metal-core. It’s down-tuned, thick, and workmanlike, somewhere between The Swarm, Brutal Truth and early Converge, but without the recognizability of those three. Grind parts to satisfy the heshers, and karate-worthy breakdowns for the Eminem-lookalikes in the pit. Perhaps the most notable thing about Cynarae is the weird trick they’ve played with the b-side, where you can hear to the entire a-side backwards (and nothing else). I usually appreciate frivolous wastes of vinyl, but this one kinda irked me, because really, who is gonna want to hear that for even ten seconds? It’s just a waste. A decent EP overall, just not a particularly memorable one – the genre has pretty much been perfected at this point, after all. Cynarae are gonna need more than a gimmicky b-side to stick out from the rest of the crowd.
Dragon Turtle & Eric De Jesus Dragon Turtle & Eric De Jesus 7″ (La Société Expéditionnaire)
Nice little collaboration single between two Eastern PA notables, the ambient-improv group Dragon Turtle and punk-rock hippie artist Eric De Jesus. On this 7″ single, the group slowly swirl up some loop-pedaled bliss, like a homespun Emeralds, or perhaps a Pennsylvanian Dutch answer to the Pop Ambient compilation series, while De Jesus talks about West Philadelphia in the late ’80s over top, an era that seems to have so deeply affected him that he manages to bring it up in nearly every conversation he has. His calm delivery kinda makes it sound like some sort of alternate-universe emo, as if Moonraker or Don Martin Three found inner peace through heavy meditation. I kinda wish De Jesus’s voice was louder in the mix, as it’s frequently difficult to follow his words among the pastel swirl of Dragon Turtle, and I enjoyed his prose when I went to the label’s website to read it. Even so, I can feel the dandelion seeds blowing freely in the air when I put this record on, which will never not feel good.
Exit Hippies Part 2 7″ (Detonate)
So damn pissed to find out that I missed Part 1 before realizing it even existed, and trust me, I try hard to keep up on new Exit Hippies happenings. I guess Detonate only pressed 100 of each part so far, and damn if I don’t feel like a big enough Exit Hippies fan where I should be entitled to have the chance to at least purchase their records. Angry complaining aside, it’s music like Part 2 that has me so riled up in the first place – there is only one Exit Hippies, and they somehow seem to be getting better with age. Two songs on the a-side, “Check Your Motherfucker” and “Register”, and they sound like tenth-generation dubs of the SOA’s No Policy and the Napalm Death / SOB split blasted inside a metal tank, so trebly and fuzzy that my ears grew more hair in an attempt to protect themselves. B-side “Butchers”, on the other hand, sounds like Atari Teenage Riot’s first practice, assuming they broke up within the first five minutes and in their haste forgot to turn the machines off. This is aesthetic perfection, and I will make it my mission to be even more vigilant so that no new Exit Hippies material escapes my grasp.
Father Murphy Anyway, Your Children Will Deny It LP (Aagoo)
Before I’m even finished reading the wordy song titles to Anyway, Your Children Will Deny It, there’s a tension in the air. They’re just one of those groups that aim to provide discomfort, the musical equivalent of being cramped in an airplane’s middle seat. Minor chords are creepily strummed, schizophrenic vocals take issue with your presence, and some songs spiral out of control while others only hint at the madness they conceal. I’ve read that Father Murphy tour with Xiu Xiu, and while the similarities are glaring, I’m not sure I’d want to see more than one band do this sort of crazed delirium in the same evening. I’m not even really sure I want to hear Father Murphy too often anyway, as there is little explanation or apparent reasoning for the high drama of their music, and without an understanding of why Father Murphy are so unhinged, some of their outbursts (songs) are too random to leave any residual impact. Still, I’ve only read the lyric sheet once, and there are surely some people who live to crack the code of bands like this. Not a bad listen, particularly for anyone who enjoys the occasional pebble in their sock.
