Normally, if I’m looking for hardcore that is raging, funny, intense, thoughtful, pissed-off, primitive and raw, I’m gonna need to grab like half a dozen different records, but Hysterics cover all those bases at once. They’re a four-piece group from Olympia that seems hell-bent on injecting thoughtful rage into modern hardcore without any eggheaded pretense, a band you can feel good about getting injured by. If you haven’t checked them out already, they make it really easy for you: they’ve only released a 7″ and a demo, with a new 7″ coming soon (fingers crossed), and they frequently play out, occasionally in Vatican robes. Vocalist Stephie lays down some serious insight below.
Hysterics are from Olympia, right? I feel like that town is synonymous with certain sects of underground music, hardcore-punk not necessarily being one of them. Do you feel like the odd band out, or are we just past the point of regional scenes favoring one style of music over another?
Yeah, half of us live in Seattle now, but the band started in Olympia. A lot of peoples’ impressions of Olympia music are based on the late ’80s and early- to mid-’90s, K Records and so on, but Olympia has bred some of the best hardcore-punk (and beyond) bands of the last several years, and a lot of bands who have come out of a DIY state of mind but branched out far beyond the genre. Ever since I moved to town five years ago, its output has been consistently high-quality. We’ve never felt like the odd band out here. Maybe some regional scenes are still oriented more towards certain types of music, but with Olympia it seems to be more of a shared sensibility than an actual sound.
What other hardcore bands in Olympia would you recommend checking out?
Adjustment To Society, Gag, White Wards… I think Vex is the best band going, but they aren’t really a hardcore band. Nudes and Health Problems from Seattle too.
When you’re playing, what is your favorite mosh or dance move people do at your shows? What’s your least favorite?
Our favorite is people rolling on the floor, and Adriana and Jessica have been bringing it to other cities on tour to demonstrate their style and show the posers how it’s done. Good old-fashioned circle pits and stage dives are always still good, or just throwing your body across the room. Goons who just hit people on purpose are dumb.
Do you get lots of goons, or is that more of a rarity at your shows?
These days the goon factor is pretty low, but on our last American tour we got a goon or two like every few shows. If a person is being such a buffoon that it infringes on everyone else’s fun, we generally don’t let it slide and handle it accordingly. Depends what city we’re in, what kinds of bands we’re playing with, and what kinds of drugs people are on, occasionally combined with their level of sexual insecurity. The crummy thing about playing hardcore-punk and not having any men in your band is that when someone is being weird or violent toward you at your show, the weirdness or violence is almost always gendered in some way. Some guys try to assert their masculinity in strange ways, as if we have somehow de-nutted them by our mere existence, or as if we have some sort of agenda against them as human beings, which is extremely bizarre to us.
Were you all friends who decided to start a band together, or were you involved with other bands that eventually led to the creating of Hysterics?
Adriana, Shannen and I had been in other bands, and I was inspired by seeing Adriana sing in her band Outlook. Jess was a friend who had recently moved to town and we started the band more out of a desire to fulfill an idea than to combine forces on a musical level. Most of us had very little experience on our respective instruments (myself included, never having fronted a band before) so it was all about trying something new and hanging together as a group.
I feel like you rarely hear about a great new hardcore band forming where all the members are seasoned, ultra-talented musicians. Do you think “we started this band barely knowing how to play” is the most appropriate way to start a hardcore band?
Not necessarily, I think it has more to do with your attitude than your chops. Seeing a band that started without knowing how to play can be more interesting though; sometimes there’s more room for the unexpected.
Your Black Flag parody t-shirt is one of the most notable band shirts in the past couple years. I’ve heard a few stories of guys getting disturbed or grossed out by it. What do you make of that, when it seems like hardcore kids are more comfortable with photos of horrible war atrocities and murder than they are bloody tampons?
The fact that there’s any kind of discussion at all is good, I guess. The design was a pretty off-the-cuff idea thought up a few years ago, I never expected to get so much mileage out of it. I think lots of Americans, hardcore kids included, are pretty desensitized to war in general because usually it is safely on the other side of the ocean where it can’t interfere with their safety, health, or message board access. Yeah, I am still surprised at how shocked some of them are at the portrayal of something that half the human population experiences, but I guess that just means we were successful on that front. I should add that I love Black Flag, and it was more of an appropriation for the sake of being provocative than a parody.
Which Black Flag reunion this summer would you rather attend? I will also give you the third option of attending a ten-band, day-long grindcore fest instead.
I briefly entertained the idea of going to the Greg Ginn one, but I hear the one with Dukowski is supposedly pretty good! I take that with a grain of salt though. That was the last band I ever expected to re-form, besides maybe Minor Threat or something! The idea of seeing any incarnation of Black Flag removed from its initial time and place is mega weird. You would have to think of it as a completely separate entity. Grindcore is not my thing, but maybe I would take the ticket and give it to a friend who’s into it.
What would be worse: if Hysterics were considered a joke band and lots of people came to your shows, or if very few people came out at all?
I don’t know, that question is too exhausting to wrap my head around…
Your debut 7″ is available digitally on the M’lady’s Records Bandcamp page, and the two tags associated with it are “Brooklyn” and “punk”. What’s up with that?
I have no idea, I didn’t know we were even represented on Bandcamp until I looked it up just now. The label used to be based in Brooklyn, that’s all I can figure. Punk because we are punks, whatever that still means.
What’s next for Hysterics, record-wise?
Our next EP entitled Can’t I Live? will be out later this year on M’lady’s Records. Six songs, probably a 7″. It’s been a long time coming, as we’ve tried recording it a couple different times and weren’t satisfied, but now we’re really stoked on it. It’s almost done, I’m recording my vocals in a couple of days and then it just has to be mixed and mastered.
How many records could we conceivably expect from Hysterics? Is this a band that could have multiple LPs over time, or do you think it’s gonna be a quick burst of energy that stops before it ever mellows out?
Your guess is as good as mine… sometimes it feels like this band could break up tomorrow, sometimes it feels like it’ll last for years. Fundamentally we are all extremely close but we are terribly inefficient at generating a lot of material and getting it recorded in a timely manner. We wanted this next EP to be out like a year ago, we’ve been playing some of these new songs for so long that they are almost old to us now. But now that this second one is mostly done, I think could free up some energy to work on new material.
What show would you rather play – at a swank club where the sound is great and everyone can see you but it costs $20 to get in and there are annoying security guards and wrist-bands and $2 waters, or a show in a cramped basement run by punks where no one besides the front row can see the band performing with an awful PA?
Definitely the latter, even if it’s not a perfect situation. We’re never going to be sponsored by Scion or something.
Why not? If Scion said “here’s a few thousand bucks if we can use your songs and likeness in our ad”, what would stop you from saying yes? And why do you think so many hardcore/punk bands seemingly have no problem taking it?
Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but there’s still something icky about it to me. People are broke and they want money, I totally relate to that. And I think it gets even more complicated as people get older and they have kids and stuff. I work a retail job and live in a dirt-cheap apartment and I could definitely use a few thousand bucks, but I also don’t have a family to support or a bunch of medical bills or whatever, so I can afford to say no. The “selling out” argument seems dated and tired in most ways, but I also think there’s still a certain amount of personal integrity one maintains by not trading their music to corporations – especially if their music comes out of a movement that formed as a reaction against the status quo. When you tell the capitalists “no,” you keep strength and weight in the movement you are from. And do those corporations actually care about you what what you have to say? Of course not! They’re using it to sell a product, and they’ll keep trying to sell the product regardless of whether you help them by lending them your “cutting-edge,” “underground” aesthetic. It’s been this way for decades now. Some bands have gone that way and some have stayed, but it’s the ones who have stayed who have contributed to there being a lasting punk scene at all.
I don’t look down on people who take this kind of money because everyone has different circumstances, but if there really is a desperate situation, there can be other ways to do it too. A few days ago we played a four-day long festival at 924 Gilman St, which was a benefit for a few different causes but primarily to raise money to help pay off Sarah Kirsch’s medical debt. Lots of work went into the fest, but thousands and thousands of dollars were raised to help ease the burden on her family, everyone had a great time, and Scion was not involved.
Is that something you want Hysterics to be a part of – change for the greater good? I feel like the current prevailing underground hardcore trend is to be as much of a nihilistic, self-destructing mutant as you can, and I’m not sure where else that can go.
Yes, we want change! Not in a starry-eyed, humorless, self-congratulatory crusader type way, and not in an Obama way either, but if we can express ourselves and make the music we wanna make and open up some conversation in the process, then that’s great. Some of the self-destructive mutant bands are really good, but all trends come and go. Widespread injustice will still be there when the trend is over.
Blackout Beach Blues Trip LP (Soft Abuse)
Even though I haven’t heard the majority of Soft Abuse’s releases, I’ve always respected the label, as it seems like they manage to find a wide array of artists who, for one reason or another, are supremely off from the rest of the world. Like this Blackout Beach album, for example: I’d never heard of this group before, and it’s a weird one alright. Very late-period Sun City Girls-y, as the music is strangely-refined and sinister, with a singer who refuses to let a syllable pass through his lips without giving it an extra dose of fear or anger or vibrato. They let the music ride out more than Sun City Girls ever would though, and as Dan Bejar (the Destroyer guy) is credited with backing vocals, I can suddenly picture Blackout Beach opening for New Pornographers or some other adult-oriented, theater-venue indie band. I’m lucky to understand more than a handful of words at a time, but with song titles like “Broken Braying Sound Of The Donkey’s Cry” and “Hornet’s Fury Into The Bandit’s Mouth”, I can only imagine the prose is as dense and tangled as its titles. Not the sort of record I reach for often, but when I’m burning a late night and feeling frazzled for one reason or another, it’s oddly comforting to strip down and lay out at Blackout Beach for a few minutes.
Call Back The Giants The Marianne LP (Kye)
I’m as big a Call Back The Giants fan as they come, so hell yes I was stoked on this new full-length outing on Kye! Even being familiar with their discography, it’s impossible to safely assume what the next ‘Giants record will sound like, and this one is indeed a departure from all that has come before. A departure which fits perfectly as the newest chapter of their saga, that is. The Marianne is mostly instrumental, spanning three long tracks, and it moves from the 8-bit synth-work of Incidents Of Travel and The Rising toward a more enlightened plane… maybe if J.D. Emmanuel was deep into Philip K. Dick and Ray Bradbury, he might’ve made something close to this. “The Marianne” is the name of some sort of ocean vessel, and while different characters speak to each other throughout this record, it’s damn near impossible to follow the plot, forcing the listener to fill in the blanks with his or her own imagination. Make sure the drink you prepare yourself is a long one, as The Marianne takes her sweet time to unfold, but pays off in the deep sense of mystery and utter strangeness it bestows. Too Kye to die, I tell ya!
Cold Cave Black Boots / Meaningful Life 7″ (Heartworm)
2013 is quickly becoming Cold Cave’s singles year… this is what, their third already, with another soon on the way, which I probably just missed? I know everyone else is sheepishly selling off his or her 7″ collection, with that lame old “I just don’t listen to 7″s anymore” excuse, but I dig the format and will hopefully always dig it. It works nice for a group like Cold Cave, who switches it up constantly. The artwork keeps getting blacker and blacker (but not quite the blackest ever black), to the point where this one is just their name in embossed print, black on black, and it works for these two sullen electro-pop carols. “Black Boots” is pretty quiet and unassuming, somewhere between Martin Rev and Ceramic Hello, as if Wes wore black-rimmed glasses during the time he spent writing and recording it. Very classically “minimal-synth”, and I dig it. “Meaningful Life” has a similar vibe, working a chintzy organ like the aforementioned Ceramic Hello would, or a Systematics track that remains shy and without outburst. The “tennis-ball against the wall” percussion is pretty perfect; it’d be an elevator-music interlude if it wasn’t for Eisold’s tear-stained vocals echoing out the tiny window of his prison cell. I definitely prefer when Cold Cave is tender, meek and minimal, as opposed to the grandly-sweeping guitar-based gestures of other records, so this one moves to the top of an ever-growing stack of Cold Cave vinyl. Buy it now before someone you don’t like tattoos the lyrics to one of these songs on their arm and ruins it for you!
Condominium Carl 7″ (Sub Pop)
Condominium join the rich tapestry of Sub Pop Records (home of Father John Misty and The Baptist Generals, of course) with this neat and tidy hardcore explosion known only as Carl. They are a hardcore band, and like any hardcore band that puts out a record on a big label, they probably worried about how this 7″ would reflect upon them – would usernames “Communaliving” and “YouthAttack91” call them sell-outs? Should they tone down the aggression and try to get big, or make it even less listenable as proof that they can’t be bought? With “Show Them” and “Eating The Universe” on the a-side, they decide to bash it out just as they had previously, two hardcore crushers that are barely tamed by the expert drumming, and heavily sweat upon by the mildly-distorted vocals that increase in both anger and froth as the side plays out. I was waiting for “Carl” to be the real weirdo then, some sort of experimental tone-poetry with someone gargling Alka-Seltzer in the background, but it’s a tense and twisty slow-burner, with the singer still huffing and puffing his confusing lyrics over top. Condominium still sound highly similar to Slices here, but both bands are so enjoyable and seem to have come up around the same time that I do not accuse of either biting the other’s style, just a happy coincidence that two groups of men developed similar ways of fusing garage-rock propulsion to hardcore-punk sonics while still throwing in a dose of weird. If you’ve already got a Band Of Horses hoodie in your electronic shopping basket, why not throw this in too?
The Courtneys The Courtneys 12″ (Hockey Dad)
You ever spent the night in a disgusting punk flop-house, with God knows how many roommates coming in and out, a broken fold-out couch, someone’s friend’s art hanging crooked on the wall and a cat with a scabby backside (“it feels like a honeycomb!”) depositing whatever dander it has left on your pillow? Sure, it’s gross, but there’s something about being young and working a low-level service industry job and paying two-hundred bucks a month for rent that is so appealing and freeing and cool that I hope my grandkids’ grandkids get to experience it too. The Courtneys seem like the perfect guitar-pop band raised in such a setting – thrifted clothes, greasy skateboards, old weed and cheap beer surely pass by The Courtneys on a daily basis, and I love them for it. I guess you could say they have kind of a Go Sailor / All Girl Summer Fun Band feel, but there’s something darker and punker about The Courtneys, even if their sugar-sweet pop hooks mostly conceal it. Funny that there’s a song called “Insufficient Funds” on here, as they kinda remind me of Eddy Current Suppression Ring too, in that the songs are instantly familiar, the lyrics can be disarmingly naive, and the bass sticks the melody to your ribs while the guitar shakes rainbow sprinkles over top. The first track starts off kinda slow, but the remaining six are all hits as far as I’m concerned. If you were looking for your summertime “driving to the beach” record, stop swinging that metal detector wildly and aim it right over this patch of sand – you’ve hit gold!
Demdike Stare Testpressing #002 12″ (Modern Love)
Who knows how many test pressings we’ll be getting out of Demdike Stare, but if they continue with this level of quality, I hope it goes on a bit longer (so long as I don’t eventually have to buy some expensive hard-bound book to slip them all into). The a-side has more of a “cerebral” quality to it, like something Mika Vainio or Phil Niblock would subject an audience to, based on a very taut loop that eventually rides an oil-slick of bass to the finish line. If there’s a day spa inside a torturous space-factory, you’re probably hearing this through the walls during your hot stone massage. The b-side’s “Primitive Equations” sounds like you’re walking through one of those ancient cave-painting chambers in the dark, and then suddenly Pearson Sound starts firing bass missiles at you, and the next thing you know Blawan starts practicing his violent form of karate inches from your face. I love it! Two very different-sounding tracks, neither of which seem particularly gothy or witchy, but both fit nicely into Demdike’s aesthetic purse. Speaking of purses, I hope yours is nice and full, because nobody rides the Demdike vinyl train for free.
Dissipated Face with Daniel Carter Live At CBGB 1986 7″ (Roaratorio)
If you’re like me, and you got into standard rock music that had choruses and verses and bridges as a child, but always longed for something more extreme, you probably remember the moment you first heard Septic Death or Albert Ayler or Wolf Eyes or Mr. Bungle or whatever it was that destroyed the musical parameters previously established by your brain. I bet if I stumbled into CBGB’s in 1986, everyone probably would’ve been like “who the hell let a five year-old in here, where are his parents?”, but supposing I was a teenager or something, Dissipated Face probably would’ve cracked my skull open with their flailing, post-no-wave free-rock assault. They sound like one of those early ’80s downtown NY groups like Lounge Lizards or Material or Golden Palominos, had they crashed into Reagan Youth on the cab ride over with the few surviving members improvising live. It sounds dated as hell today; it’s almost quaint to imagine this ever sounded “crazy” to anyone, but if I strain hard enough I can definitely teleport my senses back to a time when every crazy record wasn’t available in two clicks and Glen Humplik was more famous than Glenn Branca. Check out “Streets Of New York” first, that’s my personal favorite, and see what Dissipated Face does to you!
Exit Hippies Part 3 7″ (Detonate)
I fully realize that there will probably be more people reading this review than can possibly acquire this Exit Hippies 7″ (like the other two Detonate singles, it’s limited to one-hundred copies or something idiotic like that), but I just get such sheer joy out of this group that I just wanna gush, okay? They actually sound like a legit crasher-crust group on the a-side, like a Gloom or Defector record if it was pressed on molten lava. It’s amazing that for as utterly moronic as this band is, they manage to have a drummer that can pummel with a real technical force. Flip it over, and it might be the most absurd Exit Hippies track yet – “Country Boy” is essentially Primal Scream’s “Country Boy” played through an old tape-deck with a pre-set Casio techno beat played in time with the music. I didn’t know it was a Primal Scream song at first, and while I could tell it wasn’t Exit Hippies playing it, I honestly wasn’t totally sure, because there’s nothing you can put past this insane band. I like a lot of bands, and am constantly emotionally moved by music, but no one brings me joy quite like the brain-damaged fun of Exit Hippies.
Gag 40 Oz. Rule ’90 7″ (Warthog Speak)
I first heard of Gag described essentially as a hoax Hoax, one of the first bands to adopt Hoax’s sound and style as their own (including alleged direct theft of riff). This single is my first experience listening to the group, and there is definitely a bit of that (Celtic Frost riffs over street-punk drums and barked vocals), but Gag are more of a poo-poo platter of modern hardcore than any one distinct rip-off. If you had a friend who dropped out of hardcore at the turn of the century, and they wanted to know what underground hardcore was like today, you could have them listen to hours of Distort Jersey City podcasts (not a bad idea!) or to save time, give them this Gag 7″. The wildly echoed vocals are in full effect here, the riffing is mean and hard, there are the aforementioned Hoax similarities, and Gag frequently thrash through their songs wildly, Goosebumps-esque in the way that the songs seem less like precise musical ideas and more like audible environments for chaos, fireworks and slam-pitting. This single whips by in under five minutes, a quick little storm of modern hardcore trappings, and it’s pretty decent if not wildly original. Maybe I’ll go out of my way to find a copy of their other new record, a 12″ called This Punk Shit Is Cool But I Hope I Am Rob Zombie When I Am 28, but how can anything live up to that title?
G. Green Our Boss 7″ (A Wicked Company)
You know how every town has their own brand of bottom-shelf beer? They all are equally disgusting, but unique to a certain city, and a sort of bond develops through the years and generations, parents and children all tasting that same swill. I mention this because G. Green are Sacramento, CA’s Old Style to Columbus, OH’s Yuengling, as they jam in a similarly loose and ramshackle fashion as that of Guinea Worms and Psandwich and Psychedelic Horseshit, et al. They’re like the Northern CA equivalent of that Columbus basement-anthem sound, and while I’m not sure they even have basements in Sacramento (it’s a weird town), there’s a similar sort of “make your own fun” vibe to these cities (and if I’m not mistaken, cheap rent) that allows bands like this to sprout up without too many hurdles along the way. The four songs here are cool, even if the singer sounds more like the guy from Piebald than he probably realizes. I’m pretty sure this band is best enjoyed at a crowded late-night house party than on record anyway, especially if they ever forgot their amps and had to borrow Mayyors’ gear. Even if that’s not how things work over there, I want to believe.
Steve Gunn Time Off LP (Paradise Of Bachelors)
Album of the month right here! I’ve heard the name Steve Gunn here and there, think he might live in the same city as me (or at least he passes through frequently enough, with mutual acquaintances), and figured he was another friendly Fishtown beardo who played drone-folk with his grandfather’s acoustic guitar, which is cool enough, so damn if Time Off didn’t floor me when I put it on after a couple solid recommendations. It’s so simple, yet I find myself lacking the vocabulary to truly describe it, but I’ll try my best anyway – Gunn plays these sweet, simple and often quite beautiful acoustic guitar riffs, has a humble little bassist and drummer backing him up (with the occasional flourish of tasteful piano or cello), and sings in the perfect hushed tone as the songs cycle through. It’s like if Leo Kottke tried to start a pop group, or if Six Organs Of Admittance was friendly and welcoming instead of stonefaced and mystical (Six Flags Of Admittance?), or if Will Oldham smoked a little weed and forgot he had to try to be weird for a minute, or if Neil Young was a person you could actually relate to. I’d say the strength of Time Off is how these great songs sneakily worm their way into one’s subconscious, but the playing is so smooth, and Gunn’s voice is so soft and inviting that it’s really just the whole package that is so fantastic. It’s a great “morning yoga” record, a great “beers at lunchtime” record, a great “hanging on the porch at dusk” record… really any moment of the day is improved by its presence. Give it a listen and tell me I’m wrong!
Happy Times Gross Registrable Tonnage 7″ (Swashbuckling Hobo)
The Swashbuckling Hobo label is really pushing my limits of tolerable corniness… I mean that Mad Macka 7″ was decent enough, but if it didn’t make me feel like I was celebrating my birthday at Applebee’s, this Happy Times 7″ orders me an appetizer of spicy buffalo bites and a neon-blue margarita while waiting for my friends to arrive. On this Happy Times single, the band members’ names are listed in funny German appropriations and dorky jokes, so while the music calls to mind bits of Cosmic Psychos and hints of The Saints, it feels more like the new material by any punk band that broke up by 1986 and reformed no earlier than 2002. Maybe I just don’t know how to have fun anymore, or maybe this just feels too much like a PG-13 Turbonegro, but whatever the case, my relationship with Gross Registrable Tonnage isn’t working out. If four decent songs of beer-fueled party-punk sounds like a satisfying evening to you, well then by all means, ask the bartender to change one of the flat-screens to your favorite sports event and get a side of hot sauce with your fried onion poppers – tonight’s your night.
Haus Arafna All I Can Give 7″ (Galakthorrö)
Another hot batch of Galakthorrö releases, of which the jewel is probably this Haus Arafna single. How could it not be? Haus Arafna are a pinnacle of industrial power-electronics, releasing only the finest records without any superfluous demo tracks or live outtakes or anything besides aesthetic perfection. I love their albums, but there’s something special about their singles… it’s like they are angrier in 7″ format, and that’s evident from the start of “Pain Loves Pain”, with volcanic synth murmurs and tortured screams from Mr. Arafna himself. “Jiva” is like a third-world sex dungeon, the very concept of which disturbs my moral fabric; thankfully Mr. Arafna just talks his way through this one or I might have to lock myself in the attic. The two tracks on the flip are fantastic as well. I have gotten more emails from YGR readers asking “where can I get Haus Arafna records?” or “what else is good that sounds like Haus Arafna?” than any other question, and that’s probably because they’re one of the coolest and best groups I consistently have the pleasure of praising. Either get on the Galakthorrö mailing list and make sure your bank is capable of international fund transfers or prepare for the long, lonely road through eBay. Whatever you do, it’s worth it.
Huerco S. Apheleia’s Theme 12″ (Future Times)
Future Times is one of the coolest electro-gangs currently operating on US soil (seriously, spend an hour with these folks and tell me otherwise), and while their funky-fresh electro-boogie isn’t usually the sort of dance music I gravitate toward, it would be wrong if I didn’t check in with them once in a while. And with this Huerco S. single (don’t tell me he’s Omar’s long lost cousin!), I’m rethinking everything I thought I knew about Future Times, as this is banging tech-house of the highest order, right up there with Newworldaquarium, Kyle Hall and Levon Vincent when it comes to crusty hi-hats and oil-slick grooves. “Apheleia’s Theme” puts all of that to excellent use, and “Ausschachtung” quickly weirds-up the flip, like your mind’s camera is doing one of those weird Enter The Void-style plunges through reality, at least until a bouncy little beat drops and you can actually dance to your own hallucination. Huerco brings us back to Earth with “Cercy”, using what sounds like an amplified dishwasher (rinse cycle) in place of the hi-hat and a cheesy ascending bass-line that makes me want to pop my bones out of their respective sockets. Excellent find, Future Times! Oh and good work to you too, Huerco!
Rollin Hunt The Phoney LP (Moniker)
Shortly after I plucked it out of my mailbox, I knew nothing about the debut Rollin Hunt 7″ besides that I loved it. It was like a garbled, unmastered Blues Control record remixed by Gary War, barely considerable as “songs”, and I even filed it under “R” because who would’ve guessed the guy’s name is actually Rollin Hunt? Now he’s back with a full-length, and it sounds like Mr. Hunt stopped taking those colorful pills, or his cat stopped sleeping on his Macbook or something, because The Phoney sounds like an actual album of songs by an actual musician or two. And I dunno… for me, some of the charm is lost in that transition. It starts pretty sweet, with the ethereal-yet-tumbling “Beautiful Park” (just listen to those keys shimmer), and all the songs are good, it just kinda sounds more like the acts opening for Panda Bear or Ariel Pink than some inexplicably messed-up bit of music. Serious “beta-male channeling the AM radio fudge of his youth” vibes. And while he makes fine work of his musical talents, even busting out house strings and sound effects and electronics and guitars throughout The Phoney, none of these songs totally knock a pop hit out of the park, nor do they disturb me so deeply that I have to question Hunt’s decency. So all in all, a solid LP that let me down by not being horrible.
Hermann Kopp Zyanidanger LP (Galakthorrö)
Not that Galakthorrö needs it, but Hermann Kopp is their seasoned all-star, the only electronic nihilist with a discography that goes further back than Haus Arafna. He’s already got his own Vinyl On Demand retrospective box, for chrissakes, and he’s still at it! Zyanidanger is a pretty cool trip into Kopp’s library, as the insert notes a 19th Century German scientist (why Hermann Franz Moritz Kopp, of course) and Edgar Allan Poe as direct inspirations. It certainly feels like minimal-synth time travel, where Korgs and drum machines are replaced by big dusty pianos, violins and antique theremins, these antique instruments presenting the same sense of unease and morbidity as the electronic keyboards of today. If you snuck into Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory and heard one of Kopp’s violins start to kick in, you’re already too late, my friend. I listen to a lot of weird music, but haven’t heard anything quite like Zyanidanger in a while (if ever), as it feels like the ghosts of centuries past, while still being quite musical and thoughtfully composed. All of those classic German fables are so dark and twisted, I mean Hansel And Gretel was just made into a movie that might as well be Resident Evil, and these songs certainly capture the fright and mystery of the first time you heard those stories as a child. Obey your parents or else!
Mannequin Hollowcaust Slow Infector 7″ (Stand-Up Tragedy / Head Destroyer Media)
The fact that the insert lists Bryan Lewis Saunders as “project coordinator” had me unsettled from the get-go, but I dunno, the name “Mannequin Hollowcaust” almost seems too silly to be scary… like seriously, who is gonna be scared of a horror movie called The Lawnmower Man? Well, turns out that movie is scary as hell, and I’m a fool for thinking Mr. Saunders would coordinate anything other than skin-crawling madness. “Slow Infector” is a desolate track of power-electronics, dial-tone terror and a screaming prisoner the next cell over, kinda like Bloodyminded if they wore disgusting flannels and khakis from Goodwill’s free box instead of head-to-toe leather. A “slow infector” indeed, a real noise parasite that never sits on its hands. “The World Is A Wasteland” is even crumblier, somewhere between Missing Foundation and Niellerade Fallibilisthorstar on the “post-societal collapse industrial detritus” scale. A pretty killer noise 7″ that seems to be forging its own path while still following tradition, I’d say!
Marriage For Brötzmann LP (Monofonus Press)
You ever get excited for some new group that is billed as ex-members of a band you love, only to find out it’s just their second drummer or bassist who played on their last record and it has nothing to do with the band you love, and actually sucks? That happens far too often, so I am glad to say that when I saw that Marriage are ex-Black Eyes (and as it’s just one of their two drummers, Mike Kanin, the connection isn’t particularly strong), they absolutely make good on any relation to the best band from DC in the past ten (twenty? thirty?) years. And strangely, they actually sound pretty similar, as Marriage pound out these heavy, dub-based riffs with a manic singer, fancy bass playing and garbage-disposal guitar soloing steeped in the Daniel Martin-McCormick tradition. Hell, if you thought that Black Eyes’ records never quite met the intensity of their live show, I urge you to listen to this Marriage record, as it’s downright incensed, noisy in the best of ways and always deep in a groove, as if Fugazi were influenced by no-wave and the avant-garde instead of the political oppression of band merchandise. It’s nice that they are dedicating this one to Peter Brötzmann (the cover makes it look like a proposal, even), but I feel like Marriage put together this album for me when I’m listening to it, because it certainly hits a sweet spot that I haven’t had touched in a while.
Mordecai College Rock LP (Richie)
When I think of Montana-based rock, I think of the respectable Wantage USA label, but if there’s another label I’d like to let loose on that vast and depressing state, it’s the Testostertunes empire. You probably already know that College Rock is a tongue-in-cheek title, unless these guys went to PCU or the South Harmon Institute of Technology (what, I’m the only loser who watched Accepted?) or some other fake movie college where Pauly Shore is likely to appear. What I’m getting at is the laid-back, beers-on-the-amp vibe that Mordecai deliver; even the drummer doesn’t break a sweat. It’s as if Icky Boyfriends took care in covering The Velvet Underground with the guitarist doing his best Bill Orcutt impression when it came time for his solos (and there are plenty here). It’s good, but it’s the vocalist that hooks me in – he’s a dead ringer for Will Shatter, and delivers his words with the same casual bile that made Flipper so hypnotic and twisted. If any of those names pique your interest, you may want to give Mordecai a look. After all, if you can’t trust Richie Records, who can you trust?
Nihiti Ghosts And Versions 12″ (Lo-Bit Landscapes)
“Ghosts And Lovers” was definitely the hit off Nihiti’s last album For Ostland, a real defining moment in emo-goth electronica if there ever was one (there never was one). The vocal hook didn’t just pop into my brain while listening to it – it would randomly show up weeks after I last listened to it, a sort of insidious musical infection that I only ever get from No Doubt, U2 and Prurient otherwise. This 12″ features four remixes of “Ghosts And Lovers”, and I gotta say, I was never a huge fan of the concept of the remix 12″… unless there is some absolutely new way to blow up the track, or you are a busy DJ with a highly-astute crowd, why not just jam the original? National Park System smears the song into a laptop jungle, Mark Verbos sanitizes it into a germ-free house track, Hrdvsion strips it bare until the track is naked and minimal, and Zebrablood adds a level of paranoia to ensure that it’s only ghosts, no lovers. Hrdvsion’s take is probably my favorite, as their tech groove culminates nicely, but I’d probably just rather hear new tracks by that artist and keep “Ghosts And Lovers” in its original unsmudged form. Still, no artist besmirches the good name of Nihiti here, and the smokey transparent vinyl makes for an attractive conversation piece at any intimate social gathering.
Peak Twins Steppin’ Off 7″ (Bedroom Suck)
You know there’s also some indie band calling themselves Twin Peaks now too? I get that the show was cool, but c’mon folks, don’t go taking someone else’s weird-genius cred and trying to claim it as your own. You gotta earn that. I can’t just go around calling myself Charles Barkley, you know? Anyway, I remember Peak Twins as Jihad to the Ottawa that was Scott and Charlene’s Wedding (I hope at least one of you gets what I’m saying), so I was expecting to breeze through this single with the excitement of a survey questionnaire, but it’s actually kinda nice. I mean, the cover art is sweet, with two band members utterly too cool for the psychedelic party that is happening around them, and “Steppin’ Off” feels like the first ’50s rock-inspired song I’ve enjoyed maybe ever. It’s got a tight little swing, the singer sounds believably cool, and the chorus teases me with its confidence. “China White” is the “I’m sad you’re on drugs” song; it’s sadder, slower and probably appeals to some with its classic pop anguish, but I’m not particularly enthralled. Can’t say there’s a good reason to shell out your hard-earned clams on this one, but there’s a great music video of the a-side on Vimeo that is worth at least a couple of clicks, likes, re-posts and comments. And it’s free!
Pharmakon Abandon LP (Sacred Bones)
“Pitchfork-approved noise artist” comes with the same level of coolness as “grandparents-approved black metal quartet”, but I gotta say, it’s gonna take legions of annoying trend-dabblers to even slightly dampen the enjoyment I’ve gotten out of Pharmakon’s debut vinyl full-length, Abandon. I respected her for going the opposite route most noise groups took in the past decade by barely releasing any music at all and honing her live set into something fiercely captivating, and it seems to pay off here, as this is clearly a well-designed album, inside and out; it’s one of those rare and great noise records that is intense and discomfiting while at the same time highly listenable. It’s also powerfully recorded, which is kind of key, because Pharmakon will drop these sub-aquatic bass bombs and screech like Attila Csihar, and the recording captures that wide range without feeling too polished or messy. Musically there is some definite kinship with the Posh Isolation scene, working a sort of Broken Flag / cold industrial power-electronics form into today’s technology (and disaffected youth), and Pharmakon is certainly the top of her class. She gets to the point, and her songs never fall into a cave of grey static, even if I personally don’t mind that on occasion. Never thought I’d have to beg a noise artist to release more, but please Pharmakon! Don’t make us wait so long for the next one!
Red Hare Nites Of Midnite LP (Dischord / Hellfire)
When the existence of Red Hare was made public, this ex-Swiz / Fury / Dag Nasty / Bluetip super-group was like a bat signal for all the settled-down late thirty-somethings who used to go to shows before they had kids and careers. Nites Of Midnite is just one of those records I can’t help but equate with bald heads on guys that had hair in their 7″ cover photos, and old musty band shirts pulled down from the attic, and it’s not a bad thing – some people grow up, others don’t, and neither approach is inherently bad or good. I’d say Red Hare still got it, at least… these songs are moody and personal stabs at emotive hardcore, quite ’90s-ish indeed (is that a Threadbare bass-line I hear, or an Unbroken guitar riff?), but they’re so polished and thoughtfully-crafted that the record feels fresh. The guitars sound particularly great, somewhere between Farside and Quicksand (or any of the better tracks on that In-Flight Program Revelation Records sampler CD), and the vocalist is as impassioned as Dan Yemin, if not as violent. And some of the lyrics seem guided by the spiritual force of Ian Mackaye (check “Message To The Brick”), which is nothing if not fitting. If you’ve ever been questioned about your straight-edge tattoos at your toddler’s play-group, or hung your old skate decks on the wall as though they were modern art, you probably already know about Red Hare, but if not, stop mowing the lawn and go buy this damn record!
Jonas Reinhardt Mask Of The Maker LP (Not Not Fun)
I always heard there was some mysterious other Jonas brother, the one who stayed in the basement unlocking secret Metroid levels while the others were out competing at shopping mall talent shows. Now he’s finally putting himself in the public eye, and with a stunning collection of electro-dance productions to boot. Throughout, I’m imagining a shiny neon world where Giorgio Moroder is king, Alden Tyrell is prince and Hans-Peter Lindstrøm the court jester, where the sidewalk lights up like a giant keyboard as you walk to go buy some bread (and it’s always fresh). Reinhardt’s got a real knack for maintaining a high level of energy without jolting the senses… it’s like he knows how to expertly control a dance-floor’s momentum, but puts that skill toward his own short-ish (like five minutes or so?) tracks instead of DJing other peoples’ records. Mask Of The Maker is a ton of fun, the type of record that you’ve gotta be a real butt-head to dislike. I was just listening to it while cleaning, and it made me feel like a cyber-hero exterminating a futuristic virus rather than some guy sweeping the dust out from the corners of his room. Isn’t that all you can hope to get from music?
