Now that Spring is here and your allergies are back in full swing, it’s time to bust
out the happy, poppy, sunshine-y punk rock! Or better yet, check out something new for
2013, like Tony Molina’s album Dissed And Dismissed. Molina truly has the knack
for what makes guitar-heavy pop music great: the hooks are memorable and bountiful, his
singing is tunefully simple, the guitars explode with confetti at just the right time,
and no song ever overstays its welcome. As his group Ovens has been dishing it out for
years, Tony Molina proudly contributes to the Bay Area’s wellspring of catchy, anthemic
punk music both on his own and with the variety of groups he claims membership. I was
able to catch up with him while he was working his night job (movie theater projectionist)
and we talked about music, of all things.
You just released an album under your own name. Does that mean you played all the instruments,
or just wrote all the music and lyrics, or what? Was it weird having your own name instead of
a band name on the front cover?
Yeah, I wrote all the songs and played all the instruments on that record. It was very weird,
because none of my bands have ever done an LP, this is my first one, and it has my full name
and a big-ass picture of my face on it! I was a little bit nervous about doing that at first,
but now I don’t really care.
Who had the idea? I presume you are more than just business partners with the Melters folks…
Did you have the record done, and they asked to release it, or was the idea established before
you recorded it?
It was my idea. That record was originally going to be an Ovens record, but since half of that
band is scattered around the country and doing their own thing, I decided to do it by myself.
The Melters dudes are my friends and hit me up about doing an LP of my earlier solo stuff, and
didn’t know that I had recorded Dissed And Dismissed yet. So I played it for them and they were really
stoked on it and wanted to release it.
Will this forever be a studio-only thing? Have you gotten together some folks to play
these songs live, and put together a Tony Molina band?
I finally started to put a band together with Andrew from Ovens, Spencer from the band Baader
Brains and my friend Anthony who does a project called Swanox. Right now it’s just me and
getting the riffs down. It’s going to be awhile, but I do plan on playing shows and touring
and whatever. I am nervous about playing this shit live though.
You’re playing in other bands too, right?
Yeah I sing in a hardcore band called Caged Animal. And up until like a week ago, I was playing
guitar in this band Violent Change. Both bands put out records this year. My main band Ovens
isn’t very active anymore, but that band will never break up. We actually have two records
coming out this year!
Why’d you do these songs under Tony Molina instead of Ovens, then? Is there any fundamental difference?
It’s only because those guys didn’t play on the tracks. The music is pretty much exactly
the same, but those dudes are my best friends and we’ve been in that band for like eleven
years or something now. If they didn’t play on it, it can’t be called an Ovens record.
So about the record: the title Dissed And Dismissed, along with some of the lyrics… do
people really not want you around? The lyrics can be kind of a downer, especially when compared
with the upbeat melodies and poppy riffs.
All I can say is the last couple of years was a pretty rough time in my life and I think some
of the lyrics describe how I felt at the time. The title is a Breakdown song though.
You’re really into heavy, thuggish hardcore, for my lack of a better term right now. Does
that have any influence in your solo material? Are they just two very separate entities in your brain?
I think it influences my guitar style/tone a lot. Most of the ideas I have for my guitar
playing come from heavier, more riff-oriented bands, but it probably doesn’t influence my
songwriting very much.
What does influence your songwriting? Is it annoying when people say you remind them of Weezer?
Probably just a lot of the bands I listen to. I think Thin Lizzy, Guided By Voices, Big Star,
Teenage Fanclub and The Fastbacks are bands that are a big influence. It doesn’t bother me at
all when people bring up Weezer because they are one of my favorite bands. I get a lot of
guitar ideas from bands like Crowbar, Obituary, and heavier stuff like that.
What kind of ideas?
Just like, how those bands approach writing riffs and the tones they get is what I also
try to do myself. I want my music to be very riff oriented like those bands, even though
I play pop music.
Isn’t pop music riff-oriented? Or is that hook-oriented? What’s the difference anyway?
I think it can be both, but I guess I think hooks when I think of pop music, and when I
think riffs I just think of Merauder. Or something.
Which matters most? If you were exiled to an island and allowed only hardcore/metal or
pop, what would you grab on your way out?
That’s a really tough question! I’d probably grab my Big Star and Teenage Fanclub albums,
and then be very sad knowing I could never jam E-Town Concrete or Suffocation ever again.
It’s bumming me out just thinking about that right now. I really hate this question.
Thankfully that is a fictional situation that will never exist. I’ll change the subject…
what’s the Bay Area scene like these days? From my East Coast point of view, there’s a bunch
of cool bands springing up, doing skewed takes on indie rock and punk and hardcore and what-have-you…
is it really just like, five different people in a handful of bands and a bunch of internet
praise, or are there really lots of different bands and cool things going on?
