What’s not to like about Steve Gunn? First off, he made the guitar record of the summer with Time Off, a gorgeous collection of sprawling acoustic jams with cyclical melodies and influences both Eastern and American. Secondly, he comes from a heady improvisational background, playing in groups like GHQ and Desert Heat to crowds of chin-scratching Belgians and various Byron Coleys. And thirdly, he’s just one of those naturally cool guys who handles his instrument reverently and expertly, the type of guy who doesn’t need a pair of sunglasses to look sharp – he’ll make squinting seem righteous. If you haven’t already, please go and check out his latest record, it’ll make what he has to say below that much more impressive.
I know you were in hardcore bands growing up…at what point did you switch to acoustic guitars as your guitar of choice. Is it fair to say that you are primarily an acoustic guitarists at this point?
I did play in some hardcore bands when I was in high school. My parents let me go on a small East Coast tour the summer between my freshman and sophomore year, filling in for a bass player who couldn’t make the trip. I begged my parents to let me go, and they were really cool about it. The music was an utter mess. I’d say it was pretty bad by anyone’s standards. I suppose it was cool that we were just out playing. My rig was what most teenagers had at the time – the small Peavey amp and a fake Fender. In the band, I just plugged in and thrashed around. At this same time I was playing the acoustic guitar and trying to make sense of it, so everything kind of happened at once.
I didn’t get an electric until a year or two after my first acoustic. I played the acoustic a lot in high school, partially because it was there to pick up and play, and it could be private and no one could hear. After that I started playing much more, but the acoustic was always kind of sitting around.
I guess when people start playing guitar at that age they kind of go for one thing – the metal heads go for the leads, the hardcore guys go for the power chords, the spin doctors dudes go for the blues riffs, etc… I wasn’t really going for one thing. I just kind worked out rhythms and melodies that I would hear in various songs, not really concentrating on any technical stuff. The lessons I took helped a bit, but I didn’t really follow through with them. I suppose at the time I didn’t have the attention span to sit and actually learn things and really study the instrument. I more so got a handle and feel for how to play just by sitting in my room and doing whatever. The teacher was a nice dude who I think played in a pretty pro cover band. It always felt a bit strange, and I didn’t really take much from it. I ended up learning more technical stuff later when I was more ready for it.
Greg Ginn’s guitar playing in Black Flag struck me because it was so expressive, and he had a unique style – not flashy, and more rhythmic. No other players really sounded like him. I was inspired by him and wanted to play like that. I’ve always been drawn to players who have their own take and style on things. I suppose having that kind of appreciation merely for how things sounded rather than technical stuff helped me develop my own kind of thing for better for worse. When I discovered open tunings for guitar later on, it opened up a lot a ton for me because I could still play in the way I was most comfortable. It helped because I was still doing my own kind of thing, but wasn’t limited to the standard tuning thing anymore. That’s when I got back to playing the acoustic a whole lot. Learning how to do finger-style stuff with the acoustic came along with that. I could still freely play rhythmic stuff but could do things in a wider range, and sort of compose parts, etc. This kind of fell in line with me discovering older blues players and solo instrumentalists doing all kinds of different stuff, players like Fred Mcdowell and Sandy Bull gave me the same kind of excitement as when I first got into Ginn and Hendrix back in high school. I kind of came back to acoustic full circle around this time.
I’ve been playing more electric guitar these days, so I wouldn’t consider myself exclusively an acoustic guitar player by any means. I’ve been working on trying to get away from that. I’ve been incorporating more electric guitar into the band setting and hope to have more of that kind of scenario going on on my next solo record. I’m a little burnt out on only playing acoustic and want to expand the sound a bit. I still intend on it being a mix of both, but I’ve been getting more and more into playing electric. It’s a nice change from trying to play in a band with only acoustics through a Fender twin – it’s been tough in a lot of situations and doesn’t make the most sense.
When playing your songs live, do you plan to improvise or stretch songs out longer than their recorded versions? Is it something that just happens, or do you go into shows with the intent to just kinda let the songs sprawl out as they may?
Yeah, the plan for improvisation is always part of it. I guess it’s just being aware that it’s in the cards and being ready for it. The drummer I play with, John Truscisnki, and I have done a lot improvising over the years, so it’s easy for us to go down that road. Most of the songs have parts that can stretch out, and when we do them live they often go in different directions. We usually try to discuss what we are going to try beforehand, but we’re also open for things that come out of the blue. When I play solo there is much more room for this kind of thing to happen, and I embrace it. It helps also with not getting bored of the songs, gives them a bit of spontaneity, which helps adapt to certain situations with the kind of room/crowd etc.