Daughn Gibson Lite Me Up / The Mark Of A Man 7″ (Dull Knife)
You might as well trust my review of Daughn Gibson like you’d trust a mother’s review of her eight year-old daughter’s piano recital, but I didn’t release this record, I just loved it since the day it was born. 2013 is gonna be Daughn Gibson’s year, but before all the big stuff really pops off, he casually dropped the official summer jam of 2012. That’d be “Lite Me Up”, a sexy waltz that sounds like Chris Isaak throwing an orgy DJed by Jimmy Buffett, the moist moment recorded and looped in Ableton. Daughn’s horny, and it’s a salacious track that no mortal can resist, man, woman or any conceivable combination of the two. The b-side’s also about sex, but from the naive view of a bumbling virgin son – Gibson plays out the scene with the comedy and tenderness it demands, the music softly shuffling along and playing the part of the protagonist’s winking father perfectly. It’s a quick single, showcasing two more sides of what Daughn Gibson has to offer, and I truly feel sorrow for any American deprived of hearing “Lite Me Up” before the pools close for the season. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!
Girl Unit Club Rez EP 12″ (Night Slugs)
Girl Unit put the Night Slugs label on the map with his streetwise combo of thuggish American hip-hop bangers and brainy European house music. Tracks like “Wut” and “IRL” nearly had me appreciating Internet-speak, as they are instantly recognizable hits among a sea of Girl Unit contemporaries. I was excited for some new rousing bangers on Club Rez, but Girl Unit doesn’t make it so easy for me – through these six cuts, Girl Unit prefers to tease me with the beat rather than drop it on my skull, anvil-style. Opener “Ensemble (Club Mix)” is the closest thing this EP gets to a populist hit, taking its “do you remember the ’80s?” vibe and plowing a line through the room with club-ready bass. The rest of the EP is Girl Unit messing with unintuitive beats and irregular patterns, like Oval remixing DAF and Billy Ocean or something. It’s cool, but I don’t come to Girl Unit for post-modern experimentation, I want to hear something that Diplo would blast at a festival hosted by P Diddy. Maybe Club Rez is just Girl Unit playing with new ideas, and that’s fine… I just can’t wait until he gets back to writing music that sounds like Lil Jon’s “Get Low” as performed by The Egyptian Lover.
Hissey Miyake / Terrible Truths split 7″ (Bedroom Suck)
Very appropriate pairing of two dancey post-punk groups, sort of a modern answer to the Slits / Pop Group split from way back when. Hissey Miyake reference a fashion designer, feature “Mai Gryffydd” and “Lei Gryffydd” on bass, guitar and shared vocal duties, and offer a pleasant-if-simple take on a funky, early-Rough Trade sound. Maybe if The Rogers Sisters listened to a lot of Pigbag? They’ve certainly got cool names going for them. I was more excited for new Terrible Truths material, and while a novice ear might think this 7″ featured the same group on both sides, Terrible Truths aren’t as taut and minimal as Hissey Miyake. The tunes are still geared for dancing, but the guitar swings loosely, and their vocal interplay is more advanced, sounding real sweet with that dubbed-out bass groove. Cool split for sure, but I’m just getting antsy for a Terrible Truths album at this point. Can’t be too long, right?
Hoax 2nd EP 7″ (Youth Attack)
After a notable debut EP, Hoax are back on the prowl with this much-delayed follow-up. It’s every bit worth the wait though, as these four songs (initially available as a West Coast tour EP that my lonely East Coast self was unable to procure) are just as memorable and mean as anything off the first, even “Faget”. The opening riff in “Down”, for example, is one of those hardcore moments that will withstand any hype and eventually be considered classic – it sounds like bruises, and if you saw the singer live, it looks like them too. Hoax have really come into their own sound here, stomping through proto-black metal riffs (think Von or early Hellhammer) and playing them with the marching pace of classic street-punk and violent hardcore. And somehow, even though the vocals are entirely barked or growled, I’m able to understand the lyrics, which has led to singing along with lines like “suicide pact / pull the fucking trigger” and “skills / death / skills or death” in the comfort of my own home. I recognized these tracks from their live show, which speaks to the catchiness of their grim and nasty hardcore-punk. Hopefully Hoax are getting paid big-time for this release, so that the singer can finally buy the helmet he so desperately needs.