Roomrunner Ideal Cities LP (Fan Death)
What’s up with Roomrunner? For some reason, these guys are out hitting the road, playing any basement or ballroom that’ll let them in, and they started off with a great demo, then a good 12″ EP, and now a thoughtfully-considered full-length… I thought bands in 2013 just posted their songs all over Tumblr and Facebook and waited for the indie lottery to call their number? I get the feeling that Fan Death have been really excited about working with Roomrunner from the very start, and I don’t blame them, as this is a band you can hang your hat on – working from a “first Nirvana record meets first Foo Fighters record” starting point, Roomrunner have shown consistent improvement, which is cool as they’ve more or less ruled from the start. Ideal Cities is their best-sounding record by a comfortable distance, the vocals still tuneful and loose but no longer buried by the guitars, and the guitars sound full and raw and ’90s-ish but never fall into a rut. I’m almost surprised at how mathy they get at times here, but never to a point where they’re just showing off their finger dexterity and wrist speeds – these songs are hummable start to finish, punctuated nicely by looping guitar riffs. And don’t worry, there are still plenty of points where you can enter the pit via grunge-pogoing. They may not have a controversial origin story, or give acerbic interviews, or brag about the drugs they’re on, so while the usual indie press frenzy might pass Roomrunner by, be sure to recommend them to a friend who likes great rock music, just as I am doing to you right now.
Screaming Brain / Up Your Bucket split 7″ (At War With False Noise / Insulin Addicted)
Global marketplace update: here we have a split 7″ co-released by American and Macedonian labels and featuring Macedonian and American groups, all wrapped up in classic Mike Diana artwork. (Remember when this guy’s art was criminally shocking? I miss the ’90s.) International punk rock cooperation like this brings a tear to my eye, and in this 7″ case it brings a few extra tears, because well, it pretty much stinks. Screaming Brain are the Macedonian act, and while I’m sure witnessing them live in their hometown is quite a cultural spectacle for a filthy American like me, their blend of limp cock-rock, pitchlessly-screamed vocals and occasional dips into melodic poppy-punk is more than I can take. Up Your Bucket are like a better version of Screaming Brain, cheesy heavy metal with screamy vocals that reminds me of Iron Monkey poorly covering The Accused or one of the local-band dregs on an Ax/ction compilation. These guys have probably beaten up more people than I’ve made out with, so I’m gonna leave my criticism at that. For anyone who ever considered putting out a record or starting a label but was intimidated by the process, I say: if these guys can put this thing together, what’s stopping you?
Shampoo Boy Licht LP (Blackest Ever Black)
Just when you thought it was safe to shower, Shampoo Boy comes creeping from Blackest Ever Black like a haunted bottle of Pert Plus. This group features Peter Rehberg (Pita, of course), one of his Peterlicker compadres and a couple other ultra-serious European electronic-noise intellectuals. Four long tracks here, each building their own slow atmosphere, like a slow drip of poison or a hairy spider building a web in your mind’s attic. I’m sure they’re all sitting behind shiny electronic boxes and Macbooks, but Licht sounds like a thousand creaky doors and the ghosts that walk through them, with plenty of piercing atonal feedback, grumbling mechanizations and the occasional sprawl of electric guitar. Not a lot of low-end, Shampoo Boy generally keep it piercing and trebly, but they’re still grimly metallic enough that Stephen O’Malley got on board to do the artwork. Ultimately it’s a little too passive to really grab my interest, but when Licht is spinning I pay them the proper heed. At the very least, my dandruff has drastically improved.
Sida Sida 7″ (Sweet Rot)
This Sida 7″ was a mystery to me until I noticed the name “Seb Normal” credited in the insert. This guy was in The Feeling Of Love, and his name is like a stamp of approval when it comes to scummy French blank-wave. He is to France as Mikey Young is to Australia, I’m thinking. While this Sida 7″ doesn’t mess me up the way that Teledetente 666, Cheveu and Drosofile do, it’s still pretty cool keyboard-driven, no-wave-inspired garage trash. “Apollo 13” grinds away the a-side grooves, and there are three shorter tunes on the b-side. Reminds me a bit of that bizarre Gueule Ouverte LP that came out a couple months ago, were it forced to tour with TV Ghost for an extended period of time. Not a pinnacle of the form, but if you’re a fan of the slimy ooze leaking from France’s underbelly, you just might need this hot cup of Sida.
The Sniffs The Sniffs 7″ (Disco-Lite)
Normally I’d hate on the cartoon cover art of a zombie punk couple in their spiked hair and charged leather jackets, but these two are busy on their cell phones! Now that’s a twist I can get behind. On this EP, there are five songs, all of which sound like a ’90s pop-punk band covering some classic pissed-off punk ala Dogs or Chronic Sick. Or like, you know, Brutal Knights – punk rock that’s already migrating to the hot-rod rockabilly retirement center, but riffs faster than The Devil Dogs or The Oblivians (and goes neck-and-neck with The Candy Snatchers). Not much to it besides a solid genre attempt, and as pretty much every town, big or small, still has bands doing Misfits tributes on Halloween, there will always be an audience for preconceived punk like this. I can take it or leave it, but in full disclosure, I haven’t tried matching leopard print with metal studs in quite some time. Maybe I’m just out of practice.
Solid Attitude Dash-Ex / Creeping Quilt 7″ (Sweet Rot)
Couldn’t help but crack a smile at a band named “Solid Attitude”… I appreciate any band that sets their sights moderately low, right off the bat. Like just putting in the effort to play a song is enough, you know? They’ve got more than just a funny name going for them though, as this is another manic and abrasive punk band that could loosely fall under the garage door (get it?). “Dash-Ex” would sound like a roughly-recorded, classic punk song if it wasn’t for the vocalist, who seems to be practicing karate sound-effects instead of singing actual words. He really sneers his “ayy-yah!”s, and at some point a saxophone kicks in to add to the confusion. Does Solid Attitude want to be The Swankys or X-Ray Spex? “Creeping Quilt” makes a little more sense of things, as the pace is chilled, allowing the sax to really marinate over a clumsy two-note groove, and the vocalist seems to have taken to saying words, even if he replaced every vowel with an a. The whole song ends up getting electrocuted in the end, so all my little remarks are probably kind of pointless anyway. RIP Solid Attitude, you were so young.
The Stabs Dead Wood LP (Homeless)
The Stabs are one of the few young-ish Australian punk rock groups that existed and were good before the Eddy Current age (can I really credit one band with breathing life into the underground music scene of an entire continent?), and Dead Wood is their new LP, although the copyright says “2009” so who really knows what’s going on. When listening to The Stabs, it’s as if they were notified that they are an Australian underground punk-rock band, so they decided to sound like one as best they could. And they do! This is Birthday Party / X / Lubricated Goat rock, slithering and wounded and menacing. Or basically, a less gothy, less dramatic Slug Guts. I suppose that’s the main fault I find with The Stabs – they’re one of those bands that you can just tell are comprised of nice, normal people, guys who do their laundry and treat strangers with respect and get drunk maybe once a week. Part of what made The Birthday Party so great was that along with the heavy bass/drums groove and slingshot guitars, you never knew if one of them would fall off the stage and die or if they’d actually eat your hand if you extended it toward them. There’s a real sense of danger to many of these classic Australian groups, and The Stabs certainly do not have that – they’re to early ’80s twangy sludge-punk as METZ are to late ’90s noise-rock. Sounds good enough though, and I enjoy the songs where the singer tells a story over a lumping bassline and frightened guitar. Maybe you will too.
The Stabs Dirt LP (Homeless)
Yikes… unless you’re Guns N’ Roses or Outkast, is a double album release really going to have a positive effect for your group? To be fair though, Dirt is a vinyl reissue of The Stabs’ debut album from 2006. And to their credit, it sounds almost exactly like Dead Wood – the cow-punk bass and drums are nice and heavy, and the guitar rings out like taut rubber-bands finally released. Still, this is a whole lotta Stabs up for consumption, and the art style is so similar that I wouldn’t blame someone for assuming they’re the same release with two cover variations. If I had to pick between the two, I’d probably go with Dirt – sure, it’s also my favorite Alice In Chains album, but The Stabs are a bit angrier and more wild here, replacing Dead Wood‘s thoughtful polish with plenty of two-note riffs and a nice level of frustrated intensity, as if Lamps were raised on kangaroo milk. It’s hard to argue with guitar rock such as this, and if it seems like I’m trying to, I apologize – perhaps The Stabs are well aware of the plain, unglittered methods in which they dish out their songs, and anyone condemning them for it should strongly reconsider.
Te/DIS Black Swan 7″ (Galakthorrö)
It’s always exciting to see a new Galakthorrö artist, because it’s so rare… there are like eight artists on a label that has existed for twenty years, so they are picky to say the least. I’m even willing to respect the band’s choice of capitalization (short for “Tempted Dissident” if the cover is any indication); that’s just how seriously I take this label. Black Swan opens with the title track, and just as I expect the industrial clanging and synthesized smoke to fill the room, they go and drop some moody melodies and head in a furrowed-brow synth-pop direction. The vocalist is just a hair less corny than the Silk Flowers guy, and it turns out that hair is all they really need, as a track like “ovID” (again with the odd caps) is stern and unflinching while still providing a groove suitable for anyone who at some point received Wax Trax catalogs in the mail. All four songs kinda toe that line, between the horror of Haus Arafna and the spooky dance of Portion Control, so while it’s not the most crucial Galakthorrö release to come out in the past few years, it’s a marvelous addition just the same.
Ttotals Spectrums Of Light 7″ (Twin Lakes)
You’ve gotta really want to name your band a certain word if you’re willing to spell it wrong with the whole “extra consonant” thing, right? Personally, I cannot abide by this nomenclature, but it’s becoming so commonplace that I guess I gotta deal. The music of Ttotals helps it go down a bit easier, as they’re got a good, stressful psych-rock thing going here. “Sometimes You Just Are” feels like Angels Of Light actually, or if Michael Gira had a ’70s countrified-psych-inspired project released on Young God (which he probably does). Clean reverb on a lonesome guitar while a deep-voiced man relates his concerns. “Tricks Of The Trade” follows on the b-side in a similar fashion, just as stark and imposing, but with a vocal warble that has me drifting away from Gira and toward Nick Cave at his most mustachioed. It’s over pretty fast, almost too quick for me to really get a feel for Ttotals, but what I did grasp, I liked. If you wear a cowboy hat but live in a big city, I suggest you give strong consideration to Ttotals.
Vereker Rosite 12″ (L.I.E.S.)
So many L.I.E.S. being told these days, it’s hard to keep up, plus it’s kinda frustrating trying to find a domestic dealer of this domestic techno label (damn you Europe and your booming electronic music distribution network). Something about the name “Vereker” drew me in… it just sounds like it should be the name of a Mortal Kombat fighter with a gas-mask and dreads, and while it’s not quite that fierce, I’m still pleased with my purchase. A-side “Rosite” is like three things – a simple acid line, a clumsy snare-roll and a distorted crunch, and Vereker usually leaves two of those things on while messing with the other. It sounds like it was made by punk kids in a basement, but it’s still got a heavy thump, and it’s that combo that is generally the trademark of my favorite L.I.E.S. releases. The b-side is just as simplistic, the sort of thing that has that “sounds like anyone could do it” feel, but doesn’t bother me in the slightest. Maybe it’s just because it was all clearly created by a couple beat-up analog boxes, or because the scratchy bubbles of “Disconnect” make me think of Anthony “Shake” Shakir remixed by Jamal Moss. It’s either peak-time or no-time for this one, which means I’ve been banging my head in my room to Vereker since it first hit my deck.
WatchOut! Flashbacker LP (Permanent)
Permanent Records may have become synonymous with noisy punk rock (or punky noise-rock), but that doesn’t mean they can’t throw us a curve once in a while like this reissue of WatchOut!’s 2011 album Flashbacker. They’re a Chilean rock group, and the band name and tracks are hidden Where’s Waldo?-style in some palm leaves on the back cover – very crafty, if not particularly helpful in getting people to understand what record they’re holding. But who cares about people anyway, at least when you’re surfing down the acid waves of “Latinarabia” or the Los Cincos-ish “Space So Near”. They seem to fluctuate between Tropicalia-inspired hypnotism and psychedelic bubblegum-rock, and while they are pretty good at both, I kinda just wish they’d let those tropical guitar grooves extend to kraut-rock lengths, as they get so deep in the groove it’s kind of sad that they stop and quickly switch to some fuzzy, sunny garage-rock number. I’d probably go out and make my own WatchOut! t-shirt if this record was just two songs at fifteen minutes a-piece, but I don’t blame them for trying to be a more palatable band and keeping things concise. Maybe I just need to hitch a flight to Chile, learn the Spanish translation of the phrase “play it longer!” and pretend I’m not the most obnoxious guy in their crowd.