Of all the great noise / noise-influenced groups to come out of the early ’00s, how many
are not only still kicking, but still getting better? The best (and probably only) group
to fit that bill is Sightings, a gifted guitar/bass/drums trio that has dismantled the
connotations of rock music and re-purposed its pieces into something else entirely. The
only thing that appears to be off-limits in Sightings’ world is predictability – starting
off with garage-crusted Harry Pussy-style rock assaults, Sightings have proven to be masters
of eerie tension, ambient soundscapes, proto-techno repetition and neo-industrial clank,
through the course of nine albums and a handful of singles. Their tenth, Terribly Well, is slated
for release on Dais Records next month, and if you’re not getting excited about it, go buy
some Green Day opera tickets or something. Sightings is what it’s all about.
Sightings have been a group for over a decade now. What has kept you from breaking up?
Jon (drums): I think there’s been a sort of mission to the group and a lot of common interests
musically, and then I think we’ve all been pretty happy with the music we make, so the
musical element probably drives the desire to keep playing together.
Mark (guitar, vocals): Yeah, we still like the music, so I guess that sort of helps with the
longevity. And while on occasion we might get on each other’s nerves like any other band
(or family), we generally still get along well after slogging it out in the rock wars for all this time.
Richard (bass): Short answer, beer. Longer answer is I think some of the music we have put together
in the last couple years is among our best. If we were doing mediocre shit we’d definitely stop.
What would you say the group’s “mission” is, that Jon references?
Richard: Beer. More serious, we all hated post-rock and emo. Really serious… from the start, I
wanted to have a ‘heavy’ band that wasn’t just rehashing hardcore and metal. Early
industrial was in the mix. But we definitely wanted to play instruments and not just
tweak knobs. I think the defining thing at a certain point was we were all interested
in exploring our instruments and really making them our own. Being players, while kicking
ass. Maybe Jon had another mission in mind?
Jon: When I mentioned some mission, it wasn’t all that specific, but I was thinking of when we
started out and we’d be listening to records and wanting to capture maybe a feeling of
tension or some musical idea and play it as a band with the instruments (and playing
ability) we had, and over time we developed our own vocabulary. And we could write songs.
And like Richard mentioned, we can still put together some good tunes, so we keep doing it.
You often get tagged as “experimental”… do you see Sightings that way? Do you feel any pressure
to keep pushing forward, to never do the same record twice?
Jon: In the sense that the conventional approach to guitar, bass and drums is replaced with
a more open architecture in the way we play songs and the sounds we use, it could be
called “experimental”. But it’s rock music in the end.
Mark: It’s a fairly loaded term, and I tend to avoid using it unless the subject of the band
comes up at a family Thanksgiving dinner or a job meeting. I definitely put pressure
on myself to keep on changing and developing my playing and don’t want to feel like
I’m repeating myself. That being said, it’s often a counterproductive mindset, and
sometimes the best shit just comes out of relaxed “let’s see what the hell happens”
situations in practice.
Richard: I think very little music counts as experimental these days. Within Sightings, we all
have pretty pronounced playing styles, so there’s only so far from a certain core
sound we are going to get. I don’t think our latest record – and there’s a second
record we recorded at the same time – is really Earth-shatteringly different from
the last couple records, but it might be an improvement in overall quality, and
definitely closer to the sound we want from a record right now.
Are there any records or tracks in particular for older records where you can listen
back to it now and be like “we absolutely nailed that”? For me, one of my personal favorite
Sightings memories is the first time I heard your debut LP. The opening track “Two
Thoughts” just kinda shocked me, that a band could allow such a song to happen after
such a casual “one two three four”. It felt really triumphant.
Richard: The song “Michigan Haters” was a one-off jam that sounded like perfect music to me.
That was the moment I knew we were really hitting it. “Guilty Of Wrecking” is off the
chain. “Anna May Wong” (that’s how it should have been spelled) on Absolutes fulfilled some
other higher order, we’re-not-stuck-playing-rock-music desire. Those were all recorded
in the same late summer/early fall, 2001. As far as the first album goes, still love
“Cuckoo”, but Mark hates it!
Jon: Every record has a few songs that I think are pretty amazing – good songs, well played, well
recorded and mixed. “Two Thoughts” would be one of my picks from that first record. Michigan Haters
and Absolutes are pretty solid all the way through. “Carry On” from End Times and “The Knotted House”
from Future Accidents are favorites.
How do you know when an album is “done”? Do you have a specific set of songs you go into
the studio to record usually, or is there a lot of improvising/jamming?
Richard: We love improvising in the studio and now seems like a good time to shill for Mr. Pat
Murano (ex?-No Neck, current Decimus) who has jammed with us on the last two studio
sessions. 3/4 of the new record includes him on synth. Some pieces we have worked
on previously with him, and some are improvs. Otherwise, we always go in with a lot
of songs, usually a mix of stuff that’s been vetted pretty hard live and some new
stuff we can have some fun trying out. And then some straight improv. I think City of Straw is
probably the only record that doesn’t have a one-off jam on it since the first one.
Jon: City Of Straw and Future Accidents were recorded at the same session and the improv tune is on Future Accidents.
As far as a record being “done”, we run out of time or money.
How much input do you guys have in each other’s performances? Like, will Jon ever recommend Mark
try a different guitar sound, or does Mark ever give Richard advice on what riffs he
should play along with you?
Jon: Once we have a song idea we’ve been playing, there is some talk about how to refine the tune,
and occasionally there are suggestions, but generally I would say no.
