Of all the hardcore groups I dug in the ’90s (and boy were there plenty), In/Humanity
might be the freshest-sounding group of the bunch. They managed to combine the Gravity
Records scene’s frantic aggression with the brutality of power-violence and the nihilistic
pranksterism of Vermiform into a distinctive and fantastic product. It didn’t sound
like they were trying to play their songs so much as escape from them, as the drums and
guitars played with the speed and intensity of a fiery man running towards a pool. And
of course, they managed to be completely weird, too, releasing a slow-brooding 7″ single
that featured a unique photograph on every cover and an occult-themed final album, not
to mention creating the tongue-in-cheek genre “emo violence” among other gags and tricks.
Vocalist Chris Bickel has been up to numerous things since In/Humanity’s demise, from
the avant-noise explorations of Anakrid to the gut-punching hardcore of Guyana Punch
Line. Below, he provides a little history behind the mystery.
How did In/Humanity get started? Was there some sort of dramatic change that
occured early on? Your first 7″, the Intolerable EP, sounds pretty much nothing
like the rest of the band’s discography…
I was living in a very small town in South Carolina. There weren’t really other people
to play music with. Only a handful of people in the town listened to any sort of punk or
hardcore at all. This kid Paul moved down from Albany, NY. He was really into the NYHC
scene. He was a couple of years younger than me and managed to get a couple of local younger
kids to play with him. We found each other quickly because it was a small town and anyone
into hardcore was bound to find each other. So we first started playing as Tolerance, which
was very short-lived. After some line-up changes, we changed the name of the band to
In/Humanity. It was a weird band from the start, because Paul was into all of this NYHC music
and I was mostly listening to peace-punk. I already had a label at that point, Stereonucleosis,
and had released a couple of Antischism records before the existence of In/Humanity. So
I released the first In/Humanity record, which really should have been a demo tape. It
got crucified in reviews because it was in all actuality terrible. We had sold
half the pressing out during our release party. (By the time of the record release I had
moved to Columbia, SC, which was a bigger town and had a supportive hardcore scene –
despite being terrible, we had a following.) Anyway, we realized quickly that we had put
out a bad record, so we destroyed the remainder of the pressing by gouging symbols and
messages into the vinyl with compass-points. We gave those records away free at our shows.
People seemed really happy to be getting a free record! By the time we were destroying
those records, I had gotten Paul to come around to stuff I was listening to at the time,
like Neurosis and Rorschach and Born Against. He was still not crazy about the older
peace-punk stuff I was into, but those newer bands were appealing to him and began informing
his music writing. We put out a few records after that which were all over the place;
we were still trying to find a sound. It wasn’t until the Gets Killed By Robots 7″ EP that
we sort of came into our own. It was fast and chaotic and discordant. Soon thereafter,
we found a new drummer who was more in-tune with the kind of loose chaos we were looking
to create musically, and then we did The Nutty Antichrist LP which I think is the best thing
we ever recorded.
I would probably agree – if I had to recommend an In/Humanity record to someone, it’d
be The Nutty Anti-Christ. Why do you think your music got progressively faster and more
discordant over time? It’s almost like you went the opposite route of a usual hardcore
band progression, ie. “band starts off fast and raw and gets progressively more slick and
It really had to do with Paul being exposed to more than NYHC. I could probably take some
credit there, but moreover we were playing gigs with all kinds of different bands. I think
Paul soaked it all up, assimilated it, and it came out as In/Humanity. I know seeing bands
like Dropdead, Initial State, Antioch Arrow, etc., had an effect.
Were there any bands you played with that really blew you away? Bands that made you
really want to step In/Humanity’s game up, so to speak?
Bands that had a profound effect on In/Humanity include but are not limited to Merel, Rorschach,
Dead And Gone, Antioch Arrow, Headache, Los Crudos, BuzzOv*en, Spazz, and many, many more.
Not to mention our good friends in Palatka and The End of the Century Party. Their friendship
probably had the most profound effect on us as a band.
I always wondered, after spinning the Southeast Hardcore, Fuck Yeah! compilation 7″ a
million times, if there really was this comraderie / friendship among those bands, or if
it was strictly geographical. Was there really a bond between most (or some) of the bands on
Yes. All of those bands were friends. We all played many shows with each other. Mostly in the
Gainesville and Tampa scenes. Florida had an amazing hardcore scene in the mid ’90s.
At what point did that whole scene “end”, so to speak? And why do you think it did? Bands
just broke up and people moved away, that sort of thing?
I’d say it started slowly fizzling out by the early ’00s. I couldn’t say why with any
certainty. If we need to level blame, let’s go with “the Internet”.
Was it hard to be punk in the ’90s in South Carolina? Was there a constant battle between
yourself and ignorant bigots, or was it relatively calm?
I took a lot of shit when I lived in the small town. It actually pushed me further into punk
as a philosophy. I had moved to that town from Virginia Beach, VA. In Virginia Beach I was
into punk, metal, rap, classic rock, new wave, a bit of everything. By the time my family
had relocated to South Carolina, I found myself more and more drawn to punk because it was
the antithesis of all the ignorant assholes I was surrounded by. High school there was a
nightmare. “My War” probably saved me from suicide on more than one occasion. It was different
when I relocated to Columbia. I was in college at that point, and yeah, there was a bit
of frat antagonization, but nothing too out of control. So there it wasn’t “hard to be a
punk”. But it was hard to sit by and see so much ignorant bullshit going on culturally
and governmentally. That was a constant source of idiocy to be pissed off about. There
still is, but it was certainly worse then. This is back when they were still flying the
Confederate Flag on the dome of the Statehouse. Conservatism is bad enough, but good-ole-boy
ignorance in positions of power is the worst.
I swear it’s almost the norm for today’s high school kids to be into “punk” music, skating,
tattoos and piercings… stuff that was all pretty counter-cultural or shocking in the ’80s
and even ’90s. It just seems much easier to be “punk” as a teenager these days. Do you ever
wish your were born like twenty years later? Or do you feel like the young generation of
punks have it too easy, maybe?
I wish I had been born ten years earlier so I could have been around for the first wave. I
don’t envy kids born today. Access to information is amazing, and I love it, but that
instant access has stifled some of the character building of having to go out into the world
and find the things that interested you. As well as the character building of taking
some abuse for not fitting in.