There’s lots of different bands doing cool shit in the Bay. I’ve seen a lot of cool hardcore
bands, and made a lot of friends from playing shows with Caged Animal. I’m still mourning the
loss of the great bands like Ecoli, Yadokai, Sopors, and Jump Off A Building, who are important
bands for me. Thankfully I can still see Violent Change, Synthetic ID and Culture Kids though!
That’s great. What’s next? More Tony Molina records? Something by Ovens? Caged Animal
double LP on Lockin’ Out?
For the solo stuff, I got an unreleased eight-song EP from 2009 that I want to come out as a 7″.
I’m also going to the studio soon to record four songs for a split 7″ with Swiftumz. There are
two Ovens 7″s that are coming out on Melters and Catholic Guilt, both were recorded years ago.
Caged Animal is going to the studio soon to record our second 7″, which is going to be released by
Video Disease. Also I’m starting a new hardcore band with Blaine from Violent Change that’s going
to straight up sound like Biohazard. I think that’s everything, haha.
Acteurs Acteurs LP (Public Information)
Acteurs are ex-90 Day Men and Disappears folks making strange electronic music. Right off the bat, I’m unfairly suspicious, because I’m prejudiced against American electronic music nowadays – maybe it’s because I live here too, but I find myself wondering about the motivations of Americans making weird techno (truly inspired, or just following along with the times?). That’s my problem though, not Acteurs, and as they do more than just throw some overblown acid loops together, I’d have to say that I am in their corner. Each track is pretty different: they hop from classic Suicide-style electro-menace (“Cloud Generating”) to twisted Stuart Argabright beats (“Lowow”) and Nurse With Wound’s alien terrains (“Dusk Removing”), and that’s just side A. A variety of interesting and obscure avenues of electronic music are explored here, but it works well as an album, as though these six tracks are unified in their off-ness, like there is something distinctly incorrect about each cut (in a good way, of course). If anything, I could do with less vocals, especially when they’re as distractingly silly as those on “Golden Rabbit”, but Acteurs are onto something cool for sure. Maybe America’s not so bad after all.
Actress Silver Cloud 12″ (Werk Discs / Ninja Tune)
One of the perks of living in 2013 is that you can buy Actress records. This new EP entitled Silver Cloud is as good as any of them, and just as difficult, moody and peculiar as anything off his last album (though like most of his EPs, the fat of an album is cut out here). “Voodoo Posse Chronic Illusion” isn’t just four great words for a round of Mad Libs, it’s a disconnected dial-tone that slowly gives way to a beautifully brooding melody in the distance, like a woman wearing a giant white veil that slowly strides closer to you across a sandy wasteland. “Floating In Ecstacy” sounds more like “Drowning In Yogurt” to me, but regardless of the exact sensory experience the track conjures, there are multiple layers to it, all fighting for their chance to tickle you. The EP ends with “Silver Cloud Dream Come True”, which I might designate as “classic Actress”: the drum machine meekly shuffles forward, while garbage noises, subtle bells and sleek synths all perform their individual processes with little regard for their peers. If you aren’t listening to Actress these days, may I ask why not?
M. Akers Tough To Kill LP (Retrograde Tapes / Cylindrical Habitat Modules)
There’s gotta be more ’80s electro-soundtrack albums out there at this point than there are movies to feature them. M. Akers’ Tough To Kill is yet another entry in this growing field, and I dunno… your mileage will depend on how much you love this sorta thing. To my ears, Akers plays it incredibly authentic and straight, worshiping John Carpenter and Claudio Simonetti without throwing in any modern-day signifiers like hazy noise, intricate computer-editing or dubby bass effects. He practically makes Alden Tyrell sound like Prefuse73 in his historical accuracy. The songs generally proceed with one repeating idea, with only the most subtle of changes until the next track steps up. This all leaves us with a very by-the-books, nicely-done record that has seemingly no personality or twist of its own, which can be a stunning achievement or dismal failure depending on what you want out of an instrumental electronic soundtrack-style record. For me, it hits somewhere in-between; Tough To Kill is a pleasant ride, but it hasn’t stick to my ribs. If there’s ever a film made where Freddy Krueger is pitted against Charles Bronson inside a post-apocalyptic wasteland controlled by an evil witch, however, its music director need not look any further.
Animal City See You In The Funny Pages LP (Sophomore Lounge)
Animal City’s debut album was a charismatic slice of indie-punk, the sort of thing that has to really win you over and actually does. This is their follow-up, and I’m not sure if they lost a couple members or something, but a bedroom-pop sensibility comes along with the “full band” feel this time, with cutesy drum machines and dinky keyboards popping up all over this record. It still feels the musical equivalent of the hung-over, bearded-and-flanneled barista who is struggling as an alt-weekly writer / DJ, but in a way that you want that guy to succeed, like he’s worth rooting for. Songs like “Worst Kinda Crush” and “The Bosmoti Rice” are sweetly hilarious, and while something like this can easily fall into the sad depths of self-pity or narcissism, Animal City always keep the mood light enough that you’ll actually want to listen more than once. Fans of The Rentals, Chisel and Quasi would do well to seek this one out!
