Mountain Cult have been one of the biggest question-marks of my 2012 musical journey.
Who are these people? How did they get here? Why do they sound so damn bad, and why
can’t I stop listening to it? They somehow managed to make the most amateur rock music
around, but in a way that cannot easily be replicated – their self-titled album isn’t
something that anyone else could just go out and create, of this I am sure. I got an
email contact, hoping to determine if they were truly honest musicians doing all they
could with limited means, or just cynical hipsters trying to play poorly in some
sort of art-school flippity-flop (they are from Brooklyn, after all). After this brief
discussion (and the sad news that they are no longer a band!), I can say with certainty
that there were no motives behind Mountain Cult’s lackadaisical grooves beside the
grooves themselves… lazy rock has never felt this right. All questions were answered
by Ben, the guitarist and vocalist of the group.
Where does the Mountain Cult story begin? Were any of you friends or bandmates
prior to Mountain Cult?
None of us knew each other before the band.
How did you all meet?
Which one of you posted the Craigslist ad? Were there lots of responses, or did
the only people who responded join Mountain Cult?
It was originally me and a friend on drums, jamming for fun. We put up an ad for a bassist
and found Maria. But before our first practice, my friend didn’t wanna play anymore,
so I put up another ad and found Dina. Those were the only two responses.
Are you kind of blown away by how well Craigslist worked out for you? You should
teach a class on how to effectively use that site.
I do. It’s every Tuesday morning, around 3:30 am. Bring a thousand dollars cash, and
don’t tell anyone where you’re going. You can find the ad under “Casual Encounters”.
Was there any particular idea behind the band, any specific sound you were going
for as things got started? Or was it more a product of just figuring out your sound as
you went along?
Dina’s first time playing drums was at our first practice. She would play a drum beat,
and we would play Pentatonic scales over it. We were trying to copy a ’60s blues/psychedelic
sound: Blue Cheer, Cream, Hendrix.
What does psychedelic mean to you, musically speaking? Do you think Mountain Cult
I think we were attempting to be psychedelic, but never really succeeded at it. Definitely
not with catching a ’60s sound.
I guess what I mean is, how would you define the term “psychedelic” when it comes
I don’t know how to define it exactly. Cream and The Beatles are both considered psychedelic,
but musically they’re totally different. We were trying to sound like the heavier blues-
I feel like Mountain Cult isn’t revered for its psychedelic properties, but its amateur
qualities, if that makes sense… how do you feel if someone says Mountain Cult is “so
bad it’s good”? Do you take it as a backhanded compliment, or an insult, or are you just
psyched that people are listening and enjoying it?
That’s OK. We’ve always been in it for the money.
How did you get hooked up with Little Big Chief for the LP? Was it something you
were already working on, and then the label offered to get involved?
The LP is one of our practice tapes from last August. Brock (of Little Big Chief) emailed
us asking we had any new material and we sent him that.
So was the album kind of unexpected, then? Do you consider it an actual full-length,
or just a practice tape put to vinyl?
No, we were expecting it to come out sometime in August or September. If we considered
it a practice tape on vinyl, it would be named Mountain Cult PT.
Alright, alright, fair enough. So about your sound, I’d say that the inherent
looseness to the music is a big part of what makes it great. Is that something you’ve
considered? Like, would you want Mountain Cult to eventually get really tight as a band?
We don’t play anymore, but the LP was probably us at our tightest. We could only practice
one or two hours every other week, so each practice was sort like trying to remember what
the songs were again. I think I read somewhere that Black Flag used to practice three
times a week for six hours or more. If you’re going to be a tight professional band, thats
what you have to do. The fun part was jamming, writing new songs and seeing how they would
change week to week.
So Mountain Cult is done? What happened? This is horrible news.
Last time we played was December. Nothing really happened, we just didn’t feel like
Do any of you have any new bands in the works?
Maria left to do solo stuff and recorded an album, available on Bandcamp.com under the
name Maria Takeuchi. I’m in a band called Sex Scheme, also on Bandcamp.com, and Dina is
in a band but she didn’t tell me what it is.
Alarms & Controls Reanimus Cataract 7″ (Dischord / Mud Memory)
It physically pains me to look at the graphic design of this Alarms & Controls 7″, particularly when taking into consideration the many iconic layouts, logos and images that Dischord has bestowed upon us. Maybe I should knit a black burlap pouch to keep this record in, so that I can enjoy the music without the art, as Alarms & Controls are a snappy and compact rock trio channeling Braid, Bluetip and maybe even a touch of Aloha within these two tracks. You know, artful indie music from a time when it actually meant something to wear big black-framed nerd-glasses in public. Drummer Vin Novara doesn’t keep a beat so much as dance along with the riffs, real nice and nimble, and the bass and guitar are quite spirited in their near-prog rock moves. Alarms & Controls sound like the kind of band that just really enjoy playing music, less concerned with the reaction of live crowds or the media so much as their own personal sense of satisfaction, which is always worth commending. Now they just need to find someone else to design their record covers and they’ll be all set.
Alaskan / Co-Pilot split 12″ (Treaty Oak Collective)
Here’s some more Alaskan to go with their recent LP release, a split 12″ with Co-Pilot, wherein each group stretches their respective tracks to nine minutes or so. Alaskan make use of their time by really slowing it down, hitting a processional groove ala Asunder that eventually goes in more of a heavy post-rock direction than any particular brand of metal. Very epic, in the way that a National Geographic documentary on the North Pole would be – vast, solemn and predictable. Co-Pilot’s track is called “The Bering Sea”, and if I know my geography, it’s a part of the Pacific up near Alaska. You’d think Sarah Palin runs Treaty Oak, what with all the Alaskan pride going on here! By my ears, Co-Pilot sound virtually identical to Alaskan, playing majestic and slow rock with quiet and heavy parts, somewhere within the expansive lineage that includes Tool and Mogwai. If nothing else, this record has reminded me that it’s time to pull my winter coat out from deep within the closet and get myself ready for the cold days ahead.