You’ve also done your share of improvisation / “free” music, prior to the solo acoustic stuff you’re doing… did you have to mentally unlearn any improvisation techniques in order to play the comparatively simple melodies of Time Off? I know some people who came up in certain underground music scenes have found it hard to step back and just play simple stuff, instead of constantly pushing their technical ability.
All of the stuff that I’ve done with improvising helps with playing the songs off of the new record. While doing all of the improvisation stuff, I’ve always been simultaneously working on songs and melodies. I don’t really have to ‘unlearn’ things when doing the songs, but I do have to know what and where improvisational stuff can fit in the framework of the song. With the songs there is no really dropping out, but more like stretching out what is already there.
It is true that people who do improvisation have different abilities outside of playing that way. Some people can only do just that, and can’t do play in any other situations, etc… others can do everything, like play complex compositions and Flamenco or something. During the time when I was mostly doing improv stuff, I was always kind of privately practicing more structured guitar playing. When I started doing more song stuff and singing, it was a real change from what most have heard me do, but in a way, it’s what I’ve been working up to the most.
Also, it was nice to really switch it up and go in a different direction, because to me I felt like I was a approaching a huge void of just playing a ton and getting anywhere with it, like approaching a vapid void of blind strumming. It was certainly fun and rewarding, but I felt like I wanted to go in a different direction.
What kind of crowd response do you hope for when playing live? Is just a quiet, respectful, attention-paying audience the best a performer like you can hope for?
It can be hard when people are making noise over what you are trying to do when playing an acoustic solo set, but I’ve gotten used to it. I almost expect it at this point, so I’ve learned to tune it out. In that setting, it’s always nice to have a quiet attentive audience though. Since playing with more of a band, a rowdier crowd is fine, but not too insane with people screaming, etc. We’re still not that loud and can get drowned out a bit. We’re still trying to figure out our volume with the band setting.
Where do your lyrics come from? Are you trying to evoke specific images, or are you more interested in having your voice work as another instrument, with certain phrases sticking out here and there?
My lyrics come from trying to portray a loose narrative combined with finding words that fit certain sounds. It’s an exercise in finding the balance of the two. I take a lot of scrap notes of things that I hear or observations or whatever, and often try to string some things along. Having a voice work as another instrument is part of it in the process, so a lot of words get changed to fit regardless of meaning. It’s nice to do this to deconstruct any original idea of what a certain group of words is going to portray.
Why did you choose to release this music under your own name, instead of a moniker, or a band title? Do you feel more exposed? Or does it even matter?
When I first started to release solo music, i felt using my name was fitting, because it was solo bedroom style stuff and pretty personal. At the time I was doing a bunch of different things, and this stuff was really what I had been working on on my own. The songs on my new record were solo songs, so I felt the name thing wasn’t important. I am open to the idea of getting a name when I have a band, just haven’t figured out what fits. I’ve never come up with a moniker or band name that I felt was fitting, and I don’t really like having a name combined with mine, like Steve G & The Bimbos or something like that. I still perform these songs a lot solo, and will do a lot more of that, so I didn’t want to make it more confusing than it already is by changing it completely. More recently I’ve been doing a pick-up band kind of thing, which has been really cool because it kind of changes the songs around a bit. I am playing a festival in Belgium this week and have two guys from there who are going to sit in with me for the show. Maybe I’ll start coming up with band names on the fly, or maybe something will stick by the time my next record comes out. A lot of people think my name is not my real name, so in a way I’ve got a made-up name already.
I know it’s not my place, but I gotta say, “Gunn” would be pretty cool. Or is that too egotistical? It wouldn’t be the same if your name was Steve Smith or Steve Kowalcyk or something.
Years ago I had a band called Gunn Control for about a week before the name changed into something else. I think if I did have a band called Gunn, I would maybe have to wear a jean jacket with no sleeves and a bullet belt or something. Or maybe not. Could be a cool direction – it does have a good ring to it. Since my name has only two syllables, I always thought it was easy to use.
You seem to get wrangled in with guitar players like Jack Rose, John Fahey, Leo Kottke, that sort of school of underground-approved American fingerpickers… do you feel any kinship there, or does it just feel like a lazy comparison to you?