Dave Arvedon The Best Of Dave Arvedon LP (Mighty Mouth)
Here’s a plain-jane reissue of Dave Arvedon’s 1971 album care of Mighty Mouth, part of the Last Laugh conglomerate. Arvedon wasn’t afraid to proclaim this his very best back then, and while I haven’t heard his other material, I can’t imagine he was necessarily joking – this album’s a sweet, tender, nerdy trip into a ’70s college dorm with far too much free time. For something so silly, it’s pretty clear that Arvedon put a good amount of effort in these songs, from quirky lyrical turns to the various instruments that appear (some tracks are full-band proto-punk jams, others are merely Arvedon and a chintzy organ). I’m reminded of Brian Protheroe’s Pinball here, as they’re both clearly the work of intelligent goofballs with real musical talent, no matter how hard they try to obscure it with zaniness, or songs where the chorus spells out “Berkowitz”. Arvedon is probably someone’s father by now, and I can only imagine his offspring’s had a happy childhood, even when Dad tries to joke around with the waiter and it’s really embarrassing.
Babysitter Eve LP (Psychic Handshake Recordings)
Here’s some brash garage-punk that arrives in stained Alice Cooper t-shirts, funny sunglasses and leather biker jackets. Modern-day bar-rock that is proud of its beer gut, poor employment history and cigarette addiction. At its most raucous, I’m reminded of a Runaways-inspired Candy Snatchers, but Babysitter keeps the pace somewhat varied, getting mellow in a nearly Sonic Youth sort-of way and punk in a Dead Boys fashion, even if the vocalist still growls his words like he’s auditioning for Fucked Up. He’s probably my least favorite part of the Babysitter equation, as there are some songs where he is clearly pushing past his modest vocal range, and as Babysitter can get pretty melodic, they need a guy who can follow the guitars if he’s trying to do so. Overall, it’s an unremarkable, decent effort from a band that has probably helped sell beer-and-shot combos to dozens of locals. What else are you gonna drink when you are at a Babysitter gig, Vitamin Water?
Blanche Blanche Blanche and The Birds Of Paradise Scram / Press Dumps 7″ (Adagio 830)
Clearly Blanche Blanche Blanche and The Birds Of Paradise haven’t considered what will happen when they strike it big – how is that long name gonna fit on the marquee outside the venue? Perhaps their aspirations aren’t quite there, and that’s alright, as this 7″ is a pleasant little underground trip. If you’ve ever paid attention to Blanche Blanche Blanche before, they were a synthesized duo, but here they’re a regular four-piece band, nary a keyboard in sight, and yet somehow it still kinda sounds like Blanche Blanche Blanche (must be the nerd vocals). “Scram” has some cool shifts, kinda like one of those Messthetics singles that was made by a band that broke up by ’79 and are all environmental scientists and real estate moguls by now – like intelligent weaklings who just dabbled in obscure rock during their youth. “Press Dumps” is cool too, almost kind of Chrome-ish, or even Systematics-ish, two points that probably make the song seem cooler than it is, but that’s just because a group that sounds like both Chrome and Systematics would be the coolest band to ever walk the earth. Didn’t think this 7″ would be one I’d want to keep, but what do you know, Blanche Blanche Blanche made it happen care of The Birds Of Paradise.
Chron Turbine Skull Necklace For You LP (Peterwalkee)
Sometimes, the “ex-members of” ancestry is a pretty good clue for what the new band sounds like. I’d say this is the case for Chron Turbine, who boast ex-Les Savy Fav, Trans Am and Rye Coalition members (unless it’s just one guy who played in all three bands or something, which surely can’t be the case), and well, they kinda sound like all of that, at least here and there. Rye Coalition is probably the biggest reference point – Chron Turbine are big, swaggery rock, but with a sheen of irony (or at least sarcastic distance) that keeps it from getting too pretentious or serious. Their rock moves are pretty pro, after all – sounds like Queens Of The Stone Age covering Karp for more than a couple tracks, but without the charismatic vocalist or insane drumming. Clearly these aren’t a bunch of teenagers turning their amps on for the first time – Chron Turbine sound like a heavy rock group who have all been around the block enough times to avoid many mistakes newer musicians make, even if Skull Necklace For You isn’t a particularly thrilling record overall. I don’t begrudge them, and neither should you.