Mark: I’m often not too keen on telling other people what to do, and even recommendations strike
me as fascist when I’m in a certain mood (was I born this way or did my family do this
to me?). But, advice/input does happen, and the most heard refrain throughout the history
of band practices is, “Hey man, try to play less or keep it simpler”. Another fairly common
thing is someone will play something that he thinks is stupid, clichéd or ,and another
member of the band will say they like it.
Richard: We have been doing it for so long, there’s not a lot we need to say to one another. Even
if I have a negative opinion about, say, how Mark is approaching playing on a given night,
it’s pretty common for him to express the same opinion afterwards without me saying anything.
We do try to encourage each other to work with certain ideas or sounds when so inspired.
Positivity is always helpful, because it’s easy to get caught up in an attitude that nothing
you’re playing is new or different or good enough… maybe that also answers the last question.
Is your favorite Sightings record always the last one you’ve released, or is there one that you’re
just particularly proud of?
Jon: The Michigan Haters / Absolutes era (2002-3) was a good time for the band, so those two records
stand out. Those are 4-track records we recorded ourselves. As far as the studio records – Arrived In Gold,
Through The Panama, City Of Straw, Future Accidents and the new one, Terribly Well – yes, Terribly
Well sounds the best to me right now.
Mark: I would echo the Michigan Haters / Absolutes sentiment. I’m pretty sure though that
Terribly Well is the most consistent LP so far, but I’ll have to check back in a few years.
Richard: I would say definitely Michigan Haters and maybe Absolutes are the only records before this
new one that doesn’t have a glaring problem that makes me wince every time I think
of them. Mostly track choices. So much compromise of so many kinds goes into making
records, it’s hard to be satisfied. I laugh when people talk about records as if every
detail was intended by the artist… is it ever like that for any one? Sometimes the
accidents are happy ones. Sometimes the decisions are poor. Sometimes you run out of
time, sometimes money. Michigan Haters was the moment when I first felt like we were making
a real statement. It’s definitely my fave and the one I am most proud of.
Since there really aren’t many (any?) groups out there that sound like Sightings, you’re often put
on bills with rock bands, or with improvised noise… are there any particularly bands you
feel a kinship with, either for touring together or playing shows with?
Jon: We’ve often been labeled a “noise” group, which none of us would really agree with, but we
played the Minneapolis Noise Fest in 2010 and the audience was really frenetic. The group
before us was dragging metal around the room on concrete floors while we were setting up,
and when we played there was a lot of tension in the crowd, in a good way. People were
really engaged through the whole night of groups. One of the best nights of that tour for
me. My point being, the “rock” vs. “noise” thing doesn’t really matter to me, but that show
was an example of when the noise tag can be good. We played with Sword Heaven a few times
and that was always fun. More recently, we’ve played with Fat Worm Of Error and Bill Nace’s
groups, both out of Northampton, MA.
How did collaborating with Tom Smith come about? Was there a friendship prior to Sightings, or something
that came about afterward? Are future collaborations possible?
Mark: I met Tom when we were both working at Mondo Kim’s in ’99. We had some mutual friends and I had
certainly heard a lot about him through them. I’ll never forget reading his resume which
went back to like, ’76 or something, and it had pretty much any job you could conceive
of on it, all of them only lasting for four-to-five months. At the very end of it, he wrote
something to the effect of “As you see, I can do anything so you should hire me.” Hire him we
did, and I think the first time I met him there he was wearing a fucking Mark Ecko sweatshirt,
and I thought that about it in two ways: 1) this guy is fucking insane (he was in his mid 40s
rocking that shit) or 2) perhaps trying too hard to offend the more stylish denizens of the
East Village then. Or both. Either way, I was amused, and we hit it off real well and have
been friends ever since. He eventually met the other two guys; we did an aborted recording
session in 2000 (I think), recorded the Gardens of War album together, and have played a few shows
together here and there over the years.
You’ve all lived in New York for as long as Sightings has existed, right? Do you see yourself as a New
York band, or just a band? I’m wondering if you have any New York pride, or possibly see it
as a condition that has helped inspire Sightings.
Jon: We all met in New York and have existed as a band here, but none of us are from here. I don’t
personally have any sense that we’re a “New York” band.
Richard: On one hand, I don’t feel like there’s anything particularly New York about Sightings. The
bands I most loved and idolized growing up weren’t NYC bands, and other than a couple years in
the early ’00s, I haven’t felt much a part of any of the hundred or so NYC music scenes. On the
other hand, I think it’s disingenuous to say living in New York is not a part of who we are as
a band. We’re intense people, it’s an intense city, we’re an intense band. We choose the grind
of the city to make non-commercial music that can’t possibly get more popular. We have made this
choice for almost fifteen years. It’s all intertwined, but I can’t give you a pithy line about
Is there anything you still really want to do with Sightings that you haven’t done yet? Touring with a
certain band, playing shows in a foreign place, a gatefold triple LP of cover songs… anything?
Mark: I’d love to visit Australia or South America, go back to Japan or maybe play Tehran. As long
as we can continue to get on planes to play shows and not lose a ton of cash, I’m happy.
Jon: I would agree with Mark. Australia and New Zealand would be cool.
Richard: Still hoping for that album I am completely happy with… but maybe not being satisfied is
a big part of the band.
Agitated Agitated 7″ (Helta Skelta)
The ghost-mummies on the cover remind me of some early-stage Resident Evil boss, or the art you’d see on a Santa Cruz skate-deck in 1995, and the music of Agitated will most likely appeal to anyone who travels in either orbit. Fast, flailing, semi-jokey hardcore-punk that has zero personality of its own; just another sticker in the men’s room of a groady all-ages club. Song topics are of an anti-hypocrite / anti-human race nature, among some of the most well-worn punk rock templates, and offer nothing new to the field. This song and dance is as routine as the way our parents stubbornly keep going to church, and in this case, I find it equally appealing. It’s kind of odd, because while there is absolutely nothing wrong with Agitated existing and doing what they do, there is also absolutely no reason for this 7″ to exist beyond their state border, or even as a 7″ at all, and not just a tape or some MP3s. If Agitated just played for their friends and neighbors, all would be fine.
Ausmuteants Ah… What An Ugly Face Every Face Is 7″ (Heinous Anus)
Aus-mute-ants… ah, I get it! Pretty dece’ four-song EP from this Australian punk group, who generally keep it mid-tempo, chugging with just a touch of snarl. I’m thinking of the more straight-forward Tyvek material mixed with whatever comes to your mind when I say “Dangerhouse”, as it’s pretty classic-sounding, and one band member’s always got his or her finger jammed squarely on a crappy keyboard. The first three songs are a pleasant in-one-ear-and-out-the-other trip, but “Bloody Rip-Off” is the one I’ll be requesting – the chorus sticks with you right away, and is wonderfully unpoetic in its delivery. (It goes “It’s pretty embarrassing / to be from the same / town as you” over and over – who can’t relate to that?) The guitar rolls a sharp little lead over top, and it’s another fine reason why I generally take my rock in the form of punk. If Ausmuteants have any more “Bloody Rip-Off”s in them, I hope they aren’t stingy with them!
Autre Ne Veut Anxiety LP (Software)
I’m so glad the emotionally-overwrought music of Autre Ne Veut exists, and have been looking forward to chuckling while singing along to this follow-up album, Anxiety. A few minutes in, however, it becomes clear that the spastic art-school hilarity of the debut is almost completely extinguished, replaced with slicker production values, thoughtful arrangements, better vocals and just an overall quality improvement. At first, I was kind of disappointed that the grown-man-in-a-chicken-suit, Tim and Eric vibe was missing, but these songs quickly revealed themselves as the catchy, heart-on-sleeve, indie-R&B gems that they are, much farther from hipster irony and closer to Usher or Prince. The production goes much wider than the bedroom beats on his previous records; it’s clearly a strongly-considered studio affair, and the back-up singers’ vocals give the record a touch of Kate Bush’s whimsy, which feels completely natural and unforced here. The main man still sings with the passion of a dozen suicidal teenagers, but no longer do you want to laugh at him, you want to share his emotions while singing along. Or at least I do.
Bandshell Caustic View 12″ (Liberation Technologies)
That first Bandshell 12″ on Hessle Audio was such a strange little corker that I had to scoop up this new one, another four tracks of experimental electronics that glance or nod toward the dancefloor. Opening track “Winton” does more than nod, even, slicing all sorts of sharp-edged percussion bits into a groove worthy of the worm. Reminds me of Skream’s “Repercussions Of A Razorblade”, although faster, and with all sorts of disorienting debris lurking beneath the fairly approachable rhythm. “Perc” is almost kind of pretty, like if Actress made a love song. The two b-side cuts, “Nice Mullet” (har har) and “Landfill” seem to have pillaged heavy industry for their sound base, as if a cold-wave classic was disassembled by Mark Fell or some other dancefloor academic. “Landfill” in particular has the bleary touch of a Sandwell District product, where the bass has long since died out and robotic vultures circle the carcass. Think it’s gonna be a while before the rest of the world catches up to where Bandshell is at.
Bed Wettin’ Bad Boys Ready For Boredom LP (R.I.P Society)
The B.W.B. Boys are back in town, and in the fine tradition of recent Australian punk rock records, there’s a photo of a mess on the back cover. I dug their debut single; it was just catchy and gruff enough to keep me smiling (and I have to admit, I feel a strange sort of kinship with a band called the Bed Wettin’ Bad Boys, a name that so many others seem disappointed by), but Ready For Boredom takes a gentler, poppier route that doesn’t necessarily rule out the reality of the album title. I get from the album cover that these are semi-grown men, drinking in pubs and working jobs and not being kids, but the majority of this album sounds like slowed-down ’90s pop-punk to me, like something Lookout! and Hopeless would’ve fought over back in 1996. They use those super-pleasant, heartstring-pulling guitar leads that everyone from The Queers to MxPx have used in the past, and while they still work, I find it surprising that this band, in this year, has decided to play and record them. Maybe if they just fully went for pop stardom, and freshened up the singing and tightened up the playing, I’d be falling in love with Ready For Boredom, but instead it’s something that’s nice but ultimately forgettable, like the fifth beer of the night. Don’t get me wrong, I hope these bad boys keep on wettin’, I’m just hoping their next record shines brighter than this one.
Brown Angel Agonal Harvest LP (Thunderhaus Ltd.)
Brown Angel come through with another album, once again released by their own Thunderhaus Ltd. imprint, once again thicker than any slab of vinyl that tries to contain it, virgin or otherwise. This one is pretty much all slow – the music pulsates more than rocks, and the drums generally keep a Khanate sense of time, gradually pushing the iceberg forward. They still sound pretty mean at times, but overall Agonal Harvest is a slightly sweeter record than their first – there’s lots of actual singing (and it’s done well), the riffs are frequently melodic, and even the oppressive moments feel more like something SWANS would’ve done as opposed to a metal band. It’s almost as if the heavy-yet-soothing thunder of Jesu was performed with the spiteful, kick-you-while-you’re-down animosity of Clockcleaner. There doesn’t seem to be any stopping Brown Angel, so if you missed the last one, grab Agonal Harvest and freak out your nephew who insists that Tool is the heaviest band there is.
CCR Headcleaner CCR Headcleaner 7″ (Caesar Cuts)
It looks like CCR Headcleaner are performing in a hippie bonfire on the back cover of this 7″ EP. Not at a hippie bonfire, but in it, like they are slowly immolating as they jam through their tunes. It’s probably some sort of illusion, but I’ll be damned if the music doesn’t sound like an unbathed rock group slowly burning to death, flailing at their instruments in some sort of attempt to put out the flames. I’m one of the many mourners of Mayyors, and I feel like CCR Headcleaner are poised to replace them, if not by sound, but by spirit – this is a group that does whatever they want, touching on psychedelic guitar leads, shouted vocals, hardcore-punk dissociative disorder, stinging noise and crumbly song-structure. Kinda like Eat Skull, had they stopped at the Skulltones 7″. Really great stuff, and at over ten minutes, there’s a lot to soak in… a lot of strangeness that reveals itself over time. With a band like this, I won’t be surprised if they are broken up by the time this review is printed, so I’m going to cherish what they’ve already given us and just hope for the best.
Crap Crab Crab Riff / Crap Crabenstein’s Monster 7″ (Wild Animals)
Eesh… at least they said it, not me. From what I can gather, Crap Crab are a masked instrumental-rock foursome, and their music is not for me. “Crab Riff” sounds like Oxes covering Devo, slapping math-rock guitars on a disco beat. The b-side (whose title I refuse to type twice) has kind of a DC-ish stop-start funk, like Faraquet or Q And Not U, but without any vocals, and with a Nickelodeon sort of zaniness. I dunno, it’s not a bad record per se – Crap Crab are suitable players for the funky, tech-y rock they produce. It’s just that their combo of late ’90s, early ’00s attributes (math-rock, matching masks, disco beats, an acceptance of funk, wiry guitar lines, stupid band name, wacky song titles) creates a pretty displeasing cocktail. Can’t imagine anyone will be eager to hear this, but hey, Moscow Moscow Moscow’s Facebook page has 116 likes (“0 people talking about this”) so anything’s conceivable.
Dads Brown On Brown LP (Wharf Cat)
As if the Merchandise boys didn’t have enough bands going, Dads is another thing Carson Cox and David Vassalotti are doing, and dare I say it’s their strangest offering yet. Dads seem willing to sound like anything, and on Brown On Brown they offer six different and loose musical ideas, improvised (or at least endlessly repeated) for their own amusement. The first track “Disco Dad” sounds like a dancey Pop. 1280 song that went on for way too long, which leads into “I’m A Shitty Ghost”, a simmering post-rock wake-up call with plenty of echoed vocals. Brown On Brown comes with a nice thick booklet too, filled with wacky writing about dads and moms and being a dad and other nonsense that I am surprised (and impressed?) someone took the time to actually lay out and have professionally bound into a booklet. The last track “Ride The Moon Into The Sun” is painfully long, really more of an accomplishment in their ability to remain focused enough to slowly reduce a track to nothing over the course of what seemed like 80 minutes. (Can they fit 80 minutes on the side of an LP these days? What just happened here?) I can’t tell if I’m being bullied by Brown On Brown, or if it truly wants me to listen to it, and it’s somewhere in that uncertainty that the appeal of Dads lies – you can try to laugh at them or dance to them, but Dads aren’t going to let you off that easy.
Divorce Divorce LP (Night School)
The big ol’ sticky hand-screened cover-art mess of this Divorce LP harkens me back to the early ’00s when Wolf Eyes ruled (although technically, I suppose they’ll never truly stop ruling). Divorce follow that aggressive art-brut aesthetic straight through to the music, tossing a scalding pail of wet noise all over the audience until eventually belching out a thunderous rock riff. Kinda like if that Sword Heaven / 16 Bitch Pile-Up record morphed into a stoner-infected Coughs. Divorce certainly has that “screamo band who moved onto noise” feel, like the drummer is too good to trade in his kit for a no-input mixer, so the rest of the band lets him or her keep it while they scream and wail over top. Song titles like “AIDS Of Space” and “Stabby (Stabby) Stab” might not even be the most offensive ones on the record, resulting in an album that’s sure to appeal to anyone willing to wear Child Abuse or Test Icicles t-shirts. I like it best when they forgo the actual songs for the pure Hijokaidan noise dogpile, but their rock tracks are gnarly enough to get Lovepump United’s attention, at least if Load doesn’t return their calls. Worth a listen, this one!
Dog And Pony Child Of God LP (Founding Fathers)
Child Of God kicks off with a raging slab of garage-rock disillusionment in the form of “Dentist Appointment”. I don’t know anyone who likes the dentist; I don’t care if you’re old or young or poor or rich… this could be the most unifying punk song I’ve heard in a while. Great stuff, in that sort of in-the-red Ty Segall way, but Dog And Pony quickly take their music into a long-form direction, with heavy bass/drums grooves and plenty of riff extrapolation. I’m reminded of why I still own all those The Convocation Of… records when I listen to Dog And Pony, and it’s because heavy, bombastic rock is great when it’s gritty and unpretentious like this. Child Of God almost attempts some Psychic Paramount moves toward the end of the record (and with those gnarly mechanical-sounding drums on “Freedom?”), but as good as Dog And Pony may be, they’ve still got plenty of work cut out for them to ever approach the greatness that is The Psychic Paramount. Real satisfying record though; for as humble as it may be, there’s quite a bit of fire in Dog And Pony’s oven.
Elephant Rifle Party Child LP (Satan’s Pimp / Humaniterrorist)
Whoa, Satan’s Pimp! Here’s a great ’90s label that pumped out noise-rock and hardcore-grind with the best of ’em, but never quite seemed to get their due. I was certainly excited to see that they were responsible for this Elephant Rifle LP, wondering if it wasn’t their version of Siltbreeze’s Times New Viking (you know, the band to wake a great label from dormancy), and well, it’s not bad, but not the explosive epic I hoped it might be. Right off the bat, they do kind of a Karp speed-riffing thing into a Harvey Milk musical-argument with a vocalist who could probably do a mean version of The Toadies’ “Possum Kingdom”. Elephant Rifle will breach full-on metal guitar-work one moment and then do a skronky Skin Graft Records-style twister the next, pillaging nearly every corner of obnoxious rock music to their own end. Like I said before, not bad, just not particularly memorable either, and while I probably would enjoy watching TV on the couch with these guys, making fun of whatever’s on, they kinda come across as less witty than they seem to think they are on Party Child. Whatever though, so long as this means Satan’s Pimp is an ongoing concern, I consider this record a positive contribution to the world.
Ghastly Spats We’re Breaking Through The Hymen! 7″ (Heinous Anus)
Yep, Ghastly Spats’ We’re Breaking Through The Hymen! on Heinous Anus Records. I don’t see any producer credits, but I can only hope that Donny Dingleberry was controlling the boards. Really, my hopes weren’t high for this one, but it turns out Ghastly Spats are pretty wonderful after all – they’re like the Mentally Ill of the modern Australian garage scene, in that these songs seem to be guided by true malice and perversion, not the standard punk-rock wave-length everyone else is riding. The vocalist definitely has a Sado Marquis vibe, and while the music is of a shambolic DIY post-punk nature, it’s still pretty twisted, with backing vocals that seem to have crawled from a crypt, and guitars so cheap that they can barely support metal strings. These tracks are more like pathetic moans than songs, but it ends up sounding like The Silver, not Xiu Xiu. Really, the more I spin this one, the more Ghastly Spats have tangled me in their web, one where bodlily fluids serve as beverages and farts a form of currency. At least the music is good.
Hoax Caged / Sick Punk 7″ (La Vida Es Un Mus)
In celebration of Hoax moshing the Eiffel Tower, stage-diving into the Mediterranean and wiping their scabby foreheads on Big Ben, La Vida Es Un Mus grant us this quick and easy Euro-tour single. “Caged” is the Oi-tinged mid-tempo stomper, pretty standard Hoax material with ample fist-pump opportunities and sweaty young men crashing into your thoracic spine. “Sick Punk” has some classic Boston hardcore elements to the rhythm, speeding up a bit in the verse and coming back to that DYS-ish breakdown before the grooves run out. These two tracks lack the low-end oomph and overall memorability of Hoax’s prior EPs, and the whole thing lasts under four minutes or so, but the cover art is killer (the long eyeball threads are an excellent touch!), and what are you gonna do, not keep up with Hoax? Hope they sell decent bandages over in the European Union!
Home Blitz Frozen Track 12″ (Mexican Summer)
Shame on me for taking so long to wrangle this Home Blitz 12″ EP… they’re one of those groups that has existed long enough, and been solidly great long enough, that they’re easy to take for granted. Like Sightings or The UV Race in that respect. Anyway, this is a pretty speedy six-song EP, worth filing next to F’s You Are An EP and the Russian Meatsquats’ Let’s Hang Out when it comes to great punk 12″ EPs. DiMaggio and company rock a little more straight-forward than usual here, feeling less disjointed (more jointed?) and ready to rock, even through a cover of Game Theory’s “Rolling with The Moody Girls”, which sounds like it may as well’ve been written by Home Blitz anyway. A song like “In Every Window” blazes hard, and if you didn’t expect that from Home Blitz, be aware that they can rage as competently as the best of ’em (and still toss in a weirdo like the multi-tracked church-organ schizophrenia of “Blind Nova”). I guess it’s a natural result for anyone who moonlights as a member of Pennsylvania’s Toughest Band, Watery Love.
Iceage You’re Nothing LP (Matador)
After their stunning debut, which I initially assumed only I would enjoy but ended up being critically acclaimed the world round, it wasn’t long before I was dying for more. And now, here it is, and it’s as bizarre, great, confusing and catchy as I could’ve hoped. While the straight-forward punkitude of New Brigade might be lacking through much of You’re Nothing, the catchiness is still there – if not by song title, I can recall at least 75% of this record by rhythm and vocals alone. It took a couple listens to warm up to the seemingly scattershot nature of it – the sequencing seems to have been placed at random (the instrumental interlude as the third track – huh?), and the vocals are often hilariously up-front in the mix, with Elias Ronnenfelt’s vocals even more blusteringly tuneless than before. They try out different tempos (there’s at least a couple marches), almost get Hüsker Dü-ishly melodic at times, and the drums almost always seem at the verge of falling completely out of time, unable to keep up with the static hive that is the guitars. It’s a total mess in every way, and after building an initial tolerance, it’s easy to listen to You’re Nothing over and over, captivated by these weird Danish boys and how they’ve decided to go about making music. Not sure this one will be my favorite of the year, but if I keep listening to it and finding more delightful weirdness to chomp on among the deceptively catchy hooks, it very well might be!
Kangding Ray The Pentaki Slopes 12″ (Raster-Noton)
Kangding Ray’s weird name drew me in on this 12″… the moniker calls to mind either a Spider Man villain or a pitcher on the 1973 Milwaukee Brewers. I was expecting abstract shapes of bass and treble, but what Ray delivers is far more accessible, and as far as I’m concerned, quite palatable – “North” opens the EP, building on some mountain-sized slabs of bass that slowly mutate into the shape of a club with people dancing inside. The cardiovascular techno beats and darkened atmosphere makes me think of Petar Dundov hosting a night at Berghain, which is quite a tasty mix. “Plateau (A Single Source Of Truth)” it a creepy little passage of time, the grandfather clock angrily ticking as curious tones hover around it. The Pentaki Slopes eventually come down in “South”, a Maurizio-after-dark special with deep throbbing bass and dub-house effects. Pretty sure there’s a sizable amount of Kangding Ray records already out there, and I think I’m ready to venture deeper into his curious world.
Lark’s Tongue / Men Of Fortune split 12″ (Bird Dialect)
Lark’s Tongue and Men Of Fortune opt for the “all our gear set-up in a random space without us” cover shot, but presuming this stuff belongs to both bands, why is there just one drum kit? Do these groups share? Was one drummer against the idea? Anyway, Lark’s Tongue set the tone with three songs of tectonic shoegaze, veering oddly towards one of Stone Temple Pilots’ freakier tracks on “Black Sue” (think “Creep” as performed by Hum). Twice in listening, I was convinced that the first song was too slow at 33 until the vocals came in. Pretty cool how laid back they manage to get here while still holding things together. Men Of Fortune are a fitting vinyl-mate, slightly more alternative and choppier in their attack, with a singer that probably has at least one eyebrow piercing. I’m picturing Incubus if they signed to AmRep, which is cracking me up, even though Men Of Fortune are clearly no joke. I like that both of these bands seem to exist in that post-grunge major-label wash-out of 1995, a musical moment that seems to be getting more consideration these days (and rightfully so, if you ask me). None of these songs knocked me out of my chair, but if Lark’s Tongue and Men Of Fortune had a show in my town, I’d go simply to see what they looked like. I’m intrigued!
Libyan Hit Squad / Round Eye split LP (Ripping)
As this record came to me along with that bizarre RunnAmucks album, I expected something freaky. And I got it! Libyan Hit Squad (frequently referred to as LHS on the sleeve) are about as unusual as RunnAmucks, but in a different way… it starts off sounding like the usual “old guys who were punks in the ’80s try to make a punk record decades later and it sounds like the Warped Tour”, like a poppy mix of Black Flag / Descendents / Circle Jerks, but by the third track they devolve into this Burning Man-friendly jam sesh, with lead guitar by none other than everyone’s favorite hardcore icon to hate, Greg Ginn. After that undesirable excursion, they manage to mix the modern-rock stylings of A Perfect Circle and P.O.D. into their classic skate-punk, nearly verging on the psychedelic at times. Say what you want about Libyan Hit Squad, but they aren’t following any trends! China’s Round Eye are on the other side, who perform excitable party-punk, frequently instrumental and with plenty of sax, as if the only punk records that made it through China’s culture filter were The Stray Cats and Generation X. I give them credit for existing, but I certainly plan on never listening to Round Eye again if I can help it. Really don’t care for this record at all, but the sheer strangeness of its existence and single-minded bad ideas have certainly earned my respect.
The Lost Domain An Unnatural Act LP (Negative Guest List)
I nearly tapped out just at the sight of this Lost Domain LP… their previous Blondes Chew More Gum double LP was about as much drunken outback Fall worship I could take. So glad I dropped the needle on this one though, because it’s an entirely different beast, and I mean beast – right from the start The Lost Domain send their noisy transmission through a helicopter’s spinning blade, simultaneously disorienting and pleasing me. They follow that with a punchy sheet-metal beat and guitars so distorted and painful, it’s as if the Saw movie franchise chose Fenders instead of humans for its victims. If I think of the best possible outcome of a Thurston Moore / Sunburned Hand Of The Man collaboration, or Tetuzi Akiyama reforming A Band, I think of what I hear on An Unnatural Act; seriously, this thing cuts right to the bone and doesn’t even flinch. It’s bittersweet to know that this band is no longer with us, but I’m thankful that such a recording made it where it belongs – a thin, shiny slab of black plastic.
Napalm Hearts Urban Noise 7″ (Helta Skelta)
Whole lotta stencil font on this Napalm Hearts single, from the band name to the song titles, and I can’t blame them for that – this music is the audible equivalent of the punk-rock stencil-font. Highly generic pogo-punk with that mid-’90s sound, ala The Unseen, The Boils, Violent Society or Urbn DK. Pull out any random Beer City Records single and it’s a good chance you’ll find a matching riff to something on Urban Noise here. I don’t blame Napalm Hearts, I mean part of the beauty of punk rock is the years of riff recycling, but that doesn’t mean I have to sit in my chair and listen to Napalm Hearts doing it. I don’t get any particular personality or flavor from this record, just generic studs, straps and stencil-font. Starting a band like Napalm Hearts is far from one of the worst things you can do for a hobby though, so before I come across as a total snob, let me just say that I am glad these folks are having fun in the form of punk rock – may the Operation Ivy mascot never stop skanking.