K9 Sniffies Rawsonville / The Mask 7″ (Urinal Cake)
You ever try coming up with band names, agree with your bandmates on something good, only to later research it and realize there’s already a band using that name? That’s a disappointment I can’t imagine the K9 Sniffies ever faced. I dig their sound, though – “Rawsonville” is dare I say what Mayyors would’ve sounded like if they attempted big heavy psych-rock. The drums flail in a locked groove, guitars burn and lift-off like Spacemen 3, and the vocalist hollers unintelligibly with long breaks in between phrases (he sounds like he just ate a full meal prior to recording, so I can’t blame him). It’s over in what feels like an instant, so I raced to “The Mask” on the flip, which is probably the best Jim Carrey-inspired punk song I’ve ever heard (just kidding, I don’t know for sure – no lyric sheet). It’s just as thunderous, but maybe a little punker, to say that pogoing wouldn’t be an inappropriate audience response (unless you’re the only one doing it). Both songs essentially take one riff and pound it out for two minutes or so, and while it’s hard to really go wrong doing that, K9 Sniffies do it really right. Another tasty urinal cake indeed.
Mad Macka Adidas Tracksuit 7″ (Swashbuckling Hobo)
Real strange single here that I still don’t really understand… it’s like everything about it is a joke, except for the music. The band name and logo recall No Limit Records circa 2001, but then there’s a funny guy in, well, an Adidas tracksuit ready to fight on the cover, while the back cover is a Photoshop nightmare brimming with bad font choices… I’m already exhausted trying to make heads or tails of Mad Macka and I haven’t even spun the record yet. Surprisingly, “Adidas Tracksuit” is a pretty fun rock song, like The Scientists covering The New York Dolls, hi-fi garage rock that welcomes everybody into the room. Their interesting “aah-dee-DAAHS” pronunciation has stuck with me too, although I’m still pretty sure the way I’ve always said it is right. The b-side is called “Bored!@rics”, and while I’m annoyed that text-message typing is seeping its way into rock n’ roll song titles, it sounds like The Scientists moved on to covering Turbonegro here, which honestly also sounds pretty good to me. If these guys release their next 7″ with just a plain white dust sleeve, not even their band name on it, I’d probably dig that one a lot, but for now I’m not sure I can take any more of their non-musical creative ideas. Good band but I have to draw the line somewhere.
Mauser Isolation EP 12″ (Vinyl Rites)
Seems like there’s at least one quality Japanese-inspired hardcore band within 100 miles of any major metropolitan area these days, and that’s no complaint! Mauser are the Southeast US affiliate of this sound, and like Nomad and Brain Killer and Bloodkrow Butcher and Vaccuum and about a dozen other good-to-great hardcore bands currently in existence, they bring a thunderous d-beat backline to noise-laced guitars and throaty vocals. The cover art reminds me of something Crow would use, with the picture of a spiky-jacket punk with a horse skull in lieu of a human head, and that image basically fits their sound and style, too. I appreciate the usage of the 12″ EP format here, as seven songs and an intro is pretty much the perfect length for a release of this kind, and the spacious vinyl real-estate allows the needle to properly soak up all that bass and rumble. I don’t hear anything in Mauser that particularly sets them apart from the pack, but I’m not necessarily in need of a group to re-invent heavy noisy crust; sometimes it’s best to stick to the script, and Mauser execute it with excellence.
Meat Thump Box Of Wine / Feel Good 7″ (Negative Guest List)
It’s impossible to listen to Meat Thump without considering the sad and untimely passing of its leader (and Negative Guest List editor-in-chief) Brendon Annesley, but I’m gonna try my best to judge this single on the merit of its music, just as I’m sure Annesley would’ve wanted. This is my first time hearing Meat Thump, and while the name had me expecting some sort of shambolic Brainbombs-esque punk band, Meat Thump are a far more relaxed affair. The name’s only one word off from Meat Puppets, and the music’s not too far off either… “Box Of Wine” sounds like it could’ve been an outtake from Nirvana’s Unplugged In New York, if one of the stage-hands grabbed the mic and started muttering his way through it. Contrary to its title, “Feel Good” on the b-side is even bleaker, as if this sextet was either about to fall asleep or just waking up during its performance and pleased with neither condition. You can tell that Pink Reason left an impression on these guys, just the way all these instruments moan and groan somewhere between a grunge ballad and a Vertical Slit demo. There’s an undeniable sadness here, on multiple levels, only mitigated by the peaceful feeling Meat Thump have left behind.
Neon Blud Discotheque Deathbed 12″ (Vinyl Rites)
My only prior exposure to Neon Blud was their Whipps EP, which I found to be a fine, unremarkable serving of noisy indie-punk. They’ve done a lot since then (even a VHS?), and now I’m concerned I need to do some serious backtracking, as Discotheque Deathbed is a killer EP, and one of the most unique things I’ve heard out of the punk underground this year. It’s hard to describe, but how about this: Public Image release their debut album on Gravity Records, with John Lydon replaced by some nervous talker who runs his voice through a broken Echoplex. It’s as if Antioch Arrow went on to release a fourth album, still obsessed with vampires and Bauhaus, but now messing with disco beats and even longer songs, too. I was expecting these tracks to fly by, but it’s a pretty long EP – Neon Blud sound great, and are in no rush to blaze through it, burning up riffs and simmering hypnotic dub in equal measure. I probably would’ve crapped my pants if I heard Discotheque Deathbed ten years ago, but even in 2012 I had to quickly rush to the restroom. Recommended!
Pleasant Living Pleasant Living 7″ (A389 Recordings)
From various long-standing Maryland hardcore groups comes Pleasant Living. The “ex-members of Trapped Under Ice” listing certainly perked me up a bit, but there’s nothing trapped under ice about Pleasant Living – this is Warped Tour-style punk with a slight street-punk edge. Basically, take any of Good Riddance’s slower songs, add at least 800 pounds of gang vocals over every chorus (tunefully song, not shouted), and you’ve got the perfect group to open for modern-day DYS when they come through town. The Dropkick Murphys clearly resonated with a lot of people, and it seems like Pleasant Living are going for a similar deal – Fat Wreck Chords-esque pop-punk concealed by the fact that legit tough-guys are playing it, with songs about being down on your luck and drinking at the bar (or both). I don’t spend much time with this sound, and it’s probably the height of uncool for some of you YGR readers out there, but Pleasant Living do a fine enough job with it. Some dock worker in Baltimore no longer has to look to a Boston group for inspiration and guidance, so that’s something, right?
Protect-U Motorbike 12″ (Planet Mu)
Like many of their electronic friends, Protect-U jump from their DIY empire Future Times to greater fame and fortune with Planet Mu. Been waiting for a new one from Protect-U for a while now, but this isn’t a group that rushes things – they’re more likely to obsess over a certain snare clap for six weeks, then delete the whole track in a moment of anguish, than to dish out a couple EPs a month like some other producers out there. I admire their stringent level of quality, as it shows on a track like “Motorbike”, wherein a Jan Hammer beat intercepts a psychedelic moan to create a sharp and nimble groove. It also features Protect-U’s trademark rhythmic quality – the kick never quite falls where you expect it, or the rhythm completely shifts gears upon the introduction of a new loop or drum machine. Their music is frequently unintuitive, but you can always shuffle your hips to it. It’s amazing that they are able to perform the bulk of their tracks in real time (they even bob heads to the music while all four hands race between keyboards!), but it wouldn’t be as impressive if the music didn’t groove as hard as “Lawndog” does, a joyous and inclusive dance track that feels like Luciano, were he to try his hand at synth-pop. Another great EP from one of the most distinctive voices in American techno music.
Rat Columns Sceptre Hole LP (Smart Guy)
Once the solo project of David West (Rank/Xerox, Burning Sensation, and others I can’t instantly recall), he’s now fleshed the project out to a full band on Sceptre Hole, locking the bedroom door behind him and stepping out into a proper recording studio. After enjoying the various styles Rat Columns previously dabbled in (post-punk, new-wave, ambient, collage, rock, indie, etc), I was ready for anything, but this album still took me by surprise – for the most part, Sceptre Hole sounds like a mid-’90s Midwestern emo-pop record. Take “Ashes Of A Rose” and “Opaque Eyes”, for example: if West’s vocals were strained instead of calm, one could easily mistake these songs for The Get Up Kids or Hey Mercedes. There are still a few melancholy instrumentals here and there, but ultimately this is a poppy emo-rock record that I’d anticipate fans of Mineral and early Jimmy Eat World enjoying. Weird, I know! I suppose you could try to make the distinction that it sounds kinda like something from the Creation Records scene of late ’80s Euro cool-kid pop, but I can’t shake how perfect Rat Columns would be opening for the recently reunited The Promise Ring. It’s 2012, nothing is crazy anymore.
Ruined Fortune Bulls Eye 7″ (R.I.P Society)
If your band is called Ruined Fortune, your 7″ cover might as well look like part of an old treasure map, which is exactly what you get here. The music is cool too: the a-side title track is a mid-paced, sullen rocker that calls to mind a more garage-y Circle Pit (they do that same disgusted-sounding vocal melody) or an early Black Lips tune without the antics. B-side “Hope Diamond” is pretty similar… moderately irritated garage-rock with a big black cloud coming in over the horizon. Not much in the way of hooks here, so much as presence of sound, which is usually bad news for me, but something about the simple cover art and disinterested vibe of Ruined Fortune has led me to give it a thumbs up. By no means a necessity, but if you’re having an R.I.P Society Records night at home, you might as well add this to the stack.
Sensate Focus Sensate Focus 5 12″ (Sensate Focus)
Sensate Focus quickly returns after its debut, stepping down five paces from Sensate Focus 10, although by my ears, both releases deserve the same rating. Imagine Luomo putting together tracks for a Swamp 81 release, and that’s kinda where Sensate Focus is at – shiny, lush keyboards geared for major-label house music edited in the manner of Ramadanman or Boddika, jumping the beat around without ever falling out of pace. As with the first EP, both tracks are named “X” and “Y” (Sensate Focus refuses to make it easy for us, huh) – “X” chops a female vocal into an emotional goo that adheres to the track’s rhythmic base, while “Y” opts for some muffled conversation as its only vocal. “Y”‘s trick is that it ends with over a minute of one single arpeggio effect, ringing in and out as though Sensate Focus was truly fascinated by the simplest of his(?) abilities. This 12” didn’t grab me as tight as the first Sensate Focus release, if mainly because I already knew what to expect, and this is essentially more of the same. Even so, a unique sound is being developed here (even if a good number of modern reference points exist)… I’m happy to continue following along as Sensate Focus slowly counts backward to zero.
Seven Sisters Of Sleep Seven Sisters Of Sleep 7″ & CD (A389 Recordings)
More sludgy metallic hardcore from the A389 label, who seem to be pumping it out at a factory’s pace. I always thought Sleep was pretty hot, so I was excited to see their seven sisters, but there’s nothing really to write home about here – this 7″ sounds like Coalesce, Turmoil, Disembodied and a million similar acts. They’re perfectly fine – the guitars are heavy, the riffs are either stoner-ish or grinding, and the vocals are barked somewhere between Dwid and Rick Ta Life… I just can’t think of any reason to specifically recall Seven Sisters of Sleep from any other lesser-known metalcore group. The gatefold 7″ sleeve with patch, poster and CD insert is a nice touch, but it kinda seems like overkill for a band that is hard to get excited about musically. I wouldn’t hold it against anyone for digging this, I just won’t be seeking out Seven Sisters Of Sleep any further.