Connections Cindy, Jeni & Johnny 7″ (Anyway)
Took me a minute to figure this one out – it says “Cindy, Jeni & Johnny” real big at the top, with “connections” on side, and I’m wondering if this is a list of the band members, or the band name or what. Apparently it’s the two songs on this single (“Cindy” and “Jeni & Johnny”), both of which are taken from separate full-length releases, this 7″ strictly a “promo only” affair (or at least my copy). I thought this sort of obfuscation was reserved for techno records (I’m looking at you, Omar S), but once I waded through the unintuitive design, two sweet lil’ indie-rockers found their way into my heart. “Cindy” is a power-poppy ballad run through the past two decades of Ohio’s underground rock, like Polaris if they really loved Times New Viking, complete with two vocalists singing different lyrics at the same time and having it work perfectly. Same pretty much goes for “Jeni & Johnny”, like a Wilco I can actually relate to, or Spoon if they didn’t think so highly of themselves. Real catchy, but approachable, and recalling the ’90s without dwelling in the past. If you can’t finagle a copy of this single, by all means seek out the albums Private Airplane and Body Language, from whence these two tracks apparently came. Might’ve been a strange promo strategy, but it worked on me!
Den Electric Eyes 7″ (Retrograde Tapes)
There’s a blurry image of an enraged caveman bashing a robot’s tin cranium on the front of this Den single, and it’s not just a pleasant image – it’s Den’s musical aesthetic. Opener “Neary” is a sludgy, stoner fist-fight, like Bongzilla and Vaz improvising along with the Comets On Fire guy who just played oscillators, and it’s followed by a weirdly groovy rocker, somewhere between The Hellacopters and The Electric Six. They get back to the sludge with “The Coiled Cross”, crumbling noise over a Floor-esque bass churn. I could’ve done without that peppy second track, but the bookends of Electric Eyes are pretty good primitive stoner-grunge, something Bovine would’ve clamored to release in the mid-’90s and Man’s Ruin in the early ’00s. If you’ve worn a beanie with a band patch on it in the past six months, you probably should add Den to your list of bands to check out this week.
Factory Floor Fall Back 12″ (DFA)
I’ve been trying to get into Factory Floor for a little while now, but for some reason it hasn’t been easy for me. Seems like they’re either releasing 10″/DVD box-sets, hard-to-find import CDs or one-song EPs (like this one), but hell, this one is great, and worth the poor dollar-to-song ratio. “Fall Back” fires off with a rapid, two-note alternating arpeggio leading the way, throws in some tricky percussion jabs, sleepily expels some excellent pitch-bent vocals and strengthens the beat until it takes full ownership of your body. I really love this track! The vocals remind me of Portable’s “Life Magically Is”, one of my top three tracks released by Perlon, and the beat has a similarly Villalobos-esque playfulness, even though it’s ostensibly “minimal-synth”, and Factory Floor is a band, not a solo producer/DJ. I can’t remember the last synth-based dance group to display as much graceful, weird personality as Factory Floor do on “Fall Back”. Even the superfluous isolated loops on the b-side make for a little post-dance fun, even if it’s just by myself in my record room. Gotta cool down sometime, although “Fall Back” makes for an excellent argument against it.
Len Faki Basement Trax, Vol. 01 12″ (Ostgut Ton)
I just pick up these Ostgut Ton 12″s blindly at this point, because they are never not good, and quite frequently great, as is the case with Len Faki’s first edition of Basement Trax. This is exactly what I come to Ostgut Ton looking to hear: intimidating tech-house with plunging basslines, unwavering repetition and a general cloak of darkness surrounding the music. These tracks are raw, but not to a Sandwell District level, or even Shed – it’s more the thumping energy that gives Basement Trax, Vol. 01 its edge. Syllabic vocal snippets are a nice modern touch, but Faki’s sensibility could easily place him alongside British Murder Boys or early ’00s Planetary Assault Systems in his techno purity. Never had I previously considered installing a stereo in my basement, but this may be the record to change that.
Family Curse Twilight Language LP (Doormat)
Not sure why, but I never hear anyone else talking about Family Curse. Either I just don’t go out to the right social gatherings or post on the right message-boards, but Family Curse seem like one of New York’s best-kept adult-punk secrets. After some nicely-done singles, they offer the album Twilight Language, which builds on their prior tracks (and includs the catchy “Julia Armant” as well). Family Curse remind me of The Monorchid, Mudhoney, Le Shok, A Frames, The Nation Of Ulysses, and Popular Shapes, to name but a few, and as that would make for a pretty diverse (and killer) mixtape, Family Curse come out the other end mostly just sounding like Family Curse. The riffs can be either angular or stupidly simple, the vocals sung or gargled, the melodies tender or non-existent, but no matter what the case, the songs come together excellently on Twilight Language. Other bands might sound like they are consciously attempting to cop different styles if they packed all those influences (perceived or otherwise) in, but Family Curse blend it all into their own sound, and they don’t even forget to make the songs catchy in the process. Kind of amazed that writers and critics would rather talk about The Men than Family Curse in their “great new rock out of New York” articles, but I guess that’s kind of how it’s always been, hasn’t it? No one gets it.
