If you’re into hardcore at all, Iron Lung require the same detailed introduction
as Infest or Youth Of Today – either you know what they’re all about at
this point or there’s simply no hope for you. I respect that not all readers
of this site are hardcore fanatics though, so let me break it down like this:
if there is a hardcore band to define the ’00s (in the best way possible),
Iron Lung are a strong candidate. They’ve done their share of split 7″s with
small-time grindcore groups, they’ve played Chaos In Tejas more times than
most punks have attended (including a breakfast show!), and they’ve put out
some crushing, meticulously-detailed albums that stand the test of time in
an era of good-yet-disposable hardcore. It will be a sad day that Iron Lung
calls it quits, but I’m convinced it will take the death of one of their members
for that ever to be a reality (and who really knows what future technology
holds – maybe Jon Kortland could get Kranged after his body fails him?).
So you just wrapped up a mammoth tour in support of your new album, White Glove Test. How’d it go? Is
it as brutal on your mental and physical well-being as I’d imagine a two-month tour would be?
Jensen (drums/vocals): Now that we’ve been home a couple days I can definitely feel the mileage.
There is a thing that happens to the body on tour that is somewhat remarkable in that you
really only feel a physical change in the first and last week of any tour. The middle, no
matter how long it may be is mechanical and consistent; dependable. I suppose the same could
be said for the the mental side of all that too. Jon and I have been doing this for long
enough to be able to anticipate any odd behaviors and adjust for them accordingly. Also we
like pretty much the same stuff so there is hardly ever any trouble. I’ve seen a lot bands
completely implode just because one guy wants this amazing canned hummus across town or
someone else hates record shopping when there is free time for it. People have their wants
but mistake them for needs far too often. The group mentality needs to have a little elasticity
to it. As for the trip itself, it was a weird great one. Tulsa, OK was cantankerous, Jackson,
MS was not. Portland, ME punks do it in the ice, Newark, DE’s do it in the dirt. We tried to
hit all the states we’ve never played before. Unfortunately because of bad weather we had to
cancel the Wyoming show which only leaves Alaska and Wyoming left for us to play in the US.
Jon (guitar/vocals): I’d almost say it is more brutal on my mental state when a tour is over. When
the constant movement and rhythm of tour ends, it can be difficult to adjust to the stagnation
of everyday life. A tour sets up a routine, but then there are always these unpredictable
variables. “Will the gear work tonight? Will the crowd break our gear tonight? Will this be the
worst night or the best night of my life?” All that being said, I was really happy that we
were able to do a full US tour by getting in a van and doing it the old fashioned way.
In your experience, is there anything that pretty much every American town has in common when it
comes to shows? Like, is there always one guy in a Void shirt, or Motorhead patch? Does the pit
always rotate counter-clockwise?
Jon: Now, thanks to the internet, there are several people wearing a Void shirt and/or a Motorhead
patch in every American town. As far as the pit goes, I didn’t see much actual rotation. Mostly
just back and forth or lunging forward or no movement at all. On a more positive note, I will
say that every town we went to had someone who was willing and motivated enough to make a show
happen and we all know that is a thankless labor of love.
For as much as I know you guys embrace technology (Bandcamps and Instagrams and all that), it
seems like your tour was booked the old fashioned way, just getting in touch with punks in
small towns and mapping it all out. Do you feel like you’re one of the few hardcore bands still
touring the way you just did?
Jon: I wouldn’t necessarily say we fully embrace technology. On one hand, we have a Bandcamp, and
we are both on Instagram, but on the other hand, we don’t have a Facebook or whatever the
new social network thing is. I guess you could say we are selective about the ways we communicate
in this modern world. The way this tour was booked was actually not that much different from
the way we booked tours when we were just starting out. Some of the same people even booked
our shows or are still involved. We also had to track down contacts for places we had never
been, much the same way we did years ago.
It seems like over the last few years most bands stopped touring North America the way we just
did. The economy of doing a lengthy tour just does not make sense, which is a real shame. The
coastal tour trend has left so many people out, and so many of these forgotten places deserve
more attention. This tour was a bit of an experiment to see if it can still be done, and it can,
but it’s not easy.
After all your years of touring… do you feel like the “old guy” band at this point? Like besides Dropdead,
who don’t really seem to do a lot of recording and new records, Iron Lung seems to me like the
last group to come out of the ’90s power-violence / hardcore-grind scene that is still relevant
and putting out killer records. Was there a point where you were like “oh crap, most of the crowd
was being born when I was at shows moshing” or anything like that? Or do you feel as youthful as
ever and I am totally wrong.
Jensen: I would say that we are on the older end of the age spectrum at most shows, but I prefer not
to think about our mortality in that way. On this tour there were several people that came up to
us saying they had been waiting “forever” to see us, citing that they were 12 when they first heard Sexless
or something. In that way, to these kids, we are a band that has just always been around. In my mind
it has only been a few months since the last tour. The last Spazz show (our second show ever) was
just a couple years back. We do talk about our age a little more these days but only as a side note.
Funny how that happens.