Perspex Flesh Ona 7″ (Video Disease)
Perspex Flesh are a British hardcore band, and on Ona they appropriate the same “weird” indigenous culture body-paint people as that first Factums record (among others – I know I’ve seen this art a few times now). Something about these painted-stripes guys just makes kids in bands want to use it for their art, I guess. Perspex Flesh have a cool name for a hardcore band, and they make good use of it by pounding it pretty hard, with a vocalist who sounds like he’s at full anal-clench – kinda like Ross from Ceremony, but less peculiar. Musically I’m reminded of Sex Vid, in that the riffing somehow seems more hateful and miserable than most hardcore bands, but the Sex Vid mysteriousness is tempered with a working-class bomber-jacket touch, with musical influences possibly coming from Boston (the city) or 86 Mentality (the band). No standout tracks, just four solid cuts of unassuming, negative hardcore; it’s pretty nice, because up until this I figured all the hardcore bands in England just sounded like At The Drive-In or The Blood Brothers. RIP Voorhees.
Profligate Videotape EP 12″ (Not Not Fun)
The blurry, straight-to-VHS model with flowers on the cover sets the mood for Profligate right away, another glassy-eyed techno troubadour that seems to be borne of the recently deceased American noise scene. Kinda feel like a fool to find out that this guy was recording music in Philadelphia, and very well may be a native, as “Videotape” is a nice brooder – part John Carpenter and part Drexciya, it’s geared for long stretches of dark rainy highways with a lone set of headlights closing in from behind. It kinda goes on a little long, especially when considering the lack of variation or apparent technical prowess, but it’s my understanding that this music was recorded live with a table of gear, not in a beanbag chair with a laptop, so I am willing to let things slide. “Conditioning Trench” comes with a chill in the air, perched at that great point where new-wave and techno intersect (or so musical revisionist history has led me to believe), complete with distant, antiseptic vocals that act as a guide through this claustrophobic cut. The insert has a live shot with a very prominent Ren Schofield (aka Container) giving the Wolf Eyes invisible-orange hand-signal of appreciation, which probably sums up Profligate better than any written word. Honestly, I’d probably rather crack open a can of cheap beer in a dusty warehouse to a loud, blaring Profligate than Atrax Morgue or Climax Denial right now anyway. Maybe we all just needed a break.
Räjäyttäjät Räjäyttäjät LP (Dead Beat)
Finland’s Räjäyttäjät shocked my soul with their debut 7″, a true assault of punk rock sonics and hard rock riffage. I’ve nearly worn out the grooves in my copy, and when a 7″ is that good, you never quite know how a follow-up full-length will fare. Maybe they just struck gold that first time, you know? Forget that – Räjäyttäjät is a scorcher from start to finish, and overall, it’s even better than the debut EP. They still sound like maniacal punks (and as I’ve met them in person, I can attest that whatever vision their music conjures is actually far tamer than their real-life behavior), but the riffs are catchier, the choruses angrier and the attitude cranked even further. It’s like they took the best Thin Lizzy and Sweet riffs and played them through Vomit Visions’ crusty amps, with a vocalist who behaves like a young Ted Nugent that you can actually feel good about (when he’s not throwing up on your shoes or dry-humping your leg). They’ll swing from a noisy tape-collage into a Chuck Berry-esque rocker and it somehow makes perfect sense. My life is infinitely improved by having Räjäyttäjät in it, and as this was released on the Dead Beat Records label at an affordable domestic price, there is no good reason any of my fellow American citizens shouldn’t be reaping the same benefits.
Raw Prawn Raw Prawn 7″ (R.I.P Society)
This single is Raw Prawn’s vinyl debut, and as R.I.P Society are a trustworthy purveyor of punk rock potency, it might be worth paying import price based on their backing alone, but I’m here to confirm that this is indeed a tasty punk treat. Musically, it reminds me why I go out of my way to collect the Small Wonder Records discography – there’s just something so palatable about simple, fumbling-yet-snappy punk rock that will never not hit the spot for me. Raw Prawn certainly didn’t invent the chord progression that comprises “None Left”, but they make it as lively and cool as Murder The Disturbed or The English Subtitles ever did, you know? Same goes for the two b-side cuts, keeping it simple but not stupid – Raw Prawn know they sound cool, and don’t need to put a bunch of patches and chains on their jackets to prove it. Let’s get these folks on the fast-track to the “album release / US tour / break-up with formation of new splinter bands” plan, okay?
Rites Wild Ways Of Being LP (Not Not Fun)
If you ever wished Young Marble Giants weren’t so damn aggressive, allow me to point you in the direction of Rites Wild’s Ways Of Being album. This thing coasts by on an empty tank, rolling on simple drum patterns, modest synth sounds, plenty of reverb and echo effects, and the occasional androgynous underwater vocal. That description fits roughly 80% of the records being released in the underground these days, but Rites Wild succeed where others fail through sheer clarity of production. Could be chalked up to the Dubplates & Mastering mastering job, but regardless of why, Ways Of Being feels deceptively warm and comforting as it drifts past, like a dull-looking blanket that somehow is the one you always reach for on the couch. The album’s second side plays out almost as though it were a dub version of the a-side’s more tangible songs, and it’s a fitting way for Rites Wild to slowly dissipate into the ether. It’s not gonna blow you away, but it sure feels nice.
Skimask Cute Mutant LP (Infinity Cat / Sophomore Lounge / 100% Breakfast)
Anytime I have someone over and they’re flipping through my bin of new arrivals (yes, I like to pretend I live in a record store), they pull out this Skimask LP and ask about it. Gotta hand it to the group (and the three involved labels) for the cover, a die-cut black sleeve offering only two eyes and a mouth, which are revealed to be that of a mutated Spongebob. It’s a great look, and a fitting one for the noise contained within. A live drummer and one or two noise-makers jam slowed-down Lightning Bolt rhythms while a vocalist attempts to sing with a pair of socks in his mouth. The meaty oscillations that count as the “melody” remind me a lot of Skoal Kodiak, which is certainly a good thing. No guitars, just junk boxes that excrete noisy tones ala Mammal or Meerk Puffy, and Skimask make it work. Not sure if they wear costumes (or… skimasks?), but this is certainly the sort of psychotic art-school noise-“rock” that opens itself up to wearing homemade balaclavas and gold lamé tights on-stage. Nice record all around!
Society Nurse Society Nurse LP (Iron Lung)
You ever know a person who’ll bake the most intense desserts just because they’re bored? Like they’ll just whip up some lavender-mint macarons in an hour because there’s nothing on TV? I feel like that’s what the Iron Lung gang is like when it comes to hardcore bands, like they’ll go walk the dog, make some pasta and then pump out a killer LP by some new band formation. Society Nurse features Iron Lung and Walls personnel (among other bands I’m sure – Virginia Black Lung, even?), and they rage alongside the top-tier Iron Lung Records bands, taking cues from ugly Deep Six hardcore (No Comment, Despise You, Capitalist Casualties) but eventually landing on an earlier hardcore sound, something that Die Kreuzen or Mecht Mensch would be proud of (but not as good as those two, because who is?). Sometimes these Iron Lung groups will have a screamo after-taste, or get complex and technical, but Society Nurse play it pretty straight, very traditional and “American”. Dessert’s ready!
The Sulphur Lights Little Pills 7″ (no label)
The Goner Records mail-order catalog describes The Sulphur Lights as “Brisbane garage punk!” – sometimes all it takes is three words. Still, I don’t want to rip off the fine people at Goner, or deny The Sulphur Lights a more thoughtful review, so I’ll go into their sound a bit further, even if simplicity is at their core. “Little Pills” has kind of a Black Time crash-bang-boom, and it’s followed by “Sulphur Stomp”, an instrumental track, save for the high-pitched squawk that reaches a Jeromes Dream-level of annoyance/perfection (depending on your personal point of view). Very Monks-y, and my favorite cut of the record. “Hat And Beard” on the flip is like a mix of the first two, very shrill, but the super-simple drumming and plainclothes riff are the sort of thing Jack White would press twenty copies of and then drop from a blimp. Pretty good stuff, and while I don’t plan on keeping it in my personal collection, you may wish to consider such.
Troller Troller LP (Light Lodge / Holodeck)
Troller? So is this band just a bunch of message-board jerks who take joy in riling up strangers? If so, I wouldn’t have expected them to sound like this – a syrupy, glazed-over mix of Salem and Melvins. A drum machine is pushed to the lowest available BPM while electric bass coats the room in Black Mayonnaise, and the next thing you know a vocalist is trying out for the Satanic choir. It works pretty well, just so slow and oozy and vaguely sexy and contemptible, even when they forsake any signs of metal for a more predictable, Tri Angle-style softcore-techno approach. Not sure if I’m supposed to be taking a bubble bath or polishing my leather boots as I listen to Troller, which is a pretty nice conundrum to find myself in. If Sacred Bones wasn’t knocking before, this record should have them poking their heads out of their hole, prairie dog-style. Kind of odd that they put Jay Reatard on the cover, though… just kidding, you just got trolled!
Vondelpark Dracula 10″ (R&S)
Hadn’t heard Vondelpark before, just seen the name around, but the neon cartoon duck-beaks that adorn the cover grabbed my attention to the point where I had to find out what Vondelpark’s deal was. Was hoping to hear some sort of blood-sucking music in “Dracula”, but Vondelpark are much too studious and polite to go for the throat – rather, they sound like a smooth-jazz version of Animal Collective here. It’s quite nice actually, never too busy or too vacant, maybe like what I’d expect Tortoise to do if they were to put out a record on a dubstep label in 2013. The b-side is a remix by Happa, which bares little sonic relation to the original. Happa utilizes Blawan-style rattled-cage percussion and little else, maybe floating a tiny vocal snippet here and there, but generally turning “Dracula” into an angry, bristly dance cut. Cool little record, certainly nice use of the 10″ format, but it’s still really the cover artist who gets my gold star. Those beaks just really struck a chord with me.
Land Of Nod – Atlanta Punk & Hardcore Omnibus compilation LP (Scavenger Of Death)
There’s a rich tradition of regional hardcore compliation LPs, and as someone who grew up before MP3s made everything available at any time, there will forever be a fondness in my heart for compilations and the way they expose the listener to a scene’s heavy hitters and weirdos at the same time. I’ll have to consult with my team of researchers to be sure, but I don’t think there was ever a compilation of Atlanta hardcore-punk before, and even if there was, it couldn’t have been as good as Land Of Nod – it can’t possibly be true, but this LP makes it seem like no bad bands exist there, only raging ones! Not sure if it’s the pedestrian death-rates or real housewives that have raised the ire of so many Atlantan punks, but even the punk bands here rage with the intensity of hardcore (well, except for Gentleman Jesse, but no one ever expected that of him anyway). There’s a lone grind band (God’s Balls), and the aforementioned Jesse does his skinny-tie power-pop thing, and the rest generally fall somewhere between classic early ’80s hardcore-punk and scorching garage-punk (often hitting both posts at once). I’m particularly partial to the tracks by Cops (nice and twisted, like they were imported from Let Them Eat Jellybeans), and Manic doesn’t disappoint after their killer 7″ on this same fine label, but really there’s not a dud in the bunch. I’m both surprised and impressed that this unassuming city has such a rich selection of modern hardcore bands, and even if it doesn’t make you want to move there, you’ll at least have to consider it a touring destination if your punk band is worth its stripes.