The Fruiting Bodies Wilderness Pill / Battle Stag 7″ (Suburban Sprawl Music)
The Fruiting Bodies are a five piece instrumental rock band, and I as listen to this 7″ single, I can’t help but wonder – there are five of you, why doesn’t someone sing? “Wilderness Pill” is a swaying, heavy rocker that sounds like the lighter side of Quicksand, or a less-focused Torche. There’s nothing crazy about it, no wild psychedelic effects, ridiculous time-changes or frightening atmospherics, so I’m not sure why they couldn’t just get someone to write some lyrics and sing over it. Same pretty much goes for “Battle Stag”, which has a more triumphant, metallic vibe to the riffing, but it still sounds like The Fruiting Bodies are a band that’s lacking vocals, not an instrumental rock group that doesn’t require them. Not bad stuff, even if it’s not mindblowingly hot either. Come to Philadelphia and I’ll sing for you guys, okay? Been waiting too long to write some lyrics about a battle stag.
The Good Wife Charnel House / Teeth And Tongue 7″ (SuperFi)
SuperFi is the label that released the Good Throb 7″, so hell yeah I was ready to hear some Good Wife! Sadly, the shock and awe I felt when listening to Good Throb was felt similarly here, just in the opposite direction – quite plainly, this 7″ is not good. “Charnel House” is like a mix of early Hydra Head metal-core emotive-spazzing with ’00s radio-metal aspirations… and it’s vaguely funky! I wish I was lying, but I’m not. “Teeth And Tongue” is similar, like a less interesting Racebannon that suddenly collides with System Of A Down and Fugazi in a very unfortunate accident. The Good Wife are fine players, and the music is well-recorded, but by the time I’m offering “good players, good recording” in a review, you know I’ve got nothing else positive to offer. Definitely not the sort of thing I want to hear rock bands play, and if your feel like your scope of taste even remotely coincides with mine, you’d be smart to avoid The Good Wife too.
Hassler Amorality EP 7″ (Beach Impediment)
Hassler are another Toronto band heavily influenced by NYHC circa 1984-87, that sort of “homeless street kids start a band to play hardcore matinees” vibe that is so easy to romanticize decades later from our little internet portals and Expedits filled with rarities. Even the lyric sheet seems to share Porcell’s handwriting style! With Hassler’s big-mouth vocals, I’m reminded of Boston Strangler too, although not as huge-sounding, more “no frills”. They get super fast on some tracks (“Escape” being the rippingest), but Amorality is mostly geared toward stirring up the pit quickly and effectively. If we were forced to choose one Toronto hardcore group paying their homage to the New York classics, I’d probably still go with Omegas (they’ve just got the sound and image down pat), but Hassler are real good too, and they probably share band members, or at least hang out in the same living rooms together. If you’re trying to bulk up on meat and potatoes, it might be time to add Hassler to your regimen.
The Hecks Trust And Order / The Time I Play With My Puppy 7″ (Moniker)
What, The Hecks? It’s a fittingly sneaky and playful band-name for these two guys who use their full names (including middle names) in the credits, as if we didn’t already know they were studious and pretentious from listening to their music. “Trust And Order” sounds like a badly hungover No Age who forget their pedals at home, just kinda throwing something together. Messy but with the sense that The Hecks are still fully in control, and probably took jazz theory courses in college. Naming your song “The Time I Play With My Puppy” is a good way to never be mistaken for The Cro-Mags, and it’s got a distinctly Midwestern weirdness to it, as I’m reminded of US Maple, My Name Is Rar Rar and The Frogs in bits and pieces, from the positioning of the lead guitar to the manic vocals and high-pitched, disintegrating oscillations. Two different sides from a group that I am sure has many more. Can’t say I’m crazy about this one, but this record doesn’t seem too crazy about me either, so I suppose we’re even.
Hermetic Delight Heartbeat EP 12″ (Green Valley)
Hermetic Delight are a French shoegaze group, but you wouldn’t know it from listening to them – this sort of indistinct atmospheric rock could’ve just as easily come from Ohio or Osaka. “Heartbeat I” opens things with a hazy, space-gaze fog, and it slowly reveals its shape as “Heartbeat II”, a repetitive, krauty sprawl that works a wordless vocal-whine as the hook. Hmm. Flip it over and “Holy Sister” fares better, very Hooverphonic-y in mood and vocal, but with a sneaky Slowdive touch (I’m into it). They then decide to have two “secret” tracks, a weird concept for vinyl, where two minutes of silent grooves are followed by another light wash of rustling ambient guitar, which eventually leads into an uncredited live cut that sounds like Blondie covering Murder City Devils. Clearly there are a lot of diverging ideas and sounds at play with Hermetic Delight, none of which are bad, but there also isn’t anything that made me look up from my phone while the record was playing (I’m sorry but Instagram is addicting).
Housewives Housewives EP 7″ (R.I.P Society)
R.I.P Society isn’t getting soft with us, not with Housewives on their roster – this quick EP is a nice little burst of borderline-hardcore / youthful punk outrage. I’m mostly reminded of the early Recess Records bands, the ones that FYP’s record sales would subsidize, like Sheep Squeeze and The Yah Mos and Les Turds, bands that bashed away at punk rock until it reached a Circle Jerks level of hardcore confusion, with male, female and toddler vocals all screeching through the mix in an attempt to be heard. Can’t say I have any idea what they’re going on about in songs like “Special Power” and “That’s Chat”, but Housewives’ passion and charm cut through the murky recording, and I find myself singing “That’s Chat!” along with them. They really bash their way through these songs, but without any modern garage affectations, just house-show punk-rock played messily and triumphantly. If bands ever stop sounding like this, it’ll be a sad day indeed.
Inservibles Una Vida De Tristeza 7″ (Shogun / La Vida Es Un Mus / SPHC)
“Great noisy punk from Mexico” isn’t the type of thing you hear too often, and while Inservibles have been doing it for a few years now, this recent 7″ is my poseurly first time hearing them. It rules! They do that whole “blistering noise guitar with echo-effect vocals”, and while they could easily fall into a pit of mediocrity, Inservibles stand out. They’re ostensibly playing punk, but they seem to have accidentally arrived at black-metal too, as there’s this cavernous, trebly sound to the guitars, and the vocals never stop echoing, giving it kind of an early Mayhem feel. The riffs are punk though, not metal, so you’re left with this weird in-between sound that is so wonderfully difficult to listen to. I’m reminded of the same “how did they come up with this?” feeling I get when I listen to Exit Hippies, and it sure beats wondering why my cable bill is so high or what to eat for dinner. Hope Inservibles can crank out some more gems before their home city forces them to stop existing – it doesn’t seem like an easy life down in Santa Cruz Meyehualco, Mexico.
Last Year’s Men Clawless Paw / What I Can Get 7″ (Sophomore Lounge)
Nice n’ easy single by Last Year’s Men here, care of the keep-you-guessing Sophomore Lounge label. A-side “Clawless Paw” makes me wonder what would’ve happened if that guy from The Vines got cleaned up, went to college, got a decent graphic design job and started a new band, free from the stress of fame and fortune. It’s got a thick sound, lumbering pace and subtle sweetness, like if The Black Lips weren’t juvenile jerks and had some of that Walkmen-esque “you can take us home to meet your parents” class. “What I Can Get” has more of an updated Nuggets vibe, like it should’ve been played by a band called The Psychotics or The Supersonics in 1964 at their prep school’s battle of the bands. Not sure Last Year’s Men really stand out from the hordes of indie-rockers tastefully updating the first wave of garage-rock, but I had fun listening to this single and writing about it. At the very least, you’re not in for a bad time with these guys.
Magic Circle Magic Circle LP (Armageddon Shop)
I don’t know about you, but when I heard that the Painkiller / Mind Eraser / Boston hardcore brain-trust started doing a doom metal group, and that the guy from Rival Mob can actually really sing, I was anticipating this Magic Circle album with the excitement of both Christmas and my birthday combined. I suppose it doesn’t live up to my impossible expectations, but Magic Circle is probably the best “hardcore dudes trying stoner metal” record ever to exist – singer Brendan Radigan sounds almost exactly like Ozzy at certain points… maybe if Ozzy had straight-edge friends as an adult? The music, while I’m not going to chastise anyone for making the comparison, isn’t so much Sabbath-y as doom-y, with lots of St. Vitus, Pentagram and Trouble in the riffs, or pretty much any doom-metal band that relied heavily on Christian imagery (either pro or con). And with songs like “Rapture” and “White Light”, it’s clear that Magic Circle are sticking to the script, which these guys generally do best regardless of the style. I haven’t really caught any particularly outstanding tracks after a few listens, and am occasionally confused by the recording mix, but I’ve concluded that Magic Circle is a great genre record, propelled by the skill of the players involved and their impressive rock knowledge. I hope these busy band members give Magic Circle more than just a few fest appearances, as I’ve got a head and it’s ready to bang to something like this.
Magic Touch & Sapphire Slows Just Wanna Feel 12″ (100% Silk)
Magic Touch (Damon Palermo of Mi Ami) and Sapphire Slows (beats me, she keeps it mysterious) hold hands on this tender house 12″. “Just Wanna Feel” is pleasant, effervescent house music that has its share of ’80s nostalgia – it’s kind of like drinking an old Sprite. The beat is harmless, and Sapphire Slows talk-sings her way to your heart over top. The I:Cube remix that follows might be a bit more to my liking, taking things deeper with synthetic tension, breath-sounds as time markers and an overall wide-screen view of the club. “When I See You” is like Haddaway covering Bobby McFerrin, or Snap! if they made an album to be played in make-your-own-pottery studios. Reminds me of those colorful 4th and Broadway or Sleeping Bag 12″ DJ sleeves in a good way, all tattered in some record store’s used bin, like you managed to find some killer cut and it only cost you fifty cents. Can’t say Just Wanna Feel is really my thing, in that I wouldn’t often find myself in a mental state where I distinctly reach for it, but you’ll hear no complaints from me while it spins, either. I might even bust out some Rhythm Nation-style dance moves if I heard it in a public setting, how about that?
The Mentally Ill Strike The Bottom Red LP (Last Laugh)
A new Mentally Ill album? What? They were always one of the best question-marks of the Killed By Death compilations, like how or why this disturbed group existed, and now they are back with a full-length album. And it… kinda sounds like drunken, poppy punk from the ’90s. Old age, you have claimed another victim! I guess it would be crazy if some 30+ years later, The Mentally Ill cranked out an LP as vile and nasty as their first 7″, but I wasn’t expecting something as corny and non-threatening as this. It’s kind of impressive that their song topics haven’t matured in the slightest, with songs about torture, being rubbed with mayonnaise, Nazi war crimes, etc., but it just seems lame, coming from these old guys in “punk” costumes (even if the creation of their initial 7″ forever makes them cooler and punker than I could ever hope to be). Both of those songs are here even, “Tumor Boy” and “Padded Cell”, and neither come close to their originals. Really, my favorite track here is the George Thorogood-esque “Pablo Picasso”, a long, stupid, bluesy jam, and if the whole LP took on that direction, I might be singing a different tune. But instead, I am telling you to avoid Strike The Bottom Red if you wish to keep your memories of the original Mentally Ill singles undisturbed.
MFP MFP 7″ (Painkiller)
I ordered this MFP single back in November of last year, inexplicably had it sent to my parents’ address (have I really been buying Painkiller records for that long?), and picked it up at a recent visit, completely unaware of what MFP is or why I even ordered it. If there are warning signs of record addiction, this is one of them. Anyway, I later recalled that it was Painkiller’s promise that MFP is the “dumbest band” they ever released that sold me, but nothing about MFP strikes me as particularly dumb, especially when lined up against Cider and The Darvocets. The Stone Cold intro sample is great, and it’s followed by six tracks of mosh-heavy hardcore worthy of the “tough as nails” designation. It’s got a slight metallic / thrash tinge to it, but not in a Y2K-thrash way – rather, an intimidating “late ’80s CBGB’s hardcore gig” sort of way. Any given member of MFP probably weighs as much as all of Hoax combined, and it’s that mix of muscles and fat that makes this self-titled EP sound so convincingly mean (song titles like “Threats And Ultimatums” and “Powermaster” don’t hurt, either). Clearly I didn’t need this record, as I forgot I ordered it mere moments after clicking “Pay Now”, but it’s a nice little rager, and an excellent case for remaining on good terms with one’s parents.
Tony Molina Dissed And Dismissed LP (Melters)
I am willing to acknowledge that more than two Weezer albums exist (they’ve probably got like a dozen by now), but I can only think of Weezer in terms of those early classics. Thankfully, there are cool punk dudes like Tony Molina out there, carrying the flag of catchy, fuzzy and deceptively-heavy pop tunes that Weezer gave up long ago. There’s certainly more to Molina than that, though – I hear plenty of mid-’90s Queers pop-goodness, Chixdiggit’s hilarious self-awareness, a touch of Wolf Colonel’s off-kilter memorability, and of course the root of this joyous expression, the Ramones. Each song feels like it’s less than a minute (in the best possible way), like Molina plays the verse once, the chorus twice, slams out a dual guitar solo and cuts the tape. Pretty sure he’s a semi-member of Violent Change, and part of that whole Oakland lo-fi punk zeitgeist, and I gotta say that Dissed And Dismissed is my pick of that whole bunch thus far. Excellent work!