I have always looked to older folks in the scene for inspiration to keep going, and definitely look
to the younger people for the energy needed to carry out whatever ridiculous plans we may hatch. We
are in the perfect middle area for achieving anything we want to do. I also feel that people,
regardless of what interest area, should continue doing the things they love until they are physically
unable to do them anymore. You wanna lipslide the ten-stair handrail? If your knees will sustain you,
rip it! You wanna climb a mountain? You don’t even need legs for that. What are you waiting for?
Jon: Generally, I am the oldest person at any given punk show. This happens a bit less in the Bay Area where
there are a good amount of older punks still actively going to shows, making music, etc. We have been
consistently playing in bands, touring, putting out records, so maybe we sometimes forget about the
fact that we are physically growing older. At this point, I have been doing these things for way more
of my life than not. I will continue to make music as long as I am physically able. I think we both
agree that there would be no need to continue playing in Iron Lung if we were to run out of ideas. I’m
sure there are some that would disagree, but after all these years, I feel like we still have way
more life left as a band.
Regarding that “perfect middle area”…. it seems like Iron Lung can always sell new records, or get
at least 50-100 punks to show up in any town you play. You’re undoubtedly a successful
hardcore band, so do you ever think about getting “bigger”? As a hardcore band that stays DIY,
is it even possible in 2013 to become more popular and bigger than where you’re currently at,
without sacrificing the integrity somehow?
Jon: I think a lot of that has to do with longevity and consistency. I don’t really have any interest in
getting “bigger.” I am concerned with making the kind of music I would want to hear and to play
with bands I want to see. So, I guess that alone would stop any band from becoming a part of
“mainstream culture.” I’m sure there are people who think that putting out a demo or playing a
show out of town is somehow unpunk or some form of selling out. We make music and put out records
for other people to hear and hopefully enjoy. If someone does, great. If someone doesn’t, we don’t
really care. We will continue to do things our way whether anyone else likes it our not.
Going back a bit… how did Iron Lung get started? I know you were both playing in other bands… was the
intention to be a duo from the start, or did it just kind of wind up that way? And how’d you
manage to play Spazz’s last show? That’s like going straight from high school to the major leagues.
Jon: I had been playing in a band called Gob for many years, and around the time that folded, Jensen and I
started playing together. We worked on a project called Kralizec which was basically proto-Iron
Lung with a vocalist. All of the songs were based on Frank Herbert’s Dune series and the 7″
included long sampled segments from the film. We wanted to continue making music, but without
the limitations of such a rigid theme. Iron Lung has always been the two of us, but there have
been a few guest vocalists along the way. One of them was Mike Cheese from Gehenna who played
the last Spazz show with us.
I toured the US with Spazz in 1997 and we had been friends for years before that. Chris had
heard a recording we did and I guess he liked it enough to ask us to play. There was talk of us
doing an LP on Slap A Ham before he stopped doing the label and Max put out three of our records
on 625. It was pretty crazy playing that show, especially with Cheese in the mix. That was our
second show and it was in front of around 700 Spazz fans packed into Gilman with no ins or outs.
It was more like taking the SATs without any pants.
Are you just as psyched on hardcore in 2013 as you were in 1997? If so, what’s your secret?
Jon: Good question. It’s really hard to gauge the enthusiasm I had 16 years ago against how I feel now.
I will say that I definitely love music, whether it be hardcore, noise, chamber music,
whatever, just as much, if not more, than I did back then.
I hear a lot of people, young and old, informed and misinformed, talking about how there are no
new hardcore bands that are any good. Well, the same could be said for 1997 or 1987 for that
matter. I feel like I have consistently found new bands that interest or even inspire me over
the years, so I guess that would be my secret.
Jensen: I am definitely as stoked on hardcore now as I was back then. There is a different breed now but
it still excites me. Luckily there are so many other musical styles to delve into when hardcore
hits a stale point. I have just discovered trap-rap and it is ruling my speakers for now. There
is just as much energy and culture to that as punk, but it offers a completely different and
refreshing balance to my palette. I see people burn out of punk-life all the time and I really
put that down to them just not being creative or motivated enough to explore new things.
I never understood that, people who get super into hardcore, but carve themselves into such a specific niche
of the records and bands they enjoy that they eventually buy them all up, then just stop caring
or following hardcore. Do you think that this is kind of a side effect of people who get really
into the “historical re-enactment” style of hardcore, if you know what I mean?
Jensen: Absolutely. The civil war already happened. Let it go. People get stuck on this trip that no new
musical idea is any good. Tried and tested is so safe… and boring. Hardcore is not about playing it safe
anyway. Every other time we play, some joker yells “Crossed Out cover!”, which is just as clever
as “Freebird” these days. My reply has become almost automatic to this stating that “they broke up
and we are here now… and write better songs.” I love the response that gets from people. It’s
an equal mix of enthusiasm and skepticism. And that is exactly what I want from a crowd. Maybe if
we play a horse race in San Diego, Dallas and I can have a real conversation about song structure
and effect. Ha!
Jon: Also, it seems like a side effect of people who got into hardcore for all the wrong reasons. It’s no
longer limited to people who feel alienated. Now there is all this acceptance with being punk, and
all the information is at everyone’s fingertips.
You mention noise, which I know has always played a role in your label (Satan’s Pimp), other projects, and Iron
Lung too, most prominently with the extra noise LP to be played alongside White Glove Test. Do you view noise
as sort of an extension of hardcore, as far as intensity and ugliness is concerned, or is it
something completely separate?
Jon: For me noise was and is the natural progression from hardcore. It must be the addictive properties of
distortion. I am always intrigued by the endless possibilities of sound. There is nothing more
perfect than how a certain sound can elicit an emotional response.
You’re definitely known for your crowd banter / heckling responses. Was this something you slowly developed
over the years, or were you always down to break the invisible wall between band and audience
and get right into it? Why do you think more hardcore/punk bands don’t banter/joke with the crowd between songs?
Jon: The banter has always been there. I used to say more, but now I just leave it to Jensen.
To the rest of the world, the Pacific Northwest usually isn’t looked upon as a hub for hardcore punk. Are we
just missing out on some great bands, or has it really just been mostly metal-core and straight-
edge hardcore for the past couple decades?
Jon: Within the last few years the northwest has spawned some really excellent bands. Seattle has had
a pretty dismal legacy to live down, but as far as bands and shows recently, I would put it up
against any town in North America and it would probably win.
Jensen: It is sort of a buzz how many great bands there are in the Northwest right now. I think Seattle
has always had interesting bands, but the people in those bands have never been very outgoing or
even interested in letting the rest of the world know about their existence. There are flashes
of coverage. Then there was grunge and all that it contained. I think once that happened, the
people that were not in the big bands excused themselves from the light even further. A truly
underground scene in many respects. I can definitely get with that mindset sometimes. With that
being said, I refuse to ignore the talent here and take strides to make sure other people can’t
ignore it either.
Your graphic design is pretty distinct, from the hand-drawn art and imagery to the fonts that repeatedly
appear on your records. I’ve definitely seen some other bands doing an eerily similar thing…
have you noticed other punk bands kind of copping your artistic style? Is it annoying when that happens?
Jon: Thanks. That is a very important element of the band in my opinion. I’ve seen some blatant rip-offs
of what we do. Some would say this is just the nature of punk. Some would say imitation is the
highest form of flattery. I feel like we are trying to create an identity for what we do and by
no means is what we do without influence. I am informed by what I see in the world and what other
people do. I’d like to think that these influencing ideas go through our filter before the rest
of the world gets to see them though.
Jensen: The art has always been there. I used to draw more, but now I just leave it up Jon.
After Hours Sleepwalker 12″ (Not Not Fun)
With records like this After Hours 12″, I can no longer reasonably determine the fundamental differences between Not Not Fun and 100% Silk. Maybe this is just a hair too slow to be considered “dance” music? I guess it really doesn’t matter either way, because no matter who released Sleepwalker, I’m appreciating its subtle, sensual charms. The name is incredibly apropos – Sleepwalker is filled with early ’90s made-for-TV-movie soundtrack moves. I’m reminded of the programming that earned Cinemax the “Skinemax” nickname, or any of the hundreds of movies with plots that involve a hardened detective befriending a prostitute in order to solve the murder. Very slow, head-bobbable beats, but that’s really only if you’re absolutely dying to move around to some music – generally, After Hours keeps you chill and sedentary, deep within the cushions of your couch. For as nostalgic as the music is, there’s still a sense of modern-day motion to it, and the random images these tracks conjure are fun and easy to get lost within (and if you’re lacking in imagination, a track title like “4 A.M. On The Local 83” helps get you started). While the rest of the world sleeps, After Hours makes sure all those nympho-insomniacs are getting their fill.
Art Of Burning Water This Disgrace LP (SuperFi / Bed Of Nails / Riot Season)
One guitar chimes on a discordant note, an audio sample of some depressed man is played over-top, and then the chugga-chug explodes all over your room like a shaken Pepsi. Art Of Burning Water are the walking definition of metal-core, proudly wearing their Converge / Cave In / Keelhaul / Jesuit / Dillinger Escape Plan influences like pins on their hoodies. It could almost be an expert parody of the genre if Art Of Burning Water didn’t seem so damn serious about their metallic riffing, endless breakdowns and tense build-ups. They definitely serve the genre well; the vocalist has a nice frothy bark to go along with the eighteen guitar tracks, the guitarists are more than capable at creating the right sounds, and the drummer is heavy without being flashy. My only question is: who really cares? Art Of Burning Water are so relentless with their riffing that I quickly become numb to what I’m hearing – the songs churn continuously, to the point where it just fades into a mushy, strung-out pile of non-descript heaviness. Maybe I’ve just already reached my personal quota for this sort of thing, because Art Of Burning Water are good at what they do, it’s just that This Disgrace is so unrelenting and same-y that it becomes easy to tune out.
The Blind Shake Garbage On Glue / Go Go 78 7″ (Sweet Rot)
I haven’t had a good experience with many “shake”-related garage bands out there today, but I trust Sweet Rot to treat me right. This band features the brothers Mike and Jim Blaha (good last name) and their bud Dave Roper, and they play a taught, Wire-y form of minimal punk rock that feels pretty good. “Garbage On Glue” is little more than two notes, but they picked a good pair, with a nervous tension running through the chords and crisp, snappy drumming. “Go Go 78” is a song title I’d generally try to avoid, a little too “hot rods and Betty Page” for my taste, but musically it’s pretty much the same deal as the a-side, super simple and speedy, like Hot Snakes raging up an A Frames tune, or Jon Spencer sitting in with Lamps. Proof positive that as much as people can try to kill garage-punk by endlessly sucking at it, there will always be some folks dishing out the sweet stuff.
Case Studies Villain / Dull Knife 7″ (Sweet Rot)
Some surprisingly “sensitive soul” stuff here from the Sweet Rot label, who usually take pleasure in torturing garage-rock secrets out of guitars. Case Studies is Jesse Lortz, and he’s gotta be some sort of garage-rock guy, right? A-ha! Apparently he was the “Duke” (in The Duchess & The Duke), and while I avoided that group, this Case Studies single is a pretty nice stroll through an Allegra-commercial meadow. The lyrics are printed on the back cover in neat little stanzas… know what I mean? “Dull Knife” sounds like a direct continuation of the a-side, like The Band or The Yardbirds or Crosby, Stills and Nash or any of those bands my parents liked that I am forced to pretend to know about because many of my friends have grown out of punk and into craft beer and non-ironically following sports. Now please pardon me while I reach for my Dawn of Humans 7″ and figure out what sugary cereal to eat for dinner.
Cold Cave Oceans With No End 7″ (Deathwish)
Ah, just another band doing the Dais to Matador to Deathwish label route. Say what you want about Cold Cave, but Wes Eisold has done his own thing with this project since the very start, and it’s that sense of freedom from the usual “indie band trying to ‘make it'” nonsense that has always attracted me to Cold Cave (well, that and their knack for writing music I enjoy). This new single is just Wes at home in Hollywood, resting up after that tour with the AFI and Samhain guys, and it goes in a different-yet-understandable direction. Guitars take center stage here, ringing out with out-the-box distortion and a serious Depeche Mode sort of “black leather and sunglasses in the desert” feel. Not too far from The Jesus & Mary Chain either, although the electronic drums ensure that both tracks are ready for dance-club performance. I suppose I prefer Cold Cave when they are at their most synthy, but this single is another good one for sure, two more tracks from Wes Eisold’s seemingly endless wellspring of ’80s nostalgic melancholy.
Counter Intuits Counter Intuits LP (Pyramid Scheme)
Heard rumblings that this Counter Intuits LP, the product of Ron House and Times New Viking’s Jared Phillips, was an “album of the year” contender for a certain fella named Roland, and if that’s not the sort of approval-stamp that will get my PayPal finger itching, I don’t know what is. I can’t keep up with all the various Columbus side-projects and side-projects of side-projects, these folks just do nothing but make music all day everyday, but this one cuts through the noise loud and clear, a spirited and unhinged trip into one man’s psyche with a DIY art-punk soundtrack. Songs like “Anarchy On Yr Face”, “No Computer Blues” and “Non-Essential Personnel” really hit home with me, particularly with Phillips’ tin-can punk rock forcing me to show my ID upon entrance. There’s an image of House on the cover, screaming into a pencil-thin microphone as he stands at a desk stocked with paper and glue-sticks, which is exactly how I want Counter Intuits to be. No indie riffs, no hummable melodies, just a bunch of messy, nervous clutter that has me grinning so hard that you can actually see the one cavity I got as a kid. It’s back there pretty far.
Dead Ghosts I Sleep Alone / Spot A Trend 7″ (Randy)
I appreciate the redundancy of this group’s name, and went into this single pretty open-minded, looking for a good time. I suppose they don’t really let me down, but there’s nothing here that will have me searching for MP3s and telling my friends about Dead Ghosts – this is super-simple, by-the-numbers retro-garage twang, the sort of thing that Black Lips cast out in their ever-widening wake. There’s a tasteful organ solo on the slow-dance of “I Sleep Alone”, and a stompy, swampy beat to “Spot A Trend”, and it’s all well and good, just nothing I will ever intentionally listen to again. The back cover notes that these songs were recorded in 2008 and 2009, and I’m pretty damn sure this record was released recently, so I’m kinda just wondering why? If they haven’t written anything better than this in the past four or five years, maybe Dead Ghosts should call it a day.
Founding Fathers Rapid Transit LP (Snax)
Founding Fathers should probably be a Philadelphia band, what with their historical band name, or at the very least be a Columbus band, what with their driving, weathered indie-rock. Geographically, I’m wrong, but close – Founding Fathers are a Cleveland band, who somehow avoid being inebriated rock n’ roll miscreants (or at least do a good job covering it up with their music). I like this record – it doesn’t seem in place with any of the lo-fi trends, nor does it ever strive to be anything weird or crazy. Founding Fathers got themselves a nice, suitable recording, put together a bunch of catchy-at-best, pleasant-at-worst riffs, figured out a way to tunefully sing over them and let that be that. I suppose they’re kind of in that whole Dinosaur Jr. / mid-’90s Matador bucket, but they don’t seem to be striving for any sort of ’90s nostalgia; more like they just want to rock. Maybe I’m just thinking too hard, but Founding Fathers seem like one of the least conniving bands I’ve heard in a while, like there is no secret and unsavory scheme to their band. Even if I’m completely wrong, I’m having a fine time being fooled by Rapid Transit.
The Fucking Party The Fucking Party LP (no label)
This LP by The Fucking Party arrived at my doorstep with a note from a band member, going off about how drunk and drugged-out he is. Whatever purpose that was supposed to serve, I’d imagine it did the opposite, because who would be impressed by that? Did GG Allin have to go around telling people how crazy he is? They already knew, and if you’re really that drunk and drugged-out, it’s gonna come through the music; don’t worry. The Fucking Party, for example, make it clear they weren’t of sound mind and body when putting this album together – there are two songs with “Craig” in the title, they screened the front and back cover images on the wrong side of the sleeve, and they slapped some other sticker across the center sticker. Musically, they go a very Jesus Lizard / noise-rock (that isn’t actually too noisy) route, maybe with a touch of Shellac in the riffing and a hint of grunge when they break it all down. They might want to come across like The New Flesh, but their songs are mostly pretty coherent and deceptively intricate, the sort of thing that would take my gang of friends at least a couple weeks to get down. Maybe if the vocalist stood out, I’d be poking these guys on Facebook or something, but ultimately The Fucking Party are a good band that doesn’t offer much personality beyond your average heavy, herky-jerky underground-rock group. Which I suppose is exactly what they are.
Kerridge Waiting For Love 12″ (Downwards)
Downwards is easily one of the coolest, punkest techno labels of all time, so when I get the rare chance to scoop a new release that isn’t already instantly sold out, I make it happen. Never heard of (Samuel) Kerridge before this 12″, but it’s a name I haven’t stopping thinking about since I first threw on Waiting For Love. “Waiting For Love” comes in four numbered parts here, and with mean and imposing electronic fudge like this, I’d imagine Kerridge’s roses will have withered away long before love walks through his door. It’s certainly another entry in the overcrowded “techno gone noise / noise gone techno” field, but Kerridge proudly stands out from the rest due to the weighty production and technical superiority. The whole thing is incredibly thick, with very little space that isn’t flooded by sub-atomic bass. I’m reminded of Regis and Rrose, but Kerridge barely glances at the dance floor with Waiting For Love; sufficient beats are provided, and the music moves forward, it’s just that it’s such a flush of heaviness that you’re better off melting into a smelly leather couch in the basement of a club than soul-strutting under a spinning disco ball. The great utilitarian packaging only adds to the “futureworld in the grips of a fascist alien regime” vibe, but really there’s no aspect about this record that I don’t find highly appealing.
Leech Tusks 12″ (100% Silk)
I’ve never known an uncool Leech, so this new 100% Silk 12″ from a person I’d never heard of before (which is most of them) was on my good side from the get-go. I’d like to think I let my ears do most of the judging, though, and this four-track EP is pretty palatable in its own right. Leech does a pretty straight-forward, Trax-style acid-house thing, but with the ebb and flow of Tri Angle’s average tempo. Not entirely a world away from Ital either, but far more restrained and buttoned-up… Leech probably just slightly bobs his head as it hangs over his gear, and if he’s wearing sunglasses, no one is going to tell him to take them off. He (is it a “he”?) is more than a “let the pre-sets roll for the duration of the track” artist too, deftly mixing different patterns and rhythms into one song without it feeling rushed or overblown. There’s a nice mix of samples too, from disembodied vocals to wild sax, all of which fits nicely into nostalgia for places like The Loft and The Garage for people who weren’t there (yours truly). Last night this DJ probably didn’t save your life, but if you’re filling your Juno or Boomkat cart in a wild post-paycheck spree, I can safely say you won’t be feeling any remorse over the Leech 12″ that arrives a week or two later.
Love Chants Love Chants EP 12″ (Quemada)
I always enjoy getting these Quemada releases, as it’s a label with a distinctly fragile aesthetic. All of their records just sound so wounded and frail, it’s crazy – it’s like Quemada just hangs around the music ward of the terminally ill with blank record contracts in hand. Love Chants certainly fits their MO, and is even quieter, weaker and more patient than Mole House, even. Picture a one-handed Loren Mazzacane Connors by candlelight, his drunk cousin who just came back from a funeral on tear-stained vocals, and a drummer who’s into all that deep-listening / improvisation stuff (and probably has no business being a part of Love Chants). Quite a rag-tag trio, and it puts me in that strange place where I am both actively liking and disliking their music as I listen. Very late-night, cigarette-burned-to-the-filter music, kinda like if most of The Garbage And The Flowers was inside their one-room shack while one of them soothed the rest to sleep, or if you fell asleep with a mix of Jandek and The Velvet Underground playing at a low volume on your iPod. Not sure I can fully recommend this one, but check back with me in a few months when I’m laying in an un-air conditioned room with seasonal allergies and mild insomnia – there could be no better company for my misery than Love Chants.
Nostalgist Monochromatic 7″ (Nostalgium Directive)
The logical endpoint for the goth aesthetic has gotta be death, right? Like when you finally die and your soul can turn into a black butterfly or whatever the standard belief is. This Nostalgist 7″ seems to exemplify that, moving past “woe is me” thoughts to the point where the medication overdose starts shutting down the body’s organs one at a time, sending you peacefully across the river Styx. “Illusory” is the a-side, and I know it can’t be incorrectly slow because I’m playing it at 45 rpm, but this song barely has the will to live – it’s so plodding and woozy that it can barely be considered “rock”, and the waterlogged vocals just add to the confusion. “Twisting, Slowly (Cleansing Doubt)” rocks a bit harder, but it’s still traditional shoegaze goth-rock, without even the slightest hint of post-punk or modern tailoring. It even breaks down into some jam that sounds like Steve Winwood choreographing a Black Tape For A Blue Girl performance. This isn’t my cup of tea, I find it to be just a bit too one-dimensional, boring and cheesy, but they certainly hit the nail on the head with what it seems they were trying to accomplish as far as being traditionally, unerringly goth (doubly confirmed by their “Addams Family: The Next Generation” band portrait on the insert).
Oaks Field Beat LP (Ass)
That’s right – Ass Records! I love it. Hi, your band is good, would you like to sign to Ass? This label should really just put out Quincy Punx and Showcase Showdown reissues all day, but Oaks couldn’t be further from that. They don’t even crack a smile through the duration of Field Beat, a very modern-sounding record that incorporates trebly drum machines and ethereal goth-strum into a hazy day at the lakeside cabin. The inner sleeve reveals photos of the woods, a cat, and Oaks themselves (the duo of Jim Kolles and Erica Krumm), and it’s a perfectly suitable Pinterest with which to gauge their sonic sensibility. Kinda like a less interesting Tamaryn with heavy drumming, or My Bloody Valentine if the valentine actually wasn’t bloody at all, but lightly stained with some sort of artisanal ketchup one of the band members has started selling at the local farmer’s market. I can get down with Field Beat, as there’s this slight touch of Vermin Scum-style emo deep down in it that I will always appreciate. Regardless, I hope this is surely the start of a prosperous relationship between Oaks and Ass.
Octa#grape As Long As I Forget / Elephant Telephone 7″ (Thing Thing Thing)
Bands, I implore you: think long and hard about whether or not you really need a symbol in your band name. It’s not an advantage! !!! are the only exception that comes to mind, because when you start throwing dashes and pounds and asterisks in your name, you’re just begging to be ignored. I had enough problems with “Wzt Hearts”, and they’re entirely alphabetical! Anyway, this is a pretty good-natured single, mining the usual overblown garage-rock tropes with a touch of inclusive hippiedom. “As Long As I Forget” relies on a big “Ooh-OOH!” chorus, and “Elephant Telephone” takes a Flipper bassline and gives it the Wavves / Ty Segall / Oh Sees / King Tuff treatment, dressing it up in Raybans, scuffed sneakers and a pizza t-shirt. Not bad, even when graded harshly, but I feel like there is so much Octa#grape-style music out there that they’ll really need a grape-eating octopus on drums to stand out and catch the public’s eye. It’s gonna take more than a hash-tag in the middle of the band name, that’s for sure.
Ooga Boogas Ooga Boogas LP (Aarght!)
I maintain that Ooga Boogas’ debut album Romance And Adventure is one of the unheralded punk-rock gems of the past decade. It was just hit after hit of rough-and-tumble, snarky, stubbly punk, shoplifting artsy influences when no one was looking and selling them out back behind the pub. They followed it up with the half-baked Sentimental Stranger EP, which I desperately tried to like but couldn’t, and now on this self-titled follow-up… I dunno. I am pretty sure this band is smarter than I am, so I find myself cautiously wondering what it is that I’m not getting when listening to Ooga Boogas. There are some really long tracks on here, and the Ooga Boogas sound I loved so much seems to have been infiltrated by ’80s coke-rock, like Dire Straits or Squeeze or bands that seemed too old and out of touch when I would see their videos on MTV in 1989 or whatever. “FYI” is driven by chintzy organ, like it’s some sort of elevator music based on a spy movie, and “Sex In The Chillzone” kinda squanders that killer title by reminding me of Ariel Pink. I’ve stuck with it and played this record a bunch, in spite of myself not immediately digging it, and while it has definitely grown on me, I’m still a bit uneasy about it, like that feeling you have after drinking a glass of milk that was sitting out on the table for a few hours. I hope to come to terms with this record soon, but in the meantime I’m gonna keep subjecting myself to it, because I love Ooga Boogas, even if this record doesn’t love me.
Permanent Makeup The Void…It Creeps LP (No Clear)
“Permanent Makeup” sounds like the best synth-screamo band-name that was never used, but that’s not what this group is going for (which is probably a relief to most readers out there). No, this group goes for a loose n’ rugged take on noisy ’90s indie-rock, mixed with a touch of Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments and the multitude of roughshod Ohio rock that circles in the same orbit. Like an American take on The Fall, played by folks who spent the ’90s smirking at the Monica Lewinsky scandal and drinking cases of Pabst Blue Ribbon before hipsters discovered it (back when hipsters were called “scenesters”, at least)… maybe? Except I presume that Permanent Makeup exist today, exhausted by the disappointment of Obama and the inability to do a meager tour because gas is four dollars a gallon. I’m reading a hell of a lot into this group, and am probably entirely wrong, but while their music may not be the finest (or even fourth-finest) rock record I’ve heard this month, it has me envisioning and fantasizing over their lives a little, which is almost all you can really ask for a rock band to do at this point.
Pleasure Leftists Elephant Men / Not Over 7″ (Katorga Works)
I had all but forgotten about Ohio’s Pleasure Leftists, but I place the blame on the endless deluge of new bands and my deteriorating memory, not them. They’re probably the most distinct-sounding group that’s doing the whole new-wave goth resurrection thing, and while the music plays a part, the vocals of Haley Morris are key – she absolutely wails, like a zombie Kate Bush on the hunt for brains. Actually, maybe she’s just half-Keith Morris, half-Hayley (close enough) Williams (of Paramore, of course)… or not human at all, but a highly evolved sentient computer interface? At times it sounds like her vocals are in reverse, but I know that can’t possibly be true. I absolutely love her singing, and the way she commands the rest of the Pleasure Leftists, who keep to their dour, flange-effected post-punk pop with tidy efficiency. Both of these songs keep true to the sound established on Pleasure Leftists’ Fan Death debut, and are worth inviting into your residence. Esben and the who? Cold Show-what?
Purling Hiss Water On Mars LP (Drag City)
If I was a really lousy record critic, this is where I’d yell “rock is back!”, but since I’m just a moderately lousy one, I can assume we all know better than that. I’ve been watching Purling Hiss blossom from a feedback-drenched, one-man guitar meltdown into one of the most formidable rock trios around, and it has been an incredibly pleasant transformation to take in. I’d been waiting on this, their first studio record, for a while, with the exciting knowledge that people who don’t frequently see the band live can enjoy their catchy, riff-wild songs without having to strain their ears over a tinny, boombox-esque recording. And just when I figured I knew what the album would sound like before I even heard it, Purling Hiss go and flip the script with Water On Mars. Sure, opener “Lolita” is a prime-time shredder, but the ‘Hissers go straight-up mellow on most of this record! I was expecting street-walkin’ riffs and grizzled blues, but much of this record reminds me of The Lemonheads, the softer Dinosaur Jr. material or Soul Asylum. Who knew? After a mental realignment, I was able to grasp these songs for the slacker-rock jams they are, like a band that wants to be Nirvana but are deep down far too sweet and thoughtful to ever lash out and smash their gear because of failed father/son relationships. Water On Mars grew on me for sure, and if there’s any sort of heart under your denim vest, you might learn to love this record too.
Repeater Pan Together LP (no label)
It amazes me how some bands get other people to finance the release of their records while bands like Repeater Pan are putting it all in themselves. Maybe it’s more of an intentional choice than their only option, as this band really seems to have their act together, and it’s an act worth hearing. Coming right out with “Together”, they lead with their strongest foot – imagine some sort of Wire-influenced, snappy punk group with Jeff Buckley crooning his eyes out. The singer Dylan DiMartini really has such a Jeff Buckley voice, and he makes good use of it alongside the rest of Repeater Pan. “Together” is the hit and album highlight, an album that quickly tones down to NPR-friendlier adult-rock tunes, but it’s still quite enjoyable, and the songs never dip into dull territory. Repeater Pan is kind of what I wish Radiohead sounded like, big and sophisticated guitar-rock with distinct vocals that doesn’t go to such overcompensating lengths to prove how intelligent it is. And much like that one Radiohead record, Together is free on the internet (or I guess you can buy MP3s too, if you’re really that nutty), so why not go hear what I’m excited about?
Sauna Youth False Jesii Pt. II 7″ (Static Shock)
Am I even allowed to review this one? Am I breaking some sort of moral code here? Whatever, Static Shock sent it in and I’m not about to break my “review all recent vinyl” promise! Sauna Youth are an interesting English punk band, kinda taking ideas from various generational smart-alecks like Wire and Fucked Up, but generally just doing their own thing in the name of speedy, tuneful punk. The a-side is a surprisingly sweet rendition of “False Jesii Pt. II”, proof that certain chefs can make cilantro and garlic into palatable gelato flavors with the right expertise. I’d like to hear their angelic takes on other loud punk bands, as they managed to find the buried melody and wipe it clean. B-side “Oh Joel” is just as friendly, but with a high-strummed energy that reminds me of The Ramones or The Busy Signals or anyone else who can play guitar while wearing a leather jacket two sizes too small. I swear it’s not just the subtle ego boost this record’s existence gives me – Sauna Youth have done right on this simple and effective single.
Soviet Valves Death Trumps Romance 12″ (Vertex)
I remember reading high words of praise toward Soviet Valves a few years ago, when they did a 7″ on Smart Guy Records (or was it Cool Guy Records? I’m so confused). I wasn’t too impressed, so after spinning Death Trumps Romance a few times, I’ve concluded that either my ears were off back then or this is far and away their best stuff. Highly taut, poppy punk, but very classic sounding, and with lots of frequent changes… it’s like the drummer can’t go more than a couple measures without throwing in a tightly-executed roll and changing the direction of the riffs. Maybe like The Undertones, played with the urgency of Nasty Facts? Or The Exploding Hearts if they were released on the same label as that raging Burning Sensation LP and they felt they need to intensify their music at an exponential rate? On a nice slab of 12″ vinyl, these six songs sound thick and full as they whiz by, the guitars jangling near my throat and the vocals tapping my forehead. It’s my understanding that Soviet Valves broke up years ago, and while I don’t often understand the purpose of posthumous odds n’ ends records, this one is a clear necessity – Soviet Valves wrote some top-shelf, frenetic punk rock and the documentation is deserved.