Barker & Baumecker Transsektoral 2xLP (Ostgut Ton)
Was real psyched for this one, Barker & Baumecker foray into full-length territory, as this year’s earlier A Murder Of Crows EP was menacing Ostgut Ton techno par excellence. Even the cover of this album screams “techno that will eat you”, with two snarling wolves staring you down, frostbitten and hungry. So it came as a surprise that Transsektoral isn’t a bleak record, but an album that drops a wide variety of emotions and sounds into the mix. There are a lot of moments here that are better suited for Perlon than Ostgut Ton, in fact – the beat swings frequently, arpeggios tweak with color, and bass-lines approach a significant level of funkiness. I mean, when I see that there’s a track called “Buttcracker”, I want to hear butts getting cracked, but in the hands of Barker & Baumecker it’s actually a pretty friendly, near-joyous tech-house cut. Good album for sure, and I find myself coming back to it a bunch, it just wasn’t at all what I expected, or hoped for. At the very least, those wolves should be smirking!
Austin Cesear Cruise Forever LP (Public Information)
Many folks are taking freshly-painted house music and giving it a good smear these days, a burgeoning trend of which Austin Cesear should be considered within its ranks. I dig this style, so long as the presence of dance music outweighs the blurriness (or overt art-school tendencies to make things “weird”), and Cesear falls on the right side of that line for my tastes. It’s funny, the cover art of white and grey squiggles on a black background has a very similar look to that of Darling Farah’s Body, another recent album of hushed and foggy house music that has been hitting the spot for me lately. It’s almost like these guys are operating in a very specifically post-Actress / post-Hype Williams landscape, but they focus on the dusty, out-of-focus musical applications as opposed to the crazy tones and antagonistic rhythms Actress frequently toys with. Cesear isn’t really blowing any minds here, but Cruise Forever has proved to be an album that was satisfying on first listen (“The Groove” in particular, which sounds like Ron Trent held hostage by Matthew Dear), one that grows in depth the further one stick’s his or her head.
Cheap Time Other Stories 7″ (Sweet Rot)
Cheap Time are always cool with me, even though I haven’t quite kept up on all their albums (am I right in being scared that they kinda ventured off into hippie territory on the last one or two?). Sweet Rot generally delivers a quality product, and they certainly do so here with these two new tunes. “Other Stories” mixes a catchy, Killed By Death punk-rock goofball attitude with a pre-punk glam-rock strut. Maybe like Sweet, if a couple of the band members cut their hair and traded in their polyester for leopard-print? The music is tight, but the vocals really solidify Cheap Time’s place as an authentic and valuable punk rock entity – Jeffrey Novak just seems so carefree and without any self-consciousness as he snarls his words. “In This World” kicks in exactly where “Other Stories” left off, confirming Cheap Time’s status as the most appropriate modern band to write an ’80s “punks in high school” movie soundtrack since The Time Flys, which is a thumbs-up in my book. Well done!
Chunky The Chunky EP 2×12″ (Swamp 81)
I haven’t been to an English dance club in years, so I’m taking it on the Internet’s word that Chunky has been tearing it up with all sorts of DJ gigs across the European continent. The Chunky EP is his first foray into production, and as Swamp 81 has dropped some mega-ton bangers in its day, why not check it out? Sadly, Chunky is about as exciting as his candy-bar namesake, which is to say sure, I’ll have some, but I’m not going to love it. Chunky works the expected Swamp 81 template of retro electronics pushed into a futurist mindstate, with classic 808 shoehorned into the future-bass arena. He doesn’t do a lot to craft any memorable tunes though, as something like “Decca” hits me like one of the less-inspired Cooly G tracks, and the rest of the EP follows suit. It’s cool that Chunky is trying things out, and has some very capable friends in the Swamp 81 roster to help show him the ropes, but he’s got a ways to go if he wants to make the dance-floor erupt from one of his original tracks. The Chunky EP ain’t bad, it’s just not great – I wouldn’t be surprised if Chunky eventually reaches a Twix or Snickers level of enjoyment if he keeps at it.
Cold Showers Love And Regret LP (Dais)
It’s late 2012 now, and if you’re a group of former punks starting a new-wave goth-rock group now, you’ve gotta feel at least a little sheepish about it, right? I mean seriously, Blessure Grave beat you to the punch… it’d be catching on to a pop-culture trend after you heard it referenced in a Jay Leno monologue. Cold Showers are the latest group to come forward with this sound, and while they could just be another generic act that makes me want to sell all my black clothes and start dressing like Carrot Top, they totally succeed on their debut album Love And Regret (apparently leaving the “Life” to Unbroken). It really comes down to two deciding factors for Cold Showers: the vocals and the songs. The singer has this great “highly advanced robotic-human-interface realizes he’s sad” voice, perfectly tuneful and Zoloft-deprived, even if he sometimes veers a little too close to Cold Cave’s vocal melodies. He manages to be distinct, and in this crowd, that’s no small feat. That might be enough to have me hooked, but the songs are pretty great too, even as they unabashedly shoplift from New Order and Depeche Mode, barely concealing the contraband beneath their velvet coats. There’s an energy here that many of their contemporaries lack, and it doesn’t negate their woefulness in the process. If you’re gonna come this late to a trend, you really better be as great as Cold Showers!
Cross Die Forever LP (Sophomore Lounge)
I always thought Warmer Milks were an under-appreciated band, just a little too strange, and a couple years too early in their Neil Young appreciation, to really catch on with the underground masses. Cross is the latest group from Warmer Milk’s Michael Turner and Clint Colburn, and while both groups could be filed under “avant rock”, Cross play it a little safer, operating under three-to-four minute pop song structures and lacking the obfuscated, bristling noise of Warmer Milks. Die Forever feels like it sat in the puddles left behind by downer New Romantic rockers like The Stranglers or The Cult, with the chilly touch of Bauhaus here and there. Maybe a little early REM even, if they got mixed up with Death In June? Or if Angels Of Light tried to write rock songs suitable for MTV’s 120 Minutes? I think I’ve thrown out enough disparate influences to get you somewhere near Cross’s sound, even if most of Die Forever is ultimately less exciting and more subdued than any of the aforementioned groups. I can get down with it, though! Just more proof that when it comes to Sophomore Lounge, one must expect the unexpected.
D-Clone Creation And Destroy LP (540)
I remember the first time I heard Fuck On The Beach as a teenager; I was in disbelief that a band could sound so frantic and crazy. Time and experience has dulled that sensation, but I swear I’m having a similar moment with D-Clone’s Creation And Destroy, a group who seem to take the premise of “unlistenable noise-thrash” as some sort of challenge, attempting to make all the Exit Hippieses and Zyanoses out there sound like John Denver by comparison. And they nearly succeed! The guitars and bass sound exactly as they should (television static hooked up to a crappy Crate amp while a hardwood floor is vacuumed nearby), but it’s really the drums that push D-Clone from contestants to kings. Both the snare and kick sound like a giant bag of popcorn popping, but somehow maintain a tempo that would turn to total slop for most any other drummer. And within this chaos, I swear memorable riffs (or maybe “moments” is a better word than “riffs”) bubble up in different places… there’s even the occasional mosh part or metallic intro for those who pay close attention. Fantastic LP… dare I say 540’s finest offering yet?
Dog Blood Middle Finger 12″ (Boys Noize / Owsla)
Dog Blood is the collaboration between Boys Noize and Skrillex, and if you’re willing to continue reading, please allow me to tell you that it’s pretty alright! I love Boys Noize, and I don’t hate Skrillex like most adults do, so wouldn’t you know that Dog Blood is a pretty accurate pairing of their respective strengths. “Middle Finger” has kind of an ’80s Kraftwerk vibe to it, at least until the Skrillexing begins, with the usual buffet of wobbled, 8-bit sound-effects cutting hard across the dance-floor. I’m more partial to the b-side, “Next Order”, though, as it sounds like peak Boys Noize, replete with a punchy one-two beat, the sound of disco gas leaving a balloon, and a rising energy that eventually explodes into a Benny Benassi-worthy peak-time cut. Skrillex isn’t as hands-on with this track, and his restraint results in a huge Ed Banger / Daft Punk-style anthem. Both tracks opt for the “slowed down rap vocal” trick, which is kinda played out (or should I say definitely played out, now that Skrillex got his hands on it), but it doesn’t detract from the intensity of “Next Order” or the funkiness of “Middle Finger”. Really glad I checked this one out!
Dream Decay Fern 12″ (Great Plains)
Dream Decay hit all the proper noise-rock signifiers hard on this one-sided 12″ EP, but they do it with enough panache that I never quite zone out. They have the riff-sophistication of The New Flesh (which is to say, not very), and they frequently hammer it into the ground, or at least until someone needs a moment to catch their breath. The vocals have a Mayyors-esque echo quality to them, and occasionally the whole thing spins into a Dead C whirlwind where all semblance of structure is wiped out, like an Etch-A-Sketch shaking in slow motion. I get the impression these guys dig Swans too, but they are still too much of a punk-ish rock band relying on rock progressions to really garner any “they sound like Swans!” comment from yours truly. They also tackle their imagery / artwork with an oblique modern-art style, rather than the usual black-and-white photos of sad miserable people on drugs, an image to which this musical style so often defaults. So that’s nice! The recording captures the low-end without turning it into a sonic sludge, and while Dream Decay represent more of a cocktail of influences than their own signature style, they certainly do nothing to tarnish the legacy that preceded them.
Drose A Voice 7″ (no label)
There is definitely a modern-day noise-rock sound, the sort of vague area in which so many bands tread (for better and worse), and while I suppose Drose could be considered another noise-rock band, they seem to have wandered off the path entirely, far removed from any signposts of what a band could or should sound like. Which, in their case, is a pretty great place to be! There are four tracks on A Voice, and this is some really brittle, confounding music – most noise-rock bands try to emulate the killer committing the crime, whereas Drose present themselves as the post-arrest confession, during which the killer feebly breaks down into tears before being carried away to processing. It’s just those damn vocals (care of guitarist and presumed namesake Dustin Rose) that make this one so peculiar. He has this quivering voice that never screams; rather, he sings these distraught lyrics over music that sounds mortally wounded, like the strings are being snapped off with pliers and the drummer is slowly choking on car exhaust. Kinda Harvey Milk-ish in the way these arthritic songs barely move, but there isn’t a winking eye for miles, just a dangerously confused mind at work. A uniquely strange record, the sort of thing I’d only need to hear a few seconds of before instantly recognizing it as Drose, and one that those in need of a twisted art-rock fix should certainly seek out.
Emptyset Collapsed 12″ (Raster-Noton)
I didn’t even need to listen to Collapsed to confirm its brutality – the context clues handled that. The inner-sleeve features a picture of Emptyset’s J. Ginzburg and P. Purgas, looking more like an arrest photo than a posed artist portrait, as though they were clearly aware of the musical atrocities they just put to wax. And when I tried to pull the actual vinyl from the sleeve, the static electricity nearly refused it, as if I had to break a scientific force-field just to play this record without ripping the paper sleeve. And now that I’ve played Collapsed (and again, and again, and again), I can confirm that not only is this some of the heaviest music I’ve heard this year, it’s also Emptyset’s finest. “Armature” sets the tone for these four tracks, pounding a near-danceable rhythm through various sound settings. I’m reminded more of the evil power of nature, like a vicious undertow or a mighty thunderclap than any other musical references when listening. The eerie ambiance that floated around Emptyset’s earlier 2012 EP Medium has dissipated, leaving only the most potent body-blows and car-flattening beats. It’s like Emptyset took Mammal’s early works and condensed eight-minute tracks into split-second bursts, the equivalent of a vodka enema instead of an orally-imbibed six-pack of beer. Emptyset really blew me away with this one, and I’d imagine it would have the same effect on you.