The Nubs I Don’t Need You (Cause I Got Me) / Dogs 7″ (Last Laugh)
Last Laugh continue to provide faithful reproductions of punk rock obscurities with this reissue of The Nubs’ I Don’t Need You (Cause I Got Me) / Dogs 7″. The original never came with a picture sleeve, so neither does this, just the most basic of info on the center sticker and two interesting punk songs within its grooves. “I Don’t Need You (Cause I Got Me)” is the upbeat punk-rocker, almost verging on power-pop if the singer wasn’t so rude and the riff so speedy. If this isn’t on a Killed By Death, someone isn’t doing their job. B-side “Dogs” has kind of a Cars feel to it, with a great one-note dial-tone that lingers throughout, and a surprising show of musicianship. Cool single for sure, and while this is far from the first (or last) classic punk 7″ to be reissued, I gotta say, I don’t find the idea of bare-bones punk 7″ reissues appealing, or understand its purpose. Like, if you want to hear these songs, all you have to do is type them into Google; it’s not like we live in an age where music is scarce, and while I love records, I love them as artifacts, where you can smell the time and place on them and understand that what you are holding and playing came from a very specific era and prior owner. I guess if you do a punk single DJ night and refuse to play MP3s (why, who cares?) or shell out serious bonzer-cash, this is for you, but otherwise, I kind of don’t see the point – it’s not like The Nubs recorded this single in a 64-track studio where every precise note has to be heard on an analog vinyl stereo-system with audiophile cables to be appreciated – it’s punk, a crappy dubbed tape would do just fine. Is the purpose more for the label to show off that they made it happen, that they have the insider connection to cool obscure punk groups? The songs are great, so don’t let me stop you from picking it up if you want it, I just don’t understand why the market for such reissues exist. A big retrospective with liner notes and photos, sure, but this…
Permanent Ruin Hell Is Real 7″ (Adelante Discos)
Permanent Ruin have been called “best live band in the Bay area” by more than a couple people, so I had to snag this 7″ when I could, as it seems to pop in and out of Big Cartels, whack-a-mole style. Opening with a blood-curdling scream, Permanent Ruin play faster-than-fast hardcore with plenty of contempt, energy and frustration. I’m reminded of those great, über-fast E-150 records, Fuck On The Beach if they were multidimensional (think it’s that same tight snare sound), the Hatred Surge 7″ on Painkiller, or maybe even Deathreat when they really get into it. Permanent Ruin aren’t as scared of thrash as most modern hardcore bands – this isn’t an exercise in 1982 perfection, it’s a fast-moving blast that verges on both screamo and grindcore while never quite becoming either. Can’t say I recall any songs, just a tidal wave of heavy, spastic hardcore, and in the case of one 7″ EP, that’s good enough for me. Still need to see them live, and what luck, they’re hitting the East Coast this month!
Stoic Violence Stoic Violence 12″ (Katorga Works / Video Disease)
This Stoic Violence 12″ is perhaps the finest recent Katorga Works offering, a killer slice of classic hardcore vitriol. There are touches of early Boston, Midwest and West Coast influences, and I could probably point out touches of YDI here or even Septic Death there, which essentially results in Stoic Violence having their own style by combining so many others, if that makes sense. Like this isn’t just an exercise in X-Claim! #1-3 or Dischord #2-5, you know? The singer has a great croak, definitely born to front a band like this, and the songs are in and out so quickly that there’s no way anyone could grow tired of what Stoic Violence dish out, raw without sacrificing the power. I appreciate that the cover and sleeve are sturdy enough that they could enter and exit a mosh-pit without sustaining much damage, and the newsprint poster is great because clearly at least one member of the band was forced to buy and wear a leather jacket for the photo-shoot (that guy on the far left might as well have a thought-bubble over his head that says “man, I wish I was wearing my hoodie right now”). Record-opener “Fight Them All” is the clear-and-present anthem, but there isn’t a dud in the bunch. Recommended!
Wen Commotion EP 12″ (Neuware)
First, gotta say that I dig the name “Wen”, or when any of these random British dubstep guys use tiny little names for themselves, like Joe or Mala or Quest, names that seem more appropriate for graffiti tagging than musical monikers. Wen’s Commotion is pretty likable too – while everyone else is experimenting with electro, house, techno and rave in their dubstep, Wen keeps it true to its roots, leaving wide open space between beats, plummeting the bass and giving his music that great “airy yet suffocating” dubstep paradox. The occasional grime-ish vocal samples / interruptions add to the 2003 feel, but Wen escapes stagnancy with smart and subtle production. Every sound feels like it’s moving past you in different directions…. stabs of synth sink into the ground, bass slowly drives past, house strings hover before floating away. When I listen to this stuff, I really just want to feel like I got off the wrong tube stop at 3:00 AM in London, that precise moment where I step out onto the street into a light rain, disoriented and possibly in trouble. Wen delivers.
Why The Wires All These Dead Astronauts LP (Rorschach)
Why The Wires? Because I already saw The Breaking Bads! My lame joke is as silly as you’re gonna get with Why The Wires, a very serious, emotionally vulnerable and jazzy post-rock group. There’s a guy who dances while playing one-handed saxophone among the usual guitar-based suspects, and together they create a music reminiscent of that time in the mid-to-late ’90s when big-city art-rock and suburban emo intersected, when bands like Karate and June of 44 were playing shows with Tortoise, Countdown To Putsch was horrifying everyone at ABC No Rio, Lifetime had recently broken up and jazz was cool to get into. Why The Wires make proper use of the form, with at least two members vocally emoting different lyrics at the same time, the bassist playing every string in each song and the drummer switching the beat before any four measures are up. I’m not sure there’s much on All These Dead Astronauts that I have much use for in my daily musical rotation these days, but I also stopped wearing band t-shirts years ago, as though that will somehow make me more of an adult. If you’ve memorized your vegan bakery’s hours of operation, or ever played four-square outside a three-day hardcore fest, Why The Wires might resonate a bit deeper with you, because they’re ultimately pretty good at what they do.