Trade Untitled (Sheworks 005) 12″ (Works The Long Nights)
Works The Long Nights has quickly become a “buy on sight, no questions asked” label for me. All its releases seem to revolve around Blawan collaborating with someone else cool, and the Germs-esque logo seals the deal for me. Trade is the work of Blawan with Surgeon, a definite aesthetic predecessor to the techno punishment Blawan likes to dish out. I really dug the Karenn double EP, but this one is better – there are at least four cuts here, and they’re all massive and ugly, but with plenty of subversive groove, too. Whereas Karenn was grey-scale and minimal, Trade is bludgeoning with overblown 4/4 thuds, acid-bass carcasses and errant noises, but it has the structured, knowing flow of any seasoned Perlon producer. The second-to-last track on the b-side (they’re all untitled – there’s basically no writing on this record anywhere) is my favorite, with its Blawan-specific skittery chirps and a truly pounding beat. Add in the scratchy, metallic effects and spoken-word ending and it’s as if the Broken Flag label was reborn in the form of contemporary dungeon-techno – Ramleh ravers, perhaps? Can’t stop spinning this one!
Violent Change Violent Change LP (Catholic Guilt)
This is the third record in just as many weeks to feature a photo of Tony Molina on the back, and that’s starting to become a seal of quality of sorts. I liked Violent Change’s debut EP, even if I didn’t fully understand it (or find myself putting it on all that often), and this self-titled full-length helps extrapolate why this band is both interesting and cool. Somehow, Violent Change do the same things that bands like The Hospitals, Eat Skull, Sic Alps, Psychedelic Horseshit and pretty much any other pop band that did a record on Siltbreeze do, but their sound doesn’t tire me out. It’s probably the sweet, pop-punky blood that runs through many of their tunes, doing the sort of pop moves that many of their contemporaries seem more comfortable mocking, or Violent Change’s aversion to “the jam”, as these songs are all quick and tidy and leave no room for improvised interludes or messy detours. The recording quality is still a little too thin and lightweight for my tastes, but it’s been fun getting to know this album, one that grows on me further with every listen.
Violent Reaction Violent Reaction 7″ (Quality Control HQ / Static Shock)
It’s been almost fifteen minutes since the last “Violent ____” band showed up, and I’m getting a little antsy… oh wait, here’s Violent Reaction! They’re a British straight-edge hardcore group, and I’d say the Painkiller influence is plentiful – even if the one guy wasn’t wearing a Boston Strangler shirt in the insert pic, it’s clear that these guys are digging hard into Waste Management, Knife Fight and No Tolerance records. Many of their riffs come with the feel of a fresh Fred Perry right off the rack, melding Oi into angry, youthful hardcore (much like 86 Mentality). They’re ready to break your cigarettes in half and flush your pills down the toilet, and don’t even think about trying to stop them! Pretty good stuff for what it is, which is the same thing it’s been for years now, but some people don’t just listen to records like this, they build their entire personas off of them. At least Violent Reaction do it well, I suppose.
Wild Child Wild Child 7″ (Fashionable Idiots / Rock Bottom)
Can always count on Fashionable Idiots for trashy, smashy hardcore punk, so I had no fear going into this Wild Child 7″, which I believe is their demo pressed to vinyl. It’s good! At least one guitar has that clean-ish jangle to it, and the songs are frantic and tumbling, kinda like that recent Manic 7″ that I loved so much, or maybe The Grabbies or Brown Sugar. The singer does a lot of “yow!”s and “wow!”s, which might push Wild Child from punk rock to the dreaded “punk rawk” territory, but it never quite gets to be too bothersome. The songs are in-and-out and always pretty fast, and the energy nearly reminds me of early Gang Green, if not necessarily in speed but the feeling of youth on drugs. Wouldn’t mind hearing some more!
Zulus Zulus LP (Aagoo)
I know I had a Zulus 7″ floating around here somewhere that was a part of one of those “singles club”-ish punk labels. (Lemon Session? Total Punk? I’m getting old.) Pretty sure I liked it, and I like this full-length too – Zulus aren’t reinventing the wheel, they’re just coating it in a little extra reverb. It’s generally pretty heavy, roomy punk rock… the drummer pounds the toms for as long as he can reasonably stay away from the snare, and the guitars are twangy but loud. The vocalist is pretty sassy, not far from Sonny Kay or Lars Finberg (not that either are close to each other, but maybe I’m making sense anyway). Definitely sounds like something that would’ve worked in the waning years of GSL / Three.One.G, where screamo was moving out in favor of garage-punk and goth and other more interesting influences. This is a 45 RPM record, and it moves along briskly, so that by the time I find myself growing weary of the shrill, echoed vocals, it’s over. Brooklyn has done far, far worse than Zulus!