Fabulous Diamonds Commercial Music LP (Chapter Music)
For as much as I loved the first single and album by Fabulous Diamonds, I had kind of forgotten about them after that second full-length. II was an extension of their sound, if in a slightly unexciting way, but now here’s Commercial Music, which gets Fabulous Diamonds back on track. The premise is still the same – slow-rolling dance rhythms with repetitive, echoing keys and ghost-sung vocals, much like Peaking Lights without the overt Blues Control influence. It’s a simple style, but uniquely theirs, and on Commercial Music, Fabulous Diamonds push it further into a sort of electro-narcotic bliss without ever slipping into a boredom-based trance. Maybe I’m just pleased that after years of petitioning, they’ve finally offered titles for their songs, and with a title as cool as “Inverted Vamp”, I’m wondering what took them so long. It’s a great track, on what is a wonderfully solid album – the keyboards are fuller, and ripe with effects, but seasoned in such a way that they flow with the drums perfectly, a pairing so tasteful that it’s the exact opposite of Neon Hunk (in the world of drum/keyboard duos). Rather, they sound like Silver Apples if they vacationed in Jamaica and never left. They stretch the songs out, but never too far, resulting in an album that’s remained true to the Fab-Di sound and pretty much perfected it in the process. Recommended!
Marcel Fengler Frantic EP 12″ (Ostgut Ton)
I don’t feel remotely bashful when proclaiming Marcel Fengler as one of the best tech-house producers making music today. The guy’s just got it when it comes to laying down instantly-identifiable grooves that blend unexpected and unique sounds with rhythms that could peel even the staunchest wall-flowers out of their seats and into the center of the club. “Frantic” isn’t quite the right title for the opener, as it has a focused intensity more fitting of a dedicated long-distance runner than a tantruming child. And “6 In A Row” might be my favorite, as Fengler slowly tweaks his sequencers with the precision of an advanced horologist, shifting the focus like a camera’s lens. I might’ve started to tear up from its beauty if I wasn’t too busy trying to breakdance. Closer “Mosaique” darts its synths through the air with the syncopated movement of a school of minnows, unexpected yet beautifully coordinated, resulting in another stunning EP that I already can’t live without. Ostgut? More like Ostgreat!
Fennesz Fa 2012 12″ (Editions Mego)
Fennesz will always be a cool character in my book, even if my experience begins with Endless Summer and ends with The Black Sea (just can’t keep up with his dozens of academic arts-funded collaborations). So his 2012 update of “Fa”, off 1997’s Hotel Paral.lel might as well be “Fa 2001” for all I know. Interestingly, I had to wait to hear it anyway, as Mark Fell’s “Fa” remix is featured on the a-side, and it might even be more lush and groovy than his recent tracks under the Sensate Focus alias. You can’t always dance to Fell’s music, some of it is head-bobbable at best, but his “Fa” remix skitters all sorts of electronic Morse code around a focused, ‘floor-ready rhythm. It’s twelve minutes long and I don’t want it to stop. “Fa 2012” is Fennesz as I remember him, drifting pop-ambient tones and glitchy pulses through a fog that slowly reveals retired machinery. Kind of a “Gas meets Andy Stott” vibe, which in a way is what Fennesz has been doing all along. Didn’t think I’d need this one, but here I am enjoying it over and over again.
Golden Pelicans Hard Head / Jump In A Lake 7″ (Total Punk)
The prize for being the 1,000th group to use the “(color) (animal species)” band-naming scheme was a 7″ single on Total Punk, so it’s a stroke of luck that Golden Pelicans took the award, as they are clearly suited to the label’s credo. “Hard Head” is a shit-kicking garage-rocker, kinda like The Devil Dogs if they forgot to iron their suits before hitting the stage. “Jump In A Lake” is a great way to tell someone to screw off, and it’s the logical continuation of the a-side, another energetic cut of garage-punk led by simple drumming and loud guitars. Definitely has an OBN IIIs vibe to it, where the band feels more like a rowdy gang kicking stuff over in the street than four guys with different musical talents playing their instruments simultaneously. It’ll probably take more than this single for me to think twice about Golden Pelicans, but while it’s spinning, I’m all theirs.
Gooch Palms R U 4 Sirius? 7″ (Anti Fade)
First Chook Race, now Gooch Palms? I can’t tell if these bands are messing with us or if there really is some new Australian dialect I am not privy to. The cover art was practically taunting me to flush this record down the toilet and pray it didn’t clog the pipes, but I gave Gooch Palms the benefit of the doubt. I had a feeling it’d be cool anyway, and yeah, Gooch Palms are quite alright – they play super-speedy jangle-punk ala Jay Reatard or The Dickies, tempering the bubblegum with grey shades of Naked Raygun here and there. I didn’t want to like a song called “Houston We Have A Problem”, but Gooch Palms somehow turn that line into a charged-up power-pop doozy – it’s like they set up these obstacles for themselves, just to make success more exciting. The other three tunes are real cool too, always verging on a cartoony level of giddiness but never to the point where it’s a detriment. Hey HoZac, you wanna do some good in this world? Sign up Gooch Palms for an LP!
Goosebumps I Hate My Body 7″ (Burn Books)
So Goosebumps hate their body? Would that make them the anti-Righteous Jams, then? The hardcore scene is now officially operating in a post-Hoax landscape, so I feel like Goosebumps won’t be the first (or the last) new group to try to out-do Hoax’s nihilistic attitude. I’ve seen both bands in tiny basements, and both audiences were attacked, yet I lived to tell the tale! But that’s really just a comparison of style, as musically Goosebumps aren’t very Hoax-like at all, barring the ugly mosh intro-song “Street Scarred”. Rather, Goosebumps have a very simplistic, untalented take on hardcore, from mid-paced stompers to flailing blast-beats, almost recalling Hank Wood minus the garage-rock leanings and memorable hooks, with just a touch of Mutha Records palsy. Not a whole lot going on with the music, but it seems like sitting at home listening to a Goosebumps record misses the point – if you like this band, you’re out there getting punched by the singer and lighting fireworks in the pit, not sitting at home listening to records.