Siamese Twins In A Box / Strutter 7″ (Labor Of Love)
Labor Of Love have bestowed upon us those fine Confines 7″s, and as Siamese Twins feature member(s) of Confines along with Ampere and Libyans, I expected the rage level of Siamese Twins to fall somewhere between a 7.8 and a 9.1. As usual, I was wrong, as Siamese Twins are moody, keyboard-free cold-wave with melodic vocals and chiming guitars. Reminds me of The Cure if you want to go big, or Bernthöler if you prefer an obscure reference, but really the Mexican Summer label alone has probably released fifty different bands that all kinda sound like Siamese Twins in the past two years. I’m a fan of the style, and Siamese Twins bring the songwriting to the forefront, with sweet hooks and delicately spooky vocals that almost make up for the lack of a KISS cover on the b-side. They might need to figure out a way to really stand out if and when they release an album, but for now I’ll happily file this single away in my black, velvet-lined, fake cobweb-covered 7″ box (a quick trip to BagsUnlimited.com and A.C. Moore and voila!).
Silent Land Time Machine I Am No Longer Alone With Myself And Can Only Artificially Recall The Scary And Beautiful Feeling Of Solitude EP 12″ (Indian Queen)
That title, jeez… everyone’s a poet! I’ll let Silent Land Time Machine get away with that one though, as there aren’t any lyrics to be heard on this 12″ clear-vinyl EP, just a whole lot of sprawling bucolic sadness. The a-side starts off with the soundtrack to a farm-dog mercy killing, real sad and weepy stuff, which slowly fades into the sound of a distant neighbor mowing his lawn. There’s a lot of empty space on this EP, lots of moments where there’s just dust blowing through dying grass, but it works in the confines of a one-man GY!BE-style project. The b-side starts off like someone freely improvising an AM radio dial inside an old cabin, or some sort of ancient turntablism using only 78s, and it too eventually drifts into a wash of ambient mountain sounds and the rustling of nature’s decay. Just keep reading the title over and over out-loud as the record spins, and see if you don’t fall into some sort of homeopathic trance after a while.
D. Vassalotti Book Of Ghosts LP (Vinyl Rites)
David Vassalotti is one of the two brains behind Merchandise, plays (played?) in Neon Blud, did that solo “()” record on Katorga Works, plays drums for the hardcore group Church Whip, and he still found time to put together Book Of Ghosts, his debut solo LP. If he’s going to school he’s gotta be failing out, and if he’s working it’s gotta be a temp job, as no one can create this much music with any sort of meaningful responsibility in his or her life. And like the rest of the music Vassalotti’s involved in, Book Of Ghosts is an intriguing and thoughtful collection, and certainly more confessional and private than anything else in his catalog. Within these grooves, he offers sad acoustic-pop, drum-machine beats, blurry collage-pieces and upbeat punk rock, and while that smorgasbord seems like the standard formula for most “solo project” LPs these days (pulling at a different home-taped direction for each track), Vassalotti comes at the idea of the solo album from his own peculiar angle, invoking all sorts of obscure literary references and anchoring the whole thing with an exhausted sadness. Songs like “L’incipit” and “L’ange De L’assassinat” are beautifully morose pop songs with hooks that could easily fit in on a Merchandise record, as Vassalotti’s meek warble leads us through his troubled times. I find myself coming back to this one a lot, and even though I enjoy it, that’s not exactly the reason why – Book Of Ghosts is full of secrets and unexplained meaning, ones that I wish to find out even if the truth is horrifying.