Yeah – thanks for asking this question. In almost anything that is written about me, those names are dropped, and sometimes I feel like it’s a lazy comparison. I don’t mind it all, but I feel that my new album is kind of getting away from that. There has been a few reviews and write-ups that haven’t said anything in that regard (Fahey this and that), and it’s always a bit of a relief. I can always tell when music writers gather old reviews and reiterate what has already been said about other releases. It’s nice when people really listen to the stuff and come up with their own opinion and take on it.
Is the guitar your favorite musical instrument? Do you think its importance in modern music has been fading?
The guitar Is the only instrument I really know how to play, and I wouldn’t necessarily say that it’s my favorite. My favorite instrument to listen to changes every so often. I’ve really been really enjoying the Indian dulcimer instrument called a santoor. I have a few albums by guys who play this, and the percussive and melodic control is unreal.
I’ve been listening to a lot of live Hendrix stuff, so I guess the guitar is an obvious favorite.
Perhaps guitar has been fading a bit in popular modern music, but I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing. Keyboards and beats seem to be the future and I’m enjoying that.
Agarttha A Water Which Does Not Wet Hands LP (King Of The Monsters)
On preliminary inspection, I was pretty psyched to see that this Agarttha LP was released by King Of The Monsters, a label I fondly recall from such quality hardcore splits as Puritan / Reversal Of Man and The Locust / Bastard Noise. Didn’t realize King Of The Monsters was still kicking, but it was a welcome surprise. The music of Agarttha, however, wasn’t quite as pleasant of a revelation for me, as they (he? she? it??) produce goth-ambient post-rock soundscapes that are a little too bland for my liking. I’m reminded of the Young Hunting record that came out on Blackest Ever Black not too long ago, but Agarttha is less intense, less occult-committed and just kinda boring, as if one of those Level Plane screamo bands with keyboards did mostly-instrumental Diamanda Galas covers for a Halloween show. I mean really, it’s fine, but I’ve listened a few times, and recalled the same bored-yet-anxious feeling I had while sitting through church as a kid. Maybe if this album came with some communion, I’d be a bit more impressed, because at least church had that, you know? If Agarttha read this review and mail me a hexed doll that causes me to become gravely ill, I will confidently say I am impressed by them, but until then I have to give this band the worst description a band can ever receive: they are okay.
Big Eyes Almost Famous LP (Grave Mistake)
Going through all the packaging of this Big Eyes LP, I counted six separate images of the band sitting or standing around, just posing with their gear or looking lonely or annoyed. I mean from the front cover to the back cover to the center sticker to the insert to the two-sided poster, Big Eyes are making it abundantly clear that they are a band who likes to stand around and gets photographed while pretending to talk on a pay phone or wait for a bus. Maybe that shouldn’t irk me so much, I mean it’s a pretty normal thing for a band to do, but this is on Grave Mistake, a label I count on for a lack of bullshit (pardon my French), and none of these band shots are particularly intriguing. It’s not like you see the cover of Almost Famous and say “tell me more!”. Thankfully, there’s also a playable record in here, which, as it turns out, is a pretty pro-sounding melodic garage-punk album. It’s plenty poppy, to the point where I am strangely reminded of Saves The Day (not a fair comparison at all, but it keeps nagging at me for some reason – maybe the vocal melodies?), but it’s probably more like a chrome-polished Brain F≠, or a mixtape predominantly featuring White Lung and The Pretenders. At their very best, Big Eyes remind me of The Exploding Hearts, like on the album’s hit “Wanted Sometimes” or the following “Being Unkind”, both moody and impactful cuts of power-pop garage that manage to write a couple new sentences in a book that’s been full for years. Almost Famous drags here and there, and I’m still annoyed that the band is constantly sitting around and staring, but the more I listen the more I’m willing to indulge their photographic vices.
Big French Downtown Runnin LP (Wharf Cat)
Big French is the project of a guy named Quentin Moore, and he manages to both create and sabotage his first full-length, Downtown Runnin. See, the music is fast, frantic punk and kaleidoscopic pop, and frequently pretty alright, but he sings in this obnoxious Fraggle voice that essentially pours a bottle of vinegar all over the fresh fruit sorbet he just prepared. I know that Danielson Familie had at least some sort of following, and the same goes for Jeromes Dream and Clouddead – people aren’t entirely opposed to ridiculous high-pitched vocals, and neither am I, but in the context of the band Big French, they make no sense. And as there are at least a few dozen bands treading similar musical waters, I’d rather go somewhere where I don’t have to listen to Moore squeal like an eight-year-old boy. At every Whole Foods, there’s one cashier with an apron covered in silly buttons, and I’m half-expecting to see a shiny “Big French” pin on mine the next time I’m buying iced tea and a wrap. Cut the quirkiness in half and I’m still not gonna be feeling Big French, but then again I’ve never paid to see “Weird” Al live, either – maybe I’m just the wrong demographic.