Holy Other Held LP (Tri Angle)
After Holy Other’s debut took me by surprise in a delightful way, he’s back with an album that treads similar ground to similar effect. Somehow, Holy Other seems like less of a witch-house Burial rip-off here, and more of its own entity, even though the formula remains the same – languid, drippy techno beats flirt with beautifully manipulated vocal sounds, ushering in a new generation of depressed cyborgs having sex. I think the reason Held hasn’t bored me is because the tracks are even tighter, and the production is deeper and more lush – rather than change up his approach, Holy Other has opted to hone it. The surprise of Holy Other’s sound is gone, that all went away after With U dropped, so it’s up to tracks like “Tense Past” to make this album special, which they certainly do (those reversed cymbals, subtle bells and vocal coo make for a beautifully vivid scene). Not sure a third Holy Other record will have the same effect on me as these first two, it’s just gonna be hard to take things somewhere fresh, but thus far Holy Other has made the premise of crying in messy unmade beds seem incredibly appealing.
Honeysuck Honeysuck 7″ (Queen Of Swords)
Six songs of great delinquent hardcore-punk, the vinyl debuts for both Honeysuck and Queen Of Swords. Real glad this 7″ became a reality, as I wouldn’t have heard Honeysuck otherwise, and they’ve got a pretty great sound, kinda like Necros circa IQ32, but without the manic speed, just the youthful annoyance. Or maybe if Huggy Bear just listened to Not So Quiet On The Western Front instead of jazz or post-punk or whatever? I’d imagine Honeysuck probably aren’t teenagers, but they certainly approach their music with the zesty angst of a high-schooler who just made his or her first band t-shirt. Kinda reminds me of that band Dead Wife, as far as the delivery and punkness is concerned, but whereas Dead Wife get the recording and songs all wrong (a fuzzy lifeless jumble), Honeysuck cut pretty sharply without resorting to a clinical studio sound. I have to imagine Honeysuck are tearing up the insides of some punk-house basement stage most weekend nights, a path I hope to someday cross.
How To Dress Well Total Loss LP (Weird World)
I’d heard about How To Dress Well for a while now, and it always kind of annoyed me, because in every promo photo, the main guy would be dressed like one of the cool kids in my second-grade class: satin NFL jacket, silly t-shirt, big sneakers. Seriously, don’t call yourself “How To Dress Well” and pose for photos looking like a fashion don’t. I was willing to give the music a chance, but it pretty much sucks too – this is basically an R&B Coldplay for hipsters. Sounds gross, right? He has a second-round-elimination American Idol voice, and sings over quaint and melancholic loops/piano, and I’m wondering if Fader and XLR8R didn’t just create How To Dress Well in some laboratory when they realized they wanted a weird new hipster-hybrid of Jordan Knight and Ben Folds to write about. I’m giving How To Dress Well a pretty hard time, because really the music isn’t awful, it’s just the whole premise and lack of musical substance that I find pretty revolting. I would hope that you feel similarly.
I Dream In Transit Absolute Peace / Night Dog 7″ (Exit Union)
The cover image of a hairy man and a long-haired woman looking off in different directions had me thinking this was Fabulous Diamonds under a different name (I Dream In Transit are Australian, after all), but I have no confirmed relation. There’s no musical similarities, that’s for sure – “Absolute Peace” is a true tear-jerker, as if The xx and The Black Heart Procession got together to write a new soundtrack for Titanic. They should’ve enclosed a small packet of Kleenex with this single, not a CD-r of the songs! “Night Dog” would be a good rapper name, but it’s a good song too, and probably my favorite of the single – the mood is just as depressed and miserable, but the sparse percussion and simple keyboard tones offer me a welcome look into my own grave. The song is barely there, like when you’re out in a field and walk through a particularly cold patch of air, and it’s really quite enchanting in its sorrow. Would certainly like to hear more from this group, I just have to make sure I don’t hear it after coming home from a particularly dreary workday, lest I snuff myself out with a butter-knife as I Dream In Transit lull me to the great beyond.
Jacob Korn You & Me 2xLP (Uncanny Valley)
There’s one reason and one reason only that I first checked out Jacob Korn – his name! If there’s ever a techno/house producer named Dustin Staind or John Godsmack, I’ll listen to them too, that’s just how it is. Korn’s I Like The Sun EP was my first exposure, and it was as bright and warm as the title suggests, a refreshing burst of melodic tech-house. You & Me is his first full-length, and the title is apt, as each track features at least one guest artist or collaborator; the guest is usually a vocalist, but some of them contribute to production as well. This sort of approach almost guarantees a spotty album of hits and misses, and while I don’t think any tracks stink on You & Me, there aren’t a ton of highlights to speak of either. The fluctuating acid of “Heteronomous” (with perfectly stoic spoken-word from a guy named “Sneaker”) and the afro-house of “Do Your Thing” (courtesy of none other than Mr. Raoul K) are probably my favorites, but tracks like “The Place”, or “Broken”, with its emo-Billie Holiday vocals, are more suited to a Nissan commercial than my weekly turntable playlist. A decent album of pop-shined house music, just not really the sort of thing I’ll be jonesing to hear (or even remembering) in a couple months. Jacob Korn still rules, though – that’s his real name!
Eric Lanham The Sincere Interruption LP (Spectrum Spools)
“Live Improvised Electronic Music” is what the back cover of The Sincere Interruption promises, and Eric Lanham certainly delivers as advertised. I’ve found Spectrum Spools to be spotty, kind of like a training-wheels label for ex-noise guys to get their techno footing, but Eric Lanham isn’t looking to make anyone dance here; rather, this is music for solving Rubix cubes or deciphering complex algorithms without the use of a calculator. It’s music that you sit and process rather than react against, with plenty of dead-ends and cul-de-sacs in its complex electronic grid to keep the listener confused and entertained. Kind of like Fennesz, if his starting point was crafted by Roland instead of Fender? Nothing about The Sincere Interruption really grabbed me by the collar, but I doubt that was Lanham’s intent anyway – this is a collection of softly massaged blips and bloops that never poke too hard, and you’re either gonna let him tease your neurons or you’re going to refuse the whole thing immediately anyway. The only way to be sure is by checking it out, of course.
Lark’s Tongue The Rope / Tucson, Arizona 7″ (Bird Dialect)
I listened to this Lark’s Tongue single a couple times in the past month, but kept forgetting what it sounded like, so I’m playing it right now as I type, lest I forget again. That probably sounds like the kiss of death, but Lark’s Tongue ain’t half bad, just a little plain – like a bowl of oatmeal without the brown sugar. “The Rope” reminds me of The Dismemberment Plan and The Arcade Fire, in the way that simple rock progressions are made grand through ambiance, echoing guitars and repetition. Same goes for “Tucson, Arizona”, which tones down the rock energy for a drifting post-rocker that Big Wheel Recreation would’ve fawned over back in 1996. Can’t imagine a large chunk of the Yellow Green Red audience is really clamoring for this sort of plainclothes indie-rock, I know I’m not, but Lark’s Tongue make good with it just the same. If you think about Jimmy Eat World at least once a week, this may be one 7″ to seek out.
Locrian & Christoph Heemann Locrian & Christoph Heemann LP (Handmade Birds)
Never ones to rest on their laurels, the friendliest bunch of avant black-metallers I know, Locrian, have teamed up with electronic weirdo Christoph Heemann for four long, strange tracks of suspended animation, completely devoid of any sense of metal (or any sense of… anything, really). Heemann certainly sounds like a master of the universe here, as quiet low-end rumble and electronic stasis orbit each other, recalling a time before cellular reproduction, just big-ass balls of frozen gas and vague gravity. Reminds me a little of that Sunn O))) collaboration with Boris, where the whole time it feels like you’re on the verge of something huge happening, but it never actually does. I bet these four guys never took their eyes off their fingertips for the entire record, and while I would be truly bored to tears having to stand in a club and listen to someone perform this album live, it adds a pleasant sense of slowed time as I listen in the comfort of my home.
Mala Mala In Cuba 4×12″ (Brownswood Recordings)
When it comes to dubstep and its many splinter factions, I am a sucker for a good gimmick, whether it’s tracks that only use ancient analog gear, or sample old disco records, or play as a fake movie soundtrack, or whatever. The premise of Mala In Cuba is pretty obvious, but I’ll explain it anyway – Mala went to Cuba, sampled a whole bunch of musicians and performers, and used those raw tracks as the building blocks for an album’s worth of his distinct strain of dubstep. You can imagine that the percussion is incredibly varied on here – at least three dozen different drum hits are involved, as well as all sorts of bells and cymbals and who-knows-what. This could’ve resulted in some sort of weak Shackleton rip, but Mala keeps his distinct flow (as deep as it is lugubrious) and treats the sampled percussion as another tool in his box rather than the final image itself. The beat often cuts the percussion’s tempo in half (check the massive swing of “Changuito”), but it’s also often quite groovy, like some sort of obscure jazz percussion record that Stone’s Throw would reissue. I figured I’d get pretty tired of this vibe over the course of four 12″s, but Mala keeps the quality pretty high, offering a singular statement that doesn’t struggle from a lack of diversity. Light up a cigar and have some fun with this one.
M2 At Land’s Edge LP (Feeding Tube)
M2 is what the brothers Roger and Ben Miller like to call themselves when they step away from their roles in Glenn Branca’s Ensemble and Mission Of Burma and instead turn to improvisation via electric guitar and acoustic piano (both of which come heavily prepared). It’s a pretty quiet record, definitely going the high-minded route of groups like MEV or AMM where practically nothing happens at all for uncomfortable stretches of time. It makes for a pretty nice accompaniment while staring into deep water until you can see shadows of fish, or the final moments of sleeplessness after 48 waking hours. I’m generally not in either of those situations too frequently, so At Land’s Edge is one of those records I can appreciate without wanting to hear very often. One gripe, though – the promo sheet has a list price of $30.98, and to make sure it wasn’t a typo, I went to the Forced Exposure site and saw that it’s $27.50 over there. Do the Miller brothers come over and cook you dinner while this record plays or something? Hell, for that kind of money, they better do the dishes afterwards, too.
The Native Cats / The UV Race split 7″ (Ride The Snake)
There aren’t many split 7″s these days that make me think “goddamn, I wish I released that!” as I learned of their existence, but this is certainly one of them. The Native Cats and The UV Race are two charmingly scruffy groups, one smarty-smart and the other dummy-smart, and I knew that neither group would treat this single like a throwaway-track dumping ground. The Native Cats’ “Ten Years Transportation” is a bit nastier than what you may be used to from these two charming lads, as the programmed drums are built from a row-boat’s churn, Julian Teakle’s bass-line sounds like it was recently provoked with a sharp stick, and vocalist Peter Escott continues to pretend he’s an undercover federal agent with disarming accuracy. The UV Race fill their side with three tracks and a reprise, and it plays out like a day in the life of Jowe Head – there’s the groggy wake-up, the afternoon freak-out, the evening cool-down and the midnight insomnia. It’s hard to not enjoy anything The UV Race have put to wax, this being no exception. If you pick up but one split 7″ this year, I can’t see any better contender than right here…
No Tomorrow Nuclear Exposure 7″ (Sorry State)
Correct me if I’m wrong, but Sorry State has yet to put out a record that sucks, right? This No Tomorrow single certainly doesn’t – this is burly hardcore ala Burned Up Bled Dry or His Hero Is Gone, but rather than monotonously dirge or maniacally pummel, it grooves. “Nuclear Exposure” sounds like a slowed-down State Of Fear, a song that won’t incite a sweaty mosh so much as raise 40s and fist-pumps from anyone with less than five dreadlocks but full heads of hair (you know the look I’m talking about). “Burning Inside” speeds things up a bit, and makes nice work of the sneaking influence that the NWOBHM has had on crust-punk in the past few years. I’m not sure what they’re grunting on the chorus, but I’ve got the cadence down and am willing to join in. What better way to reconnect with Felix Von Havoc than by picking this up from his distro?
Protomartyr No Passion All Technique LP (Urinal Cake)
Protomartyr’s debut single really had me jumping for joy a few months back, and I think another one came out that I still need to track down, but right now the snidely-titled No Passion All Technique is demanding my attention. I really wanted to love this thing, I mean I was so darn excited to bust it out of the shrink-wrap that I accidentally dented a corner in the process, but I have to say that it’s a good album, not a great one. For one thing, Protomartyr seem like less of a drunken/stoned attempt at The Fall or Wire and more like a tight rock band here, like they went and sobered up, hit the gym, and started pulling in regular paychecks instead of fighting with their unemployment officers. Their riffs are still pretty rocking, as stubbly and unshaven as I could’ve hoped, they are just played with a new-found aggression (or Replacements-y hip-shaking pace) that somehow is less exciting to me than when they stumbled through a slurred sing-along like “Cartier E.G.s” off their first single. I think the hooks will reveal themselves as I play this one more, which I certainly plan on doing, it just wasn’t an instant tweak of the nose like their debut. Actually, it seems like the kind of record that would really come together after hearing the band perform the songs live, which I hope is possible. Time to bring the show east, Protomartyr!
Frank Rosaly Centering And Displacement LP (Utech)
Quick side note – this is probably the 50th LP I’ve gotten in the past couple months that opts for a black dust sleeve. I know they were once hard to come by, but it seems like every record label is doing it now, as if the generic white dust sleeve doesn’t signify enough darkness or evil or whatever. I like them, but man, we’re in the middle of a full-blown record packaging trend right now. Anyway, on to more important things, like Frank Rosaly’s Centering And Displacement, a beguiling improvised electronic / percussion recording that has been altered in multiple nefarious ways. I read the liner notes, which go into how his original improv recording was manipulated in a computer, then divided into six different channels and played on three separate CD players at the same time, then edited into the LP I am currently playing. Rosaly really made a point of shuffling his deck of cards beyond any sort of comprehensible order, and the result is a nicely disconcerting muck of electronic blurts, drum hits and momentary silence. Reminds me of Aufgehoben, if you narrowed a normal Aufegehoben song down to a couple drum tracks. Centering And Displacement is really quite entertaining, and diverse enough to prevent boredom from creeping in, resulting in a nice avant-noise record that can be appreciated by Ph.Ds and GEDs alike.
Savages Flying To Berlin / Husbands 7″ (Pop Noire)
Savages are this year’s most interesting UK indie phenom, and after watching one of their sharply-produced live videos on YouTube, I can see why – the band looks like a Chanel ad fronted by a woman channeling vintage Sinead O’Connor and Ian Curtis moves. How can you go wrong with that? As every major-indie label stumbles over each other to try to convince Savages that they are somehow the best for the group, I’m just gonna keep spinning this fun and effective debut 7″ and hope that the whole hype process doesn’t get too disgusting for them. When you get down to it, this is a satisfyingly simple single (even if the long list of credits on the back cover would lead you to believe otherwise), working each track around repetitive basslines, chiming guitar, disco-punk drumming and brooding vocals that fall somewhere between Siouxsie and Ari. And while it’s far from raw, there’s some sort of feral intensity bubbling beneath the surface that seems ready to strike at a moment’s notice, which I find highly appealing. Neither song is a bona fide hit, but they are both really good, and the vibe is just so palatable and eternally hip that I’m sold on Savages thus far.
Shooting Guns / Krang split 7″ (Psychic Handshake)
Bafflingly bad split single here from the Psychic Handshake label, one that particularly stings, as I had somewhat high hopes for any band called “Krang” that went with a Krang-like brain eating a person on their side of the cover. Shooting Guns offer a boring stoner instrumental that fires an airball at Sleep. It doesn’t even hit Orange Goblin on the way to the floor! I mean, the riff is fine, it’s a classic unremarkable stoner-rock progression, I just don’t understand why Shooting Guns thought it was vinyl-worthy, or something to claim as their own. Krang are slightly more interesting, but that’s like saying heat rash is better than poison ivy – either way you’re uncomfortable. Strong memories of the Man’s Ruin label are evoked here, but only the aspect of the label that people liked to mock – the generic stoner riffing that tries to make up for its lack of originality or creativity with pot leaves and one guy on a synth for “psychedelic” parts. See ya!
Silent Servant Negative Fascination LP (Hospital Productions)
Okay, okay, I get it, Dom Fernow loves Sandwell District, and Sandwell District loves Prurient and Vatican Shadow. Watching them continually remix each other and put out each other’s records over the past few months has been like sitting next to a couple making out on the bus – enough already, we get it! I’m not so cynical as to think this is some sort of techno/noise cred-swap, I’m sure these guys are just into each other’s music, and from this PDA comes Silent Servant’s Negative Fascination album, which I suppose makes up for any annoyance. Don’t let the Hospital association fool you here – this is a fairly subdued album for both the artist and label, more of a brooding excursion through an industrial jungle in the dark than any sort of fierce techno siren-call. “Invocation Of Lust” sums up the sound nicely – a constant techno pulse guides you through all sorts of creaks and scrapes, the sounds of hidden dangers that could end you at any moment but thankfully never do. Same goes for “Moral Divide (Endless)”, which hops on a Chris & Cosey-style drum beat as factories pump out black smoke into a black skyline. Really great vibe, as Silent Servant shows the perfect level of restraint. While making my way through the end of side two, I am convinced a dozen Agent Smiths are busting out of the Matrix and coming to dispose of me. This is exactly how I want certain techno records to make me feel, and Silent Servant pushes those buttons expertly.
Surgeons Whip Them Lord / In My Scope 7″ (Total Punk)
Michael Gira’s gotta be pissed he didn’t come up with the song title “Whip Them Lord” first, but this one belongs to Surgeons, a fairly anonymous-sounding punk group. It’s a nice track, kinda moves with the energy of Dogs’ “Slash Your Face”, but on a downer tip, and without any scorching guitar, just average murky punk guitar. Same deal for “In My Scope”, kind of a menacing punk ripper that never gets too in your face or freaks out too hard. Feels like a single that could easily slip into the Lemon Session or VVV discographies, a decent punk platter that flies under most radars. Certainly not the strongest of the Total Punk bunch thus far, nor is it the weakest, just a decent bin-filling 7″ that any punk label ends up releasing after a while.
Town Ship Future Confusion 7″ (Revolution Winter)
I’ll take any six-song single for a spin, so why not Town Ship’s Future Confusion? This is my first exposure to the group, and I like what I hear – a messier, more discordant take on Hot Snakes. The guitar-picking is unrepentant, the singer screams with a particularly dry throat, and the whole presentation has sort of an angry Midwestern noise-rock vibe, from that time long ago when noise-rock was considered indie-rock. These guys are from Calgary though, so if those Midwesterners were influenced by their lousy winters, Town Ship understand true suffering. They also manage to play this sort of music without coming across as old and bitter, but enthusiastic and pumped, like playing shows is something to look forward to all week rather than something you do just because it’s what you’ve always done. The record still kinda feels like a “local band” single, from the screened cover and what-not, but they’ve gotta be one of the best things their local scene has got going. Nicely done!
Untold Change In A Dynamic Environment 2 12″ (Hemlock Recordings)
I think Untold’s up to at least the third installment of his Change In A Dynamic Environment series, but I’m still at level 2, which is a pretty sweet place to chill for a while. “Caslon” doesn’t take long to get going, surging an electrified loop past recommended safety levels and into a dance-floor killer. Untold no longer seems interested in confounding audiences, instead pushing toward a sense of excited delirium, for which “Caslon” is the perfect drug. Makes sense that “Breathe” is on the b-side, because it’s a bodily function I neglected on the a-side, and Untold gives us back that ability here. This one’s verging on some sort of avant deep-house, like Tensnake sampling John Cage or something? The groove is indelible, even as simmering pianos and fluttering effects try to knock it off balance. Untold is really killin’ it.
Vessel Order Of Noise LP (Tri Angle)
I’m constantly impressed by just how much all these disparate Tri Angle artists sound like they were meant to be Tri Angle artists. I’m not sure if they are conforming their music to fit on the label, or if the label is just excellent at finding these weirdos (probably the latter), but Vessel’s Order Of Noise is another dark and oily trek into the dank plumbing beneath techno’s infrastructure. I actually listened to this for the first time directly after Holy Other’s Held, and didn’t realize I had switched records at first, but continued listening confirms Vessel as its own Tri Angle species, sure enough – Vessel is holding down dub-techno for today’s modern freaks. Beats roll on a flat tire or two, drums echo with the temper of King Tubby, and the whole thing frequently sounds like Maurizio home with the flu. Reminds me of Actress quite a bit too, at least Actress’s hazy, reflective tunes that just kinda buzz like a beehive, sometimes far in the distance, sometimes on top of your skull. If Vessel, Actress, Darling Farah and Austin Cesear found like two more artists, I think they’d be able to start a union. Even experimental dance-music producers need paid sick leave.
Weird Party Hussy LP (Sex & Death)
Weird Party seems to be a monthly event at this point, as it feels like only a few weeks have passed since their last 7″ rolled in. They’ve gotta be trying to get noticed at this point, and Seth Alverson’s painting entitled “Tits In A Window”, used for the cover art, is the sort of image that’ll get some second-looks. I hope some of those people stay for the music, as Hussy is a pretty solid album of modern garage-punk. Has kind of an Unnatural Helpers vibe to it, in the way the songs bounce rather than slam (as well as the “nasally man in the throes of early middle age” vocal delivery). Weird Party would certainly fit in nicely on a label like In The Red, alongside elder snotsmen The Intelligence and Cheater Slicks. After a few listens, no songs really stick out past the rest, but that’s not really to Hussy‘s detriment – it’s an album that goes by fast, knocks over at least one drink and leaves the listener to go get the mop and dustpan. Give the new records a break for a few months, Weird Party, and hit the road! Time to show us non-local folk what you got.
White Murder Safety In Numbers / Real Tough Chicks 7″ (no label)
Along with their split single with The Family Curse, White Murder took it upon themselves to self-release this two-song 7″, and much like their track off the split, these tunes mine a similar territory, one where the classic Dangerhouse sound mixes with a sort of ’90s guitar-driven indie vibe, resulting in something palatable for record collectors and roller derby participants alike. There are two vocalists, but they often kind of blend together in one single voice, kind of like a snotty, human version of Autotune that works well with the driving punk rock behind it. As the Los Angelean X vibe is strong, this might veer a little too close to greaser-punk “rock n’ roll” for some punk purists, but in a quick dose like this, White Murder does right by me. Flaming dice tattoos can look good on some people, I swear.
Wiccans Field II LP (Katorga Works)
Wiccans are back with another mystical, occult-themed album, just in time for your township’s annual Halloween parade. And just like their debut, the music really doesn’t sound anything like you’d expect occult-themed hardcore to – Wiccans are pretty straight-forward in their delivery, the recording is clean and punchy, and the mosh is frequently palpable. It’s honestly so straight-laced at times that I feel like Wiccans would go over big with the kids (or I guess at this point, adults) who still keep up with Revelation Records and buy new copies of Side By Side and Sick Of It All records just because they’re on a brand new colored vinyl or the insert has a different offset or whatever. Wiccans manage to spice it up with some dare-I-say psych-rock guitar lines here and there, but Field II is frequently the definition of meat-and-potatoes hardcore. Pull it out along with that Natural Law LP and pretend the ’90s never happened.
Gareth Williams & Mary Currie Flaming Tunes LP (Blackest Ever Black)
Here’s one of those records that I always needed, I just never had any idea it existed. This Heat’s Gareth Williams was a wonderfully busy artist in the ’80s, and Flaming Tunes was a quaint little tape he put together with his pal Mary Currie in 1985. Leave it to one damn black label to dig it up and give it the much needed vinyl treatment (and present it in an understated-yet-attractive sleeve and insert; no giant booklets or gatefold needed), and it’s the home run everyone figured it would be. What amazes me is how much thought and discretion went into these tracks – there isn’t a noise interlude or atmospheric jam to speak of, but rather eleven strongly-considered, fragile-pop gems. I hate to say it feels like UK DIY songsmithery with a feminine touch, but that’s certainly the sense I get – there’s a warmth to these songs that the clinical precision of This Heat never quite had, a welcomed tenderness via pianos and weird drums (credited as “pseudodrum” and singdrum” in the liner notes). They’re all dramatically different, and clearly no aesthetic boundaries were in place during their creation, but every last Flaming Tune plays a significant role in the album. A true talent at work here, and an album worth seeking out – ignoring its currently “sold out” status and finding a copy should take priority over lunch.