Vatican Shadow September Cell 12″ (Bed Of Nails)
It’s easy to tell what project Dom Fernow is most psyched on at the current moment – it’s the one that he released five new things by in that particular month. Right now, Vatican Shadow seems to be his priority, and I can’t blame him, as his rigid and machine-driven industrial techno has been hitting a sweet spot for a lot of people lately, myself included. On September Cell, the first release on his new Bed of Nails imprint (why do so many labels need a separate imprint to release dance music? Why?), Vatican Shadow steps out from the basement grit and into a modern-day studio bunker, revealing a techno sound that’s slicker than any of his previous work. Like all other Vatican Shadow, the songs start and end with the same beat in progress, but these four cuts come with a glossy sheen, feeling more like something that Sandwell District would actually release rather than the many noisy techno artists that claim Sandwell District as inspiration. There’s always some sort of plaintive synth in the background, and the beats in question aren’t just 4/4 thump – they curl like a snake’s skeleton, sharp fangs exposed at one end. I hope Vatican Shadow continues with its hurried release schedule, and that Fernow sticks with the studio where September Cell was born, as with this 12″ he’s showing more than just a knack for predetermining underground trends but a keen musical ability as well.
Ricardo Villalobos Any Ideas 12″ (Perlon)
A new Ricardo Villalobos 12″ on Perlon is always hard to resist, even in light of my growing disinterest in his recent production style. All those recent remixes with Max Loderbauer were a bit too high-brow and arrhythmic for my tastes… I enjoy a good snap crackle and pop here and there, but not over the course of an hour, with seemingly no direction or purpose beyond testing the limits of computer software. Thankfully, Any Ideas sounds like a Villalobos EP that belongs on Perlon. The title track is pretty much his signature sound circa 2007: a swinging, bubbly beat weaves through more sine-waves and hand-crafted tones than I probably realize, somehow constantly changing yet remaining fiercely repetitive. I like it a lot, but it definitely sounds like something towards the end of Fabric 36, where most of his most brilliant ideas were already used, and the party started to ease out of ecstasy’s grip. B-side “Emilio (2nd Minimoonstar)” had me expecting something like the first Minimoonstar, a strange electronic exercise geared for headphone listening, but right from the start “Emilio” plugs in a standard 4/4 beat and lets it roll. It’s not an immediate jam, but I think this might be my favorite of the two, as the sounds Villalobos uses here are just so alien – there’s some sort of tiny robot running across a laminate floor, a futuristic espresso machine is piping up, and I’m envisioning an airport Starbucks in the year 2099 (at least before the track slowly shifts into Sim City sleep-screen music). Villalobos manages to mix his avant-genius with a populist groove again, the reason I felt so strongly about him in the first place. I’m hoping he sticks with this recipe for at least another full-length, but no matter how far my taste drifts from his, I’ll always love him. How can you not?
Vladislav Delay Espoo 12″ (Raster-Noton)
I’ve found myself slowly losing interest in Sasu Ripatti’s output as Vladislav Delay, but kept paying attention anyway. You never know when he’ll clock you with a curveball under any of his numerous guises, and he does just that here with the scatalogically-titled Espoo. The two main tracks are unusually rhythmic for the Vladislav Delay name, but they ain’t no average techno, either. A-side “Olari” is built on a delayed stutter-step groove, like a regular house track refracted through a prism. Ripatti forces the track to evolve, but its lurching structure remains firmly in place, resulting in a captivating near-groove that defies any genre you might try to file it under. “Kolari” on the flip is even crazier – it’s got a gabber beat that must be pushing 170 bpm, pulsing like a strobe that emits sound rather than light, and it builds to a violent rave (I’m picturing a red-faced Klaus Schulze as guest DJ). There are “versions” of each track on here as well, softening their edges into more “regular” dub techno, and they are swell too, but the originals are some of the most original techno I’ve heard in a while. Very glad I checked it out!
Weird Party The Secret Lives Of Men 7″ (Twistworthy)
At first I thought Weird Party released a split 7″ with that short-lived Ray Romano show, and I was kind of excited to hear what his band would sound like (I was expecting a mix of Barenaked Ladies and The Mighty Mighty Bosstones). This one’s all Weird Party though, and they’re pretty fired up – the a-side kicks off with a Comets On Fire-sized blast of noise before they dig into their Southern-fried garage-punk. Maybe if Whatever Brains had an older brother who moved to Austin for college and ended up bartending for the next decade instead of getting a real job, that’d be Weird Party – the songs are thoughtfully constructed, cleanly recorded and filled with frantic swagger. They’d probably crawl over the tables and knock over your beer if the songs ever slowed down, but it’s all so speedy that Weird Party remain on stage, gesticulating wildly. Four tracks here, all good stuff (even the maniacal laughter is well placed), and I’m glad to have once again been invited.
Chris Weisman Fresh Sip 2xLP (Feeding Tube)
Chris Weisman’s Fresh Sip was originally released as a cassette back in 2010, and it’s now received a fine vinyl issue courtesy of Feeding Tube. I like it a lot, and feel like Fresh Sip might not be as good if it was originally intended to be a vinyl LP. There’s something about recording for a cassette that reduces any sort of artistic pressure… who really cares what goes on a tape, you know? Maybe it doesn’t matter to Weisman either way, but over these nineteen tracks he pretty much tries whatever style he wants with careless abandon, and it all sounds really nice and unforced. I had to read up on him to find out that he played in Happy Birthday with King Tuff, and that résumé makes sense, as there’s an undeniable pop charm to Weisman’s songs, sometimes cute and sometimes witty, no matter if he’s strumming an acoustic guitar solo, plinking on a keyboard or jamming in a compact-sized rock band (all instruments handled himself). Tracks like “Saved In Chats” and “Fresh Sip” are instantly memorable fun, but if you let either of these LPs play out there are numerous other moments of pop ingenuity to be discovered. Looking forward to the next double album!
Hank Wood & The Hammerheads Go Home LP (Toxic State)
Of all the Toxic State bands, I’ve always heard that Hank Wood is the one to avoid. Go Home is my first experience with them, and I honestly can’t see why any punk with two fists and a chipped tooth wouldn’t love them. This album is full of mean, explosive hardcore garage, like that live Oblivians record, or if you actually went and saw Candy Snatchers on stage in 1995 (their records could be a little too clean). Mr. Wood sounds downright incensed through these twelve songs, rarely using more than a couple lines of lyrics per song to make his frustration felt. That’s really all he needs – “It’s Hard On The Street” sounds like it could’ve been one of the first Estrus releases or on NYC Hardcore: The Way It Is. How many songs can you say that about? The Hammerheads really do sound like a gang of thugs looking to steal their meals from corner-store snack shelves, and for whatever reason, they decided on blustery garage-punk to get their message across. Maybe if Le Shok weren’t skinny hairless weaklings, but instead calloused Alaskan loggers, they’d sound like this. Seriously, who isn’t on board with Go Home? I love it.
Minutes In Ice compilation CD (Frozen Border)
Nice debut release from Frozen Border here, showcasing the dark and lifeless tundra ecosystem that certain strains of techno thrive within. I wasn’t familiar with many of the names here, but that’s the fun thing about compilations – I mean who would’ve heard of Autistic Behavior or Maniax if not for Get Off My Back and No So Quiet On The Western Front? Some of the more ambient tracks here drift without maintaining my interest, but the bulk of Minutes In Ice is quality Sandwell District / Ostgut Ton-style techno, relying on heavy rhythms, dark synth-pads and relentless motion. I even loved a track by someone named “Funksta”, a name that my brain is programmed to forcibly reject, and tracks by Dean Cole, Skirt and #.4.26 all hit nocturnal techno’s sweet spot too. The shining moment comes as the last track though, from Blawan, the only artist I had already heard – he comes storming through the gate with ten angry typewriters racheting out suicide notes and world domination manifestos, just completely raging and built on a tank-like 4/4 beat. It’s utterly fantastic, and I tip my hat to any artist willing to pass such a strong track on to a brand new label’s compilation. Indeed, a fine reward for anyone who gives Minutes In Ice all the time it deserves.