Bill Bondsmen Dead / Peasant Under Glass 7″ (no label)
If the Bill Bondsmen didn’t change the color of ink they screen across their self-released 7″ singles, you might not even realize there are more than one – all of these records are unified in design and simplicity. This new one doesn’t elevate their form (and I think I may have preferred the first two), but it’s still hardcore-slanted garage-punk, the sort of music that can be considered “high octane” without sucking. “Peasant Under Glass” is cool, with the guitar trying out some new alien-abduction effects pedals, and “Dead” works some stop/starts in with its fairly standard mid-paced punk beat. They definitely like toying with being “weird”, but never forget to lace up their boots. I should probably try to see these guys live sometime – they’re one of those bands where I can’t figure out if they’re a team of fatties, mediums or skinnies (yes, that’s an NES Hockey reference) and I’d kinda like to know.
James Blake Overgrown 2xLP (Atlas Recordings)
James Blake’s second album has been out for a few months now, and I kept meaning to review it… I love the dude and his sensitive soul, as fragile as a Christmas ornament, but I listened to Overgrown once and promptly forgot about it. Lately, I’ve been listening to it a bunch more, trying to figure out what was missing (was it me or was it him?). All the parts are still intact: his effortlessly beautiful voice, fluttering through octaves like a rainforest butterfly; the peculiar, unintuitive beats that collapse around him; the feeling of witnessing a sad, breathtaking sunset from a space-base hovering Earth in 2049. So that just leaves the feeling of newness out of the equation, because it often seems here as though Blake has stopped stepping forward and instead planted himself comfortably in his seat. That and the lack of memorable moments, from disjointed phrases that unavoidably lodge in your brain to auto-tuned melodies that linger hours after the fact. And then there’s that weird RZA guest-spot that seems like it was thrust upon Blake by A&R people, rather than his own doing. Overgrown still sounds fantastic, Blake’s physical talent hasn’t lessened in the slightest, I just find myself drifting off as it plays, a problem I never suffered with his self-titled debut. I’m gonna keep listening, though – those magic moments I share with Blake’s other records might still be here, requiring a bit more excavation.
Day Creeper Raging Beast 7″ (no label)
I am positive this isn’t the first I heard of Day Creeper – they must’ve done a Tic Tac Totally or M’Lady’s single somewhere a year or two back. Can’t say I was able to quickly recall their vibe before throwing on this self-released four-track EP, but this isn’t a band that demands full administrative knowledge of their history to figure out… this is fun punky proto-indie pop rock, and you either get into it or you wait outside. I like their sound here – Day Creeper try on Cheap Trick and Big Star riffs at the thrift store and come out looking somewhere between cool and dorky. Either that, or it’s like Timmy’s Organism approximating Home Blitz as best they can (which is pretty good). Both of the a-side cuts are good clean fun (but mercifully not Good Clean Fun), the sort of thing you’d predict to hear leaking out of the occasional basement in Midwestern suburbia. And leak away they shall!
Demdike Stare Testpressing #003 12″ (Modern Love)
Ah yes, here’s this month’s Demdike Stare test pressing, right on time. And in spinning the a-side’s “Eulogy”, I have to wonder if there wasn’t a mix-up at the plant, because this sounds nothing like the Demdike we’ve all come to know and love! Riding a pretty simple, balaerically-paced arpeggio, this track evokes none of the dark occultiness Demdike have trademarked. It’s great, don’t get me wrong, but this sounds far closer to Luomo than Andy Stott. “Dyslogy” on the flip is not only a great crust-punk band name, it’s a cut with an intense sauna vibe that eventually dries up into a Sandwell-ish locomotive blaster (or if you’d prefer, like Blawan making popcorn). I think the second test pressing has been my favorite so far, but both of the ideas here are cool (particularly “Dyslogy”), and it’s clear that they are using these “test pressings” as a clearinghouse for different ideas that don’t necessarily fit snugly into their discography thus far. Really, what are you gonna do anyway, not buy it? You’re already screwed.