I always admired the effort and detail that went into In/Humanity inserts and design… I
used to love laughing at the fake advertisement for ridiculous In/Humanity t-shirts that came
with your first LP. Was that all you?
Yeah. The first punk record I ever bought was the Let Them Eat Jellybeans compilation on
Alternative Tentacles. I was obsessed with the poster insert that came with the record. I
spent hours pouring over it. As I got more and more into punk, I was attracted to the amount
of art and information that many bands (Dead Kennedys and Crass come instantly to mind) were
including with their packaging. I knew that when I was finally putting out records, I wanted
to give the audience that same experience. So we would pack a lot into those inserts. I was
always a class clown growing up, so the inserts always had a sense of humor. I’m not sure how
much of that humor holds up today, but at the time we were having a lot of fun with it. Even
though I had no training or business doing layouts, I enjoyed the shit out of doing them. So
I was responsible for most of the artwork and layout for all of those records. Essentially
In/Humanity was Paul writing all of the music, me doing all of the lyrics and art, and then
whatever two other guys were playing with us at the time. The best and longest-running line
up was Paul and I with Ben Roth on drums and Will Zaledeski on bass.
I think the humor holds up really well, actually. And I felt like, as a punk record consumer
with limited disposable income, In/Humanity cared about the records they were selling, that
the inserts and overall presentation really mattered, because not every random hardcore band
had the chance to do an LP, or even a 7″. I kinda can’t imagine a 2012 hardcore band willingly
glueing different polaroid photos to the cover of every 7″, which I guess, to be fair, was a
feat few bands have completed before. Did you feel that the art was as integral a part of
In/Humanity as I felt like it was?
For me it was equally as important as the lyrics. I never thought of In/Humanity as a “great”
band musically. It was more an art package to me.
I definitely see In/Humanity as a sort of nihilistic provocation that followed in the
footsteps of Feederz, maybe, even though the sounds were totally different. Are there any
bands today that you feel like share or continue the spirit of In/Humanity?
I was a big fan of the Feederz, but at the time probably moreso of Frank Discussion’s writings
in the ReSearch Pranks book. I don’t doubt that there are bands carrying forth that sort of
provocative vibe today, but I must be honest – I don’t know of them, and I’m not sure if I
would be that interested in them musically. Part of this is probably Old Person Disease, but
there’s also an element of being bored with the lack of innovation in the last ten years of
the hardcore scene. After a while you stop paying attention even though there could be tons
of fantastic stuff flying in under the radar. I’d usually rather listen to discordant classical
music than punk most of the time anyway.
One of your “hits”, if you wanna call them that, was definitely “Teenage Suicide – Do It!”.
How do you feel about that song some 10+ years later?
I don’t regret it at all. I think it’s still kind of funny. I probably wouldn’t write a song
like that today. I’m not the same person I was then. I wrote a lot of songs about suicide
because I myself was ‘suicidal’. Everytime I wrote a song dealing with it, it was sort of
a proxy suicide. I did that so I wouldn’t do the real thing. I was a little messed up.
Did you get a lot of flack for that? I’d imagine most of the punk scene was into it, and I’m
not sure if the conservative parents groups of South Carolina had any idea In/Humanity even existed.
I know of one girl whose parents threw her In/Humanity record away because of that song. We
met her at a show and gave her a replacement when she told us the story. Other than that,
there wasn’t a lot of flack.
You coined the term “emo-violence” as a sarcastic joke, but people actually took to it.
Were you surprised how that took off? Did you find it hilarious, sad, flattering, or something
I was/am totally surprised by that. I don’t find it sad or flattering. It just is.
The last album, The History Behind The Mystery / Music To Kill Yourself By kind of took a
darker, almost gothic turn, which was pretty unique at the time. Whose idea was it to bring
in violins, and kind of take things in that direction?
Paul and I were both listening to a lot of Eastern European 20th Century classical music at
the time. So we brought in elements that in some cases were ripped off directly from guys
like Gorecki or Penderecki. I wish we had gone further down that rabbit-hole. There are one
or two songs on that album that I think sound like black metal, but we had never heard any
black metal bands at that time.
After you finally heard black metal – what’d you think?
I liked elements of the style, but also found a lot of it musically lazy and tedious.
Was there a true passion for the occult in In/Humanity, or was that all a piss-take? I could
never quite tell.
I’ve had a life-long interest in the occult. It’s legit. But I also take very little seriously.
So there’s a love there, but also a mocking.
Is there any possibility of an In/Humanity reunion tour?
Alaskan The Weak & The Wounded LP (Dwyer / Treaty Oak Collective / D71 / Désordre Ordonné / Shove / Moment Of Collapse)
Good lord… six labels! How does that even work? No wonder people are resorting to Kickstarter these days – it’s gotta be a simpler solution than finding a table big enough for six labels to sit around and discuss matters such as releasing Alaskan’s album The Weak & The Wounded. I had never heard Alaskan before, and was banking on them being straight-edge hardcore with Liam Neeson’s character in The Grey on vocals. Sadly, not quite – Alaskan are a heavy post-hardcore band that lays the emo doom n’ gloom on thick… reminds me of Page 99 if they kicked out three of their guitarists and tried to sound like Explosions In The Sky. The tempo is slow and guided by plenty of frantic tom rolls, and the guitars play those manic Orchid-style riffs that caused so many AOL screen names to reference “Chaos Is Me” back in the day (2001). It’s alright, certainly an entertaining and passable genre exercise, but man, Alaskan needs to find a label that can throw in more than $250.00 for their cause next time… this whole “six label” thing is just weird.
Axeman Arrive 12″ (Darkest Heavy)
Ah yes, the King of Body Sprays himself, Axeman steps out on a long and winding 12″ EP. Axeman is actually another alias for Volahn, whom I recognize as a member of the Black Twilight Circle metal collective(?) and some sort of Bone Awl connection. Clearly he lives and breathes all forms of metal, as Arrive tries out a number of techniques – opener “Arrive” starts in an acoustic-prog forest, hops on a motorcycle down a destroyed road and ends up crawling through the sewer. It’s a three-song 12″ EP, but each track is lengthy and filled with metallic ideas. “Kosmic Death” kicks off the b-side with a tensely demonic riff that eventually thrashes itself into a black-metal seizure… but really, I’m just gonna stop describing each track and instead confirm that essentially every form of corpse-paint-friendly metal, from death to blackened, is represented within Axeman’s sound. Probably a little too epic in scope and technically complex for me, but what am I gonna do, deny the Axeman? That’s just asking for trouble.
Baby Tears Rusty Years LP (Rainy Road / Doom Town)
Hide your beers and lose your fears, it’s Baby Tears with Rusty Years! I thought their 7″ from a few months ago was cool, and this new album expands on that nicely, tapping a keg of dirty, maniacal punk rock and letting it flow. Reminds me a whole lot of TV Ghost, in the way that the bass and drums drive the music and the guitarist and vocalist just kinda cackle and scream over top. Maybe a touch of Mukilteo Fairies when they really get wound up, and as I’m pretty sure these guys were buds with Excelsior back in the day, so maybe a touch of their riff-rock splendor, too? I’ll be honest, I couldn’t figure out if this was a 45 or 33 for a while (neither sounded quite “right”), but I have confirmed it’s a 33, meaning the music is actually burly and grizzled instead of sounding like Crazy Spirit. If any songs in particular really blew my mind, I’d tell you to race out and pick up a copy, but as it’s really just a good sound, my recommendation stays at the “check them out when they come to your town” level. That’s my plan!
Blanche Blanche Blanche Our Place LP (Feeding Tube)
Not only do you get three times the Blanche, but three times the average number of records an artist can produce from Sarah Smith and Zach Phillip’s Blanche Blanche Blanche. They’re up to like four LPs thus far this year, and I’m not exactly sure where Our Place fits into that timeline, but it’s a more restrained, simple affair than Night People’s Wink With Both Eyes. Sounds like there’s never more than one person playing the Casio while the other cutely sings along, complete with lyrics that seem cribbed from ’80s ballads as much as whatever popped into their heads moments before recording. They never dwell on any song too long, which is why the vinyl grooves resemble DRI’s Dirty Rotten album – certainly a positive attribute to Blanche Blanche Blanche, as these little tiny moments of pop are best served fleeting and free. Not sure I need a library of Blanche Blanche Blanche records at my disposal, but I’d hate for a friend to come over, request some, and find myself fresh out.
Blawan His He She & She 12″ (Hinge Finger)
Holy crap… if not the single of the year, Blawan’s His He She & She certainly contains the track of the year, “Why They Hide Their Bodies Under My Garage”. This is techno that Slayer fans would enjoy – the beat is sinister and unflinching, but when Blawan lays down the absolutely astounding vocal hook, all bets are off. When the beat and vocal fully kick in, I expect a crowd of skinheads to run in and start beating people up, ninjas stabbing people in the hallway, robots with guns for arms coming up the stairs and a big-ass Cloverfield stalking the streets outside. I’m talking pure mayhem, from a song so exciting and scary and utterly body-moving that the mental and the physical are similarly compelled to do as Blawan wishes. This track makes me think anyone who says “oh, I don’t like dance music” is a complete and utter fool, for real. And the other three tracks are great too! Two of them are even more grim and atmospheric, but still soldered onto a stainless-steel beat, and the other works another killer vocal hook to a similarly cruel intent. The cover art even looks like the wall of some serial killer’s bedroom, leaving me unsure if I should worship at the altar of Blawan or call the cops on him. A+ 100% slam-dunk top-shelf recommended with a gold star!
Boddika & Joy Orbison Dun Dun / Prone 12″ (SunkLo)
The excellent Boddika / Joy Orbison collaboration series continues, here with two more modest cuts of post-modern house. The first two collab 12″s have been some of my favorites of the year, working with fairly humble means and forcing recognizable dance sounds into brand new positions, all the while ensuring that the beat remains in your head for days to come. “Dun Dun” takes a more sophisticated step forward, but none of the magic is lost – anchored by a confusing vocal snippet, Boddika and Joy O work a swinging beat, increasing the energy until the hands of the crowd have all been raised past their heads. “Prone” is cool too; not quite the same peak-time club shaker, but once again showing a more complex and intricate take on what Joy Orbison and Boddika started doing together some months ago. Keep it up, fellas!
Bronze Age Antiquated Futurism 12″ (Bed Of Nails)
Dom Fernow’s Bed Of Nails imprint returns with a new project from his right-hand man, Kris Lapke. Between the two of them, they’ve got enough aliases for a double CD compilation, and while some might not be worth seeking out, Bronze Age is a keeper. It kicks off hard with “Surviving Cultural Impedance”, an aggressive acid-house cut straight out of 1989 Belgium, the sort of music that the dudes in Prodigy heard at their first rave and had their minds blown by. Killer stuff! Bronze Age quickly mellows with “Coupling Symbols”, a groovy cool-down that could easily soundtrack the ambulance ride to the hospital, uncomfortably riding alongside your overdosed friend. The flip is dedicated to “Modal Ingenuity”, a nice and sinister techno creeper that could be found oozing off Berghain’s ceiling. The analog sound and subtle build reminds me of a particularly angry Petar Dundov track, which is mighty nice from my viewpoint. And just like the Vatican Shadow 12″ on Bed Of Nails, the D&M mastering job results in crystal-clear techno with pulsing bass and distinct grooves; the very antithesis of Ash Pool. Looking forward to more Bronze Age, as it seems every historical period is slowly obtaining its own fine musical representation.
Chickenshit Death In Battle 7″ (Coffin Cut)
This new Chickenshit is actually old Chickenshit, recorded in the ’90s and now widely available via Coffin Cut Records. They were an Australian hardcore band, and I swear to you I would’ve guessed it without even reading the notes – they grind their blast-beats much like Heist used to (frantically and without any keen sense of timing), and they fly through their hardcore-punk with the violent vigor of a pre-dead Rupture. Definitely has that ’90s hardcore-grind recording (warm and fuzzy, snare and bass-drum cutting through the guitar/bass murk), and works the dual-vocalist method, one angry, the other infuriated. It’s gonna take a serious hardcore completist, or someone who actually knew or saw Chickenshit back in the day to really clamor for this one, but it takes me back to a time when split 7″s were honorable and kung-fu references were hilarious. When Ahmad raps “Back In The Day”, this sort of record is what comes to my mind.
Church Whip Church Whip 7″ (Fallow Soul)
After no less than nineteen cassette releases, Church Whip finally make it to vinyl. Seriously, nineteen tapes! You know how they say that if you pick any random dollar bill in your wallet, there’s a 50% chance there are traces of cocaine on it? It’s probably the same deal with Church Whip, like if you find a random cassette on the ground, there’s a 50% chance it’s Church Whip. Anyway, this group features both of the main Merchandise men and a few of their hardcore buds, thrashing out some blackened metal-punk. They use the metallic version of the d-beat, black-metal riffs and scorched-throat vocals to a satisfying end, recalling one of the punker Nuclear War Now! reissues, perhaps one of those obscure Brazilian groups who only released one demo tape that Earache rejected on grounds of it being too unpolished. Cool 7″, certainly has that Chaos In Tejas metal-stage sound, but I’ll be damned if I start chasing down nineteen tapes!
The Clean Odditties 2xLP (540)
Does anyone need to be told about The Clean at this point in the game? They’re beloved by obscurist fan-boys and corporate-cubicle indie-rockers alike, have more albums than I have living family members, and a history as rich as that of their homeland, New Zealand (theirs might be richer, actually). Either you eagerly pre-ordered this reissue of an obscure cassette compiling early b-sides and outtakes, lavishly given the modern-day double LP gatefold treatment, or gave it the sort of chilling silence usually reserved for Craigslist missed connections. So even though my review is more inconsequential than usual, I’m gonna give my take on it out of respect to the wonderful 540 Records imprint (they kindly sent it in), and tell you that as a casual and inexperienced Clean listener, this is a very nice collection of early tunes (some classic and some quickly forgotten). I recognize different versions of some Boodle Boodle Boodle songs, but it’s all pretty entertaining, no matter if they are whispering into a boombox or jangling out a musical plate of spaghetti. Enjoy!
Cut Hands Black Mamba 12″ (Blackest Ever Black)
After two lengthy (and expensive) volumes of Afro Noise, Cut Hands drop a quick single on a label that, I dunno… seems kinda pale? Sike, this label is the blackest, baby! I give William Bennett credit for immediately trademarking Cut Hands’ rhythmic signatures – the idea of using tribal/ethno percussion in a noisy techno production is nothing new at this point, but the sound of Cut Hands is distinct. The rhythms are fast and complicated, unituitive yet danceable. “Black Mamba” is a perfect example of the form, its clearly computer-processed sounds slashing up and down the grid in a crazed melody. “Krokodilo Theme”, on the flip, is the first track I can recall that totally sidesteps the Cut Hands method, instead just humming out some discomforting tones, perfect for soundtracking a long shot of a crocodile’s eyes barely poking out of the water, or a documentary on the sad results of Russians hooked on the drug krokodil. It’s really all about the mad tribal séance when it comes to Cut Hands though, and while “Black Mamba” is cool, I should really just spend a lot more time with Afro Noise I for a stronger dose.
Matthew Dear Beams 2xLP (Ghostly International)
Matthew Dear’s Black City was such a profoundly special album for me that I couldn’t imagine how he’d top it, and with Beams, well, he didn’t. I didn’t expect him to, although I still had hope, but whereas Beams shares many sonic similarities to Black City, the vibe is completely different. Black City was all black leather, disco balls and dungeon sex, whereas Beams sounds like the glorious morning after, sun shining on lemonade stands while flowers bloom in the park. Opener “Her Fantasy” sets the tone – it sounds like the opening song-and-dance routine from one of those animal-themed Pixar movies, birds buzzing along to an uplifting beat and electronic effervescence. Dear’s music still sounds like an electro LCD Soundsystem if Beck was the band-leader, but the crucial Trent Reznor element of Black City is missing. That said, Beams is still a fun, creative, memorable and optimistic take on electronic pop music, one that I’ve certainly had fun listening to… it’s just that my heart will forever be a resident of Black City.
Eleven Twenty-Nine In The Sunlight / Anchors Away 7″ (Drawing Room)
This Eleven Twenty-Nine 7″ has been laying near my turntable for a couple weeks now – for some reason, it’s taken me a while to come around to playing it again after that initial spin. I don’t know, I knew it was good… just kinda that weird middle-ground good that doesn’t remotely interest me? “In The Sunlight” is a pretty beautiful song that’s just a little too heavy to be Will Oldham, and a little too depressing to be Jack Johnson. It’s built on expertly-played acoustic guitars, sweet vocals and a lethargic pulse, but I can’t shake the thought that this is music that connects most with Dave fans (you know what Dave I’m talking about), even if I understand that this group is actually comprised of cool underground hipsters. “Anchors Away” swings differently, with an NPR-country vibe that I find equally unappealing (actually, make that more unappealing). I don’t know, I appreciate the label, and the fact that this record was released in part to help Eleven Twenty-Nine member Tom Carter with medical bills (a noble effort if there ever was one), and the music certainly ain’t bad… it’s just exactly what I personally have no interest in ever hearing.
English Singles Disaster 7″ (Squirmy)
Wow… I for one love the Powerpearls sound, but how many modern bands can actually authentically recreate it? I don’t know of many, but English Singles manage to re-create Techtones’ “That Girl” and Tours “Language School” within “Disaster”, the a-side of this simple and unassuming 7″. They might as well break up now; they’ve completed their mission. I listened to the b-side anyway, and it’s pretty sweet too, but in a different way – “Face Don’t Fit” still has that Powerpearls song, but with maybe with an injection of mid-’90s Lookout! Records, like these guys could’ve hung out with either The Moderns in 1979 or The Mr. T Experience in 1994. The last track, “Not Talking Anymore”, has essentially fully transitioned into East Bay pop-punk, but I’m partial to that sound as well, and English Singles certainly do it justice. Future bootleg-compilation makers, take note!
Evening Meetings Defended By Clouds LP (Sweet Rot)
I loved the debut Evening Meetings single, so I was delighted to learn of this full-length – these guys don’t waste time! I think whenever these Pacific Northwest punk groups get together, they don’t just think about doing a demo, they plot out their first five singles and two LPs within the first week of practice. When it comes to Evening Meetings, I’m alright with that, as Defended By Clouds is a very cool rock record. The single was a DIY riddler, so I was surprised to hear that Evening Meetings kinda just turned into a real band, complete with bass, guitar, drums, vocals and a proper studio recording. The riffs are cool, swinging somewhere between The Intelligence and Guinea Worms, but it’s the vocalist that makes it for me. There’s no lyric sheet, but he cracks me up repeatedly, and not through garage-rock drunken idiocy, but actual wit – it’s like he sits in his cubicle all day coming up with sharp one-liners and funny wordplay, and Evening Meetings is his way of letting them loose. The songs are actually quite tuneful too, in a way that I could see Rough Trade in 1982 or Goner in 2012 taking equal interest. The more I listen, the more I dig it, but please Evening Meetings, give me at least six months before the next album – I know how you guys like to operate, and I want to spend some time enjoying this one.
Far-Out Fangtooth The Thorns 7″ (HoZac)
Three new ones from Philadelphia’s Far-Out Fangtooth, a band that I’ve tried to really dig in the past but have yet to truly succeed. Not a whole lot about this three-song EP changes my opinion, for better or worse. They’re still clanging out these slow, noisy garage songs that recall inhospitable landscapes… I’m reminded of swamps filled with hidden predators and barren deserts under a painful sun as these three songs start swirlin’. Not bad by any means, but the dreary, weather-worn blackness of their music usually leads me to boredom. Maybe that’s the point? Far-Out Fangtooth sound like they’re in pain, like they just found out their lover drowned or something, and they want to impose a little taste of sorrow on us, too. Not bad by any means, and practically a Grammy award-winner by HoZac standards.
Goat’s Gloom Goat’s Gloom 7″ (Divergent Series)
New one from the Divergent Series / FRKSE camp, who are always doing their part to keep Boston weird. I was hoping for Goat’s Gloom to echo the last FRKSE album, Guilt Surveillance, as I can never have enough budget-level Andy Stott-isms, but Goat’s Gloom fall closer to the Tenshun & Babelfishh side of Divergent, where rapid-fire nasal-rap over deconstructed noise loops is the order of the day. This one starts off with some crumbly textures that would fit right in on an RRRecords release, but it quickly hops into a rugged percussive stomp that the Goat’s Gloom guys bug out over. “R.I.P. The Galloping Halfwits” on the flip follows suit, with Onyx-esque vocal chanting and what sounds like Blixa Bargeld in charge of the beat production. It gets more noisy and more intense, reaching a point where it sounds like Jello Biafra and Doc Dart competing with their best Twizta impersonations while Blixa smashes the DJ booth with a sledgehammer. Really unique, peculiar music, one that makes all the media-hyped “experimental” rappers sound like MC Hammer by comparison. Looking forward to whatever insanity Divergent Series trips out on next!
Gueule Ouverte Gueule Ouverte LP (Stochastic Releases)
Great modern and minimal DIY post-punk from Gueule Ouverte, an ostensibly Montreal-based duo featuring at least one of those Drosofile guys (who I could certainly use more music from). I knew as soon as I saw the Sharpie-drawn lumps of matter on the front and back covers that I was gonna dig this one, but the music holds up its end of the bargain, too – they’re just a bass (or guitar) and drums duo, but they play it like The Door And The Window did, lightly tapping through some songs and noisily falling on the floor with others. Occasionally moments of punk rock will rise to the surface (much like acne), but I like it best when they play like a couple of drunk French-Canadians trying to find the mid-point of Karp and Young Marble Giants. I’ve really enjoyed the whole record quite a bit, and hope it’s not too long before this disturbed camp sends out their next transmission.
Guinea Worms Smiles LP (Columbus Discount)
Didn’t these guys release a double album not too long ago? I guess band practice is a pretty cheap hobby (unless you live in New York or Los Angeles), so I can understand these guys writing like fifty new songs a year, because what else are they gonna do with their time? Nothing will ever top their Box Of Records single for me, I’ll be enjoying that one well into retirement age, but Smiles is pretty nice too. All these riffs sound like schoolyard taunts as administered by A Frames… it’s like Guinea Worms really took “nana nana boo boo” to heart, as their guitars certainly stick me up for my lunch money at various moments here. Of course, the singer has all sorts of ridiculous things to say; something about having a slippery dick in one track, and a chorus that hinges on “ask him a silly question” in another, which really makes me want to get involved with whatever schemes they’re cooking. I feel like Guinea Worms would be a fun band to hang out with, even if they’re secretly just making fun of me the whole time, a sensation that translates comfortably from Smiles.
The Haxan Cloak …The Men Parted The Sea To Devour The Water 12″ (Latitudes)
Been waiting on some new Haxan Cloak, after a startlingly massive techno 12″ EP and a strangely brewed album of nocturnal violins. Like many of the modern techno producers I admire, The Haxan Cloak goes big on this one, with one single track that navigates its way through nearly half an hour of gothic overtones, future-bass underpinnings and foreign rhythms. Starting on a widescreen choral loop, …The Men Parted The Sea To Devour The Water slowly finds its legs and grows into something resembling dance music, at least by Blackest Ever Black standards. I’m thinking of Demdike Stare if they were more Catholic than Wiccan (there’s something weirdly uplifting here – the room isn’t strewn with murder victims by the end of the track, just memorial candles), along with Shackleton’s intense rhythmic logic. It’s a great piece, one that takes the long way home through enchanting alleys and darkened hallways. Worth figuring out a plan to obtain a vinyl copy, that’s for sure!
Hot Guts Edges LP (Blind Prophet)
Arguably Philadelphia’s premier goth group, Hot Guts have delivered their debut album Edges, and what better courier than Blind Prophet? Opener “Radium Girls” is a pretty good summation of what the Hot Guts sound has become – a mix of slow, travel-weary Nick Cave-isms and moody post-punk conniving. When not staring off into the lonesome darkness, Hot Guts pound out a circular rhythm on the bass and percussion, utilizing synths and electronics, but not for one moment sounding like anything other than a real “band”. They even update their old song “The Ballad Of John Simon” from its original clangy No Age style to a slow-mo David Lynchian drifter (and it’s all the better for it, even as I liked it the first go around, too). I’ve been a Hot Guts fan for a little while now, but Edges shows a more focused group, clearly directing their efforts toward a dark-wave appeal and obtaining it. Black is certainly their color!
Hygiene Hygiene / Hygéne 7″ (Sorry State)
Along with The Pheromoans, I think Hygiene when I think modern British DIY punk. Hadn’t heard them before, just appreciated their name, and apparently they appreciate it too, as both songs here are delightfully self-referential. “Hygiene” is the anthem, directly announcing the band’s presence just in case anyone wasn’t sure, the sort of thing that would really pump up a rugby team if it featured members of Home Blitz. The song kinda stops for a moment, and then thankfully comes back for another few verses in the end. The more exotic “Hygéne” is a bit looser, perhaps fitting for the post-game celebration? I swear I hear some early Victims’ style riffing (the Australian one, of course) mixed in with Hygiene’s convivial attitude and rowdy playing. Maybe like Thin Yoghurts, if they wore those big colorful soccer (excuse me, football) scarfs on stage? Anyway, I hope Hygiene keep the tracks coming, and keep the subject matter on point – I could go for an album filled with nothing but various “Hygiene”s.
Joe MB / Studio Power On 12″ (Hemlock Recordings)
Always psyched on some new Joe material, not just because I always enjoy his music, but because I never quite know what to expect. I certainly didn’t expect these two oddball tracks, that’s for sure – “MB” references neither Maurizio Bianchi nor Michael Bolton in its grooves, but instead some sort of weird African-funk transmission from outer space? It’s a walkable groove, certainly not a dance-floor banger, and it reminds me of one particular Ultramagnetic MC’s track that I cannot place. Wasn’t expecting funky jazz guitar from Joe, but I’m digging it! “Studio Power On” is even stranger, as the rhythm is based on a natural drum beat, the sound of plywood being sawed and a smashed bottle – perhaps an alternate, future-electronic take on the Home Improvement theme? And halfway through, Joe fires off a ridiculous arpeggio of blips that sends my body into a dance routine I didn’t know was possible. It’s been hard to take this one off my turntable, and I really haven’t had much reason to anyway. Joe, you’ve done it again!
Lamps All Seeing Eye / G.B.D. 7″ (Sweet Rot)
While we’re all patiently waiting for the next Lamps full-length to drop, Sweet Rot stepped in to give us another taste of Los Angeles’ least-favorite rock group. “All Seeing Eye” sounds familiar, maybe from a live show or something, or maybe because it jumps between two notes that other Lamps songs have probably used as well. It’s a real boneheader, especially when Monty Buckles just kinda “uhh-uhhs” along with the melody and you find yourself pogoing involuntarily. “G.B.D.” is a bit more sinister, pounding one note like a handicapped Mayyors while some sort of Star Trek phaser goes off in the background, almost calling to mind a particularly unsophisticated take on Clockcleaner’s Babylon Rules sound. Cool single, certainly worth adding to the stack, but I have no doubt that it’s the next Lamps full-length that is really gonna leave its greasy mark across our stereos. Next month, fingers crossed?
Mats Lindström МИГ LP (Ideologic Organ)
Ideologic Organ is the Editions Mego sub-label operated by Stephen O’Malley, and while there are surely some people hoping he brings a taste of his Satanic guitars into the world of electronic arts, this peculiar Mats Lindström album certainly does not. Lindström is more of a technician or composer than musician, as there isn’t anything in the way of music on МИГ, so much as errant industrial field-noise: a dying lawnmower refusing to turn over, a malfunctioning guitar amplifier, a sewing machine across the hallway, C-3PO vigorously masturbating. I can certainly picture this sort of stuff in a gallery setting, maybe in a room with four dim bulbs and a video projection of some distorted human bodies on the wall. Listening at home, it’s as fine as any mix-match of “experimental” sound art can be, more of a headspace to enter than an actual album of songs (although there are definite delineations between certain tracks, like the one on the b-side that must be the audio from some old movie). Maybe there is someone so brainy and high-brow that they can truly dissect something as seemingly accidental and meaningless as МИГ, but as I am not that person, I will simply pay it my respect and continue on my way.
Live Fast Die Practicing For The Gang Bang 7″ (Total Punk)
Quick and cool Live Fast Die single on the wonderfully chintzy Total Punk label. “Practicing For The Gang Bang” is played straighter than the title would suggest, the guitars blasting through pathetic little practice-amps in a very Spits-y manner. “You Ruin All My Fun” has a similar sound, but feels more like something GG Allin would’ve barfed all over in 1986. And if there are drums, they are mixed so hilariously low as to not affect the song in any noticeable way. Live Fast Die have clearly huffed from the same shoe deodorizer cans as Wax Museums, so as long as they can keep the hooks as catchy as these two, who cares if a few more brain cells are suffocated in the name of fun?
Manic Manic 7″ (Scavenger Of Death)
Like the name, dig the style, love the tunes! Manic are new to me, and they’re one of those few great modern hardcore bands that don’t just sound like a perfectly-detailed nostalgia trip, nor are they mysteriously transgressive. It’s all pretty fast, even to the point of blazing (was that a blast-beat I heard in the first track’s chorus?), but the singer’s snarl and the overall presentation makes me think these guys are rotten punks living filthy lives, rather than college grads with an encyclopaedic knowledge of hardcore and the means to comfortably re-create it. Definitely the sort of thing that would’ve come up in late-’90s Cleveland, but without the Japanese influence… Manic are clearly self-loathing Americans playing American hardcore. Six short-but-not-too-short songs here, one of which insists “I’m not a fucking trough”… how much longer will you sit idly by, refusing to take a Manic 7” into your possession?
Mountain Cult Mountain Cult LP (Little Big Chief)
Heard plenty of “so bad it’s good” talk of the Mountain Cult single that was going around earlier this year (usually in little more than a paper envelope, from what else I heard), but I passed on it, afraid of being laughed at rather than laughing with. Turns out Mountain Cult aren’t so bad they’re good, but so bad they’re great, as this LP is a wonderful pile of rock n’ roll mush, music that I nearly can’t believe anyone would be willing to claim as their own. They barely stumble through their songs, as the bassist is the only one who seems to keep a beat – the drummer rarely uses two sticks at a time, just kinda smacking his kit when he feels like it. And don’t even get me started on the guitarist, as he makes Thurston Moore sound like Thurston Mozart by comparison – if any actual notes are ever played, it’s accidental. This might all sound like a total wreck, and it is, but I can’t stop listening – Mountain Cult sounds like four Walking Dead zombies getting together to practice Rolling Stones and Moss Icon covers, fumbling their broken fingers on their instruments until someone comes in and blows their heads off. Can’t get enough of this record, and it manages to go by fast – thank you, Little Big Chief!
Negative Reinforcement Dog 12″ (Coffin Cut)
Dog begins with a sociopathic spoken-word piece, the sort of thing Condominium and Cult Ritual loved bothering generic hardcore kids with, and it fits this one-sided 12″ nicely – Negative Reinforcement are pure hardcore and partially nuts. It blasts right into a gnarly grind part, broken down with back-up death vocals, eventually transitioning into a heavy Mind Eraser mosh riff. What’s not to like? Negative Reinforcement is a pretty generic name, but they manage to make hardcore truly sound bleak and destructive through these seven tracks. I never quite know where they’re gonna take me, like if they’re gonna try to whip up a Die Kreuzen-ish storm, mosh like they’re Darkside NYC or dirge through the dirt like Cult Ritual used to. Real good stuff, to the point where I wish the b-side had something my stylus could stick to. From the loss of close family members through murder to the disappointment of receiving socks instead of toys for Christmas, Negative Reinforcement speak to all levels of frustrated rage.
November Növelet Heart Of Stone 7″ (Galakthorrö)
Great new batch of Galakthorrö dropped recently, and this might be the coolest of the three – Mr. and Mrs. Arafna are back in their November Növelet funeral couture and sound as wonderfully dismal as ever. Four tracks here, and they are as beautiful as a bouquet of dead roses, just as sensuous and creepy as November Növelet left off. I swear, this group doesn’t seem to change, but they haven’t written the same song twice: it’s like they determined their aesthetic from day one (the silky soft underbelly of Haus Arafna’s sandpaper exterior) and have never strayed from their course. “Heart Of Stone” has some great weepy warble from Mr. Arafna, and “Dancing Queen” rides a primitive dark-wave beat that ABBA wish they wrote with Mrs. Arafna’s plaintive vocals. It’s like they live in a world where adultery and graveyards are the main forms of entertainment, where sadness is endlessly dwelled upon and synthesizers express it best. The amazing cover photo of Mrs. Arafna listening to a breast wasn’t necessary for me to love Heart Of Stone, but merely another reason why I will continue to dutifully follow the Galakthorrö label ’til the end of time.
Null & Void Possibilities (Discoverable Thoughts) LP (Bunkerpop)
All I knew going into this one was that Null & Void were some early ’80s damaged synth-pop group from the West Coast, and that this was their unreleased third LP… so why am I hearing a Bach fugue when I put it on? Either they were always this strange, or by the third album they had completely lost touch with reality, but Null & Void out-Culturcide Culturcide on Possibilities (Discoverable Thoughts) when it comes to wildly insane and single-minded musical experiments no one in their right mind would want to hear. Not a whole lot of angst or punk rock from Null & Void on this album, more like a synth-wave band who despised their own genre, or a Ralph Records band that refused to be funny. As I listen to something like “Einstein’s Theory Of Relativity, Pt. 2”, it’s clear that this is a group who refused to bow to any musical or societal constraints, which of course is just as fascinating as it is difficult. Took me a few listens to settle into the album (as well as navigate the giant informational poster that came with it), but it’s starting to sound normal to me, which is probably a horrible thing to happen to a person. If you wanna come down here with me though, by all means, the water’s nice and warm…
Pearson Sound Clutch 12″ (Hessle Audio)
Whereas there once was a time where purchasing any Pearson Sound single was a sure shot, it seems as though David Kennedy has wandered off the path with this alias, just as interested in his own navel as packing a club. That can still be cool though, as I feel like this new three-track EP is far removed from any Earth-based club, but an entertaining and confounding suite of modern electronics. The building blocks of modern UK bass music are there, but rather than line them squarely in a row, Pearson Sound tests their limits, tweaks them ’til it hurts and generally just disrupts the situation by toying with his software. It results in an undanceable mess, but one that slowly unfolds a sense of order after repeated listens. I came at Clutch prepared for such tomfoolery, and with that state of mind I’ve really found myself digging this sort of sonic experimentalism that has made the Hessle Audio so damn crucial in my life these past couple of years. I swear, someone is gonna dig up the Hessle Audio discography like fifty years from now and be utterly shocked at what they find.
Places We Slept Sad, Stoned & Horny 12″ (Unread)
If you ever thought there was a piece of old cardboard too antique and decrepit to be used as an LP sleeve, think again, as Places We Slept found the most ancient thrift store LP jacket to fold in reverse and screen their band name and songs onto. It kinda fits with their music, though – Places We Slept play these frantic little dusty pop songs, like they hung around with Psychedelic Horseshit and Kitchen’s Floor but are still too scared to actually take drugs with them. We got a serious nerd on vocals, I’m talking president of the chemistry club here, and I like him best when he’s screaming over an uplifting lo-fi punky-pop song, which he does plenty here. The get slow, and even acoustic at times, sounding like they are jamming in the other corner of Krispy Kreme’s basement, waiting for the dryer to turn off before they press record on the 4-track. Can’t rightfully tell you to run out and buy a copy of Sad, Stoned & Horny, but I enjoyed the time I spent with it.
Potty Mouth Sun Damage 12″ (Ride The Snake / Feeble Minds / Puzzle Pieces)
You know there’s not a single swear on Potty Mouth’s debut vinyl release? Talk about false advertising! On Sun Damage, they actually sound downright sweet at times, jangling out their wistful indie-pop with the comfort and safety of your favorite hoodie. They have kind of a “local ’90s pop-punk band” sound, which isn’t to say they remind me of Weston, Buglite and Grieving Eucalyptus so much as they just seem like they were meant to perform in VFW fire-halls alongside them. They have it down pat, from the sweet vocals to the fuzzy guitars… I just am not sure that there’s anything really standing out to make me want more. I have to say, I am a little surprised that this sound is once again a cool thing, but if you’re the type of person who wishes Slumberland was a real country, by all means, grab a bar of soap and get into Potty Mouth.
Sensate Focus 3.3 12″ (Sensate Focus)
The Sensate Focus just keeps on coming, this one ranking at one third, the last 3 endlessly repeating. It’s a good number for this 12″, as both tracks (once again “X” and “Y” here) feature microscopically fast clicks and hits, working rhythms that move beyond the scope of the dancefloor and into a headier realm. I swear, some of the programming on “X” reminds me of Agoraphobic Nosebleed in relation to the insane speed and dexterity with which the song travels. Vocals are present, but used only as another blip on the radar, hurdling through intense patterns while the occasional slinky synth offers a new-car shine. Definitely the strongest home-listening bent to a Sensate Focus release thus far, but probably my second favorite (10 holding the crown), as the music finds a way to soothe in spite of the fact that it’s totally nuts.
Shed The Killer 2xLP (50 Weapons)
After my initial boredom with Shed’s The Traveller, he came through with some of the most beguiling and ingenious techno I can recently recall. I came into The Killer excited to hear what he had to offer, and like many techno full-lengths, there are a number of high points as well as plenty of filler. Oh well! The record opens really strong – the first four tracks are all great, approaching main-room techno from an Andy Stott perspective. The beats are straight-forward and danceable, but decayed and distorted in an atmosphere of industrial collapse. When Shed sticks to that script, I love it, but certain tracks veer towards generic dubstep, or even hip-hop, and I find myself not only losing interest in the album but forgetting how good it started off. The Killer could’ve been an utterly destructive EP, but as an album, it’s a spotty affair that I can’t quick back-up. Still, I’ll be first in line to see what he does next, as I am sure he has plenty more tricks up his sleeve.
Spider Bags Papa Was A Shithead / I Wish That I Never Had Fed You 7″ (Sophomore Lounge)
I just know that when I look at a 45 RPM 7″ and the song’s grooves are barely a centimeter thick, I’m gonna dig it. It’s visually appealing, short songs are usually great, and even if it sucks, it’ll be over quickly. “Papa Was A Shithead” doesn’t remotely suck, I’ll tell you that – it might not be the best anti-dad punk song (gotta be a tie between Descendents’ “My Dad Sucks” and The Angry Samoans’ “My Old Man’s A Fatso”, right?), but it’s a quick and silly little Spits-style ripper that works a cool layered vocal trick to a satisfying end. Wish the b-side had a similar tune, or even “Papa Was A Shithead” again, but the wonderfully-titled “I Wish That I Never Had Fed You” doesn’t live up to its promise. This is a long and drawn-out cowboy tearjerker, kinda like The Strange Boys, who I also never really enjoyed. No need for this sort of thing when you know how to blow boogers out of both nostrils ala “Papa Was A Shithead” – keep it stupid, Spider Bags!
Subliminal Under Pressure 7″ (Galakthorrö)
If we’re being honest, Subliminal is probably one of the least interesting Galakthorrö artists out there, but what was I gonna do, just pick up the other two new Galakthorrö releases and leave this one on the shelf? I fully subscribe to the Galakthorrö method, and this Subliminal single is really quite great itself. The song titles scream “Whitehouse” to me, I mean come on with stuff like “Daddy Hates You” and “Why Did I Receive Mercy”, and while there is a definite Whitehouse slant to the harsh vocalizations, the rusty synths pulse with Galakthorrö’s evil eye, and the music frequently churns like a particularly chilly night spent with Esplendor Geometrico. It’s really quite crude, just a looping industrial squawk with one of Haus Arafna’s synths pushed beyond safety limits as distorted vocals convey no lyrical meaning. So frequently, this sort of menacing industrial noise is exactly what I want to hear, and while I still might rank Subliminal on the bottom half of Galakthorrö’s roster, they’d be full-time starters on any other label that dabbles in deviant electronic misery.
The Unwed Teenage Mothers The Unwed Teenage Mothers 7″ (Speakertree)
Can’t help but think naming your band “The Unwed Teenage Mothers” is an unwise decision, but whatever… there are far worse examples of bad band-name choices out there. I’d certainly imagine these four dudes have had far less of a life struggle than your average teen-mom, at least – they skip through these four songs in a manner reminiscent of both Yo La Tengo and The Strokes, and with little care to the world. Guess it’s pretty Strokes-y overall, just with a singer that has more of a nasally Cheap Time sneer than a Julian Casablancas croon. Maybe a touch of Kurt Vile’s casual charm, too? Probably could pick at least a dozen of Pitchfork’s “Top Albums of the ’00s” influences here, which isn’t a diss, so much as a general idea of where to place The Unwed Teenage Mothers. Not bad at all, I’d just be able to get behind it a little more if they were called the Emotionally Unavailable Dads instead.
The White Wires Crazy / I Need Your Love 7″ (Total Punk)
Decent skinny-tie punk rock from The White Wires, care of Partial Punk Records. Wait a minute… this is on Total Punk? I don’t know about that, as “Crazy” blows saccharine bubbles through a straw, a pretty cool power-pop number that could’ve been a hit if the singer didn’t sound so nervous to sing in front of other people. You just gotta commit with this sort of thing. The flip’s a cover of a Poppees song, a three-piece-suit Bomp!er that I can picture a young Scott Baio pogoing to as the Ramones fans in the room slowly shuffle to the door. Not bad, not great, but “total” punk? I don’t take that designation lightly, and I hope that in the future, this label doesn’t either.
Kosmoloko 2 compilation LP (Galakthorrö)
With a label as aesthetically distinct and dedicated as Galakthorrö, a label “sampler” isn’t some superfluous promo item so much as a thoughtful new collection. This new volume of Kosmoloko features brand new material from essentially all of their current roster (November Növelet, Subliminal, Herz Jühning, Hermann Kopp and Haus Arafna), and delivers exactly what you’d expect. Which, of course, is melancholic synth-wave, clanging industrial and buzzing power-electronics, a fearless explosion of analog ennui. Every artist gets two tracks, and there are truly no surprises here, but I appreciate that – I don’t want to hear Haus Arafna suddenly try drone music, or Subliminal give synth-pop a shot. I do expect quality, however, and none of these artists were caught sleeping at the wheel – the label has existed for nearly twenty years, and this is only its 29th release. The respect level is high, from both the artists and the label, and I look forward to revisiting the same morbid electronic sounds from Galakthorrö for another twenty.