Elmono Baton Rouge / Shadows On The Moon 12″ (Cold Recordings)
Elmono (whoever that is) christens Pinch’s new Cold Recordings label with a satisfying polar plunge on this 12″ single. I kind of was expecting Elmono to come across like just another player in today’s post-Hessle Audio techno league, but it’s faster than what I’m used to hearing (130 bpm maybe?) and the underlying bass is as frantic and punchy as any of my favorite Planetary Assault Systems tracks. He still does that “crazy fast chopped vocal murmur” gimmick, but it works well with the chase-scene bass, and the pitch varies enough that the track never wears out its welcome. “Shadows On The Moon” is just as fast, but with more of a bounce and less of a distinctive voice, one of those songs that feels nice but loses my interest along the way. Still, a nice showing for Elmono and the Cold Recordings label, even if my room’s sweltering temperature remained unaffected.
Ex Nuns Dead Of Zero 7″ (25 Diamonds)
No one is expecting this to be the new project of the Nuns who wrote “Decadent Jew”, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t slightly disappointed to find out it’s just some new group of boys with alternating deep-v and band t-shirts (all black, of course). They are cool, though, because their sound can essentially be summed up as such: a less-confident Julian Casablancas fronting a less-precise Hot Snakes. I don’t know about you, but that’s verging on a chocolate-and-peanut-butter-grade combo to me, and Ex Nuns certainly make it work. The music is constantly tumbling forward, in that Karp / Queens Of The Stone Age style, and the vocalist (who I guess also plays guitar) mutters his way to success. Neither of these songs are hits, but they sound really good, and I’d like to hear more. My advice to Ex Nuns: do another record and write a hit! This formula is too good to squander.
Framtid Defeat Of Civilization LP (Crust War / La Vida Es Un Mus Discos / Black Water)
By all accounts, Framtid were the winners of this year’s Chaos In Tejas hardcore competition. There were plenty of great acts, but trying to one-up Framtid is kind of impossible, as they’ve figured out how to fill the same-ol’ d-beat / hardcore-crust template with a blast of self-sustaining nuclear power. It’s like other hardcore groups are guys with machine guns, and Framtid are the volcano wiping them clean off the landscape. They take their time between releases (as all truly great hardcore groups do), and Defeat Of Civilization is more of the same top-shelf hardcore they’ve previously bestowed, where the drums are doing more fills than actual beats, the vocalist sounds like he’s eating a forest, and the guitars just wail away with the precision of Gauze and the ferocity of Disclose. There’s certainly something to be said about practicing an art form and mastering it, and I sure am glad the guys in Framtid got into raging hardcore instead of Rothko-style paintings or flat-land BMX. Although, come to think of it, those would probably be pretty sick too.
Gary Wrong Group Knights Of Misery LP (Total Punk / Jeth-Row)
There have been a number of great Total Punk singles, but this label has been really delivering the goods when it comes to LPs. Like Gary Wrong Group, another artist on their roster that I am shamefully unfamiliar with, but I quickly got into them upon spinning Knights Of Misery. This is mutant punk the way I dig it – slow enough that you can run from it, but with an endless stamina that always catches you in the end, like any great horror villain. And what do you know, Quintron plays drums and Steve Kenney (of Wolf Eyes side-project Demons fame) tweaks the synths. Musically it has kind of a Bobby Soxx vibe: simplistic, mid-paced with a groove, evil sci-fi leanings, plenty of negativity, and the vocals caked with a nice thin layer of snot. If you adored FNU Ronnies but they lost you with all their four-track noise and unstable antics, a song like “Heroin Beach Serpents Attack” was practically custom made for you. Often project bands of experimental musicians trying to do a punk band can fall pretty flat, but this one is just too weird to fail, and is pretty much just the sort of punk I hear in my head when I meet some nice young person at a party who asks me “what kind of music do you like?”. How can a guy named Gary Wrong feel so Gary Right?
Gas Rag Human Rights EP 7″ (Beach Impediment)
Gas Rag are the latest fireworks-core group to release a debut 7″ EP, a genre that is really exploding lately (as always, pun intended). You know what I mean, these new scruffy, glue-huffing hardcore bands that always have some smug jerk lighting off Roman candles and skyrockets into the pit like it’s Nine Shocks Terror in 1999 all over again. We are clearly at the point where danger at hardcore shows has to be manufactured, rather than a natural element, as Nazi skinheads seems to be as relevant to today’s show-going youth as actual Nazi soldiers, and having a mohawk and a leather jacket doesn’t mean you’ll get messed with on the street, it means you might just be one of Lady Gaga or Rihanna’s back-up dancers. So here we are at Gas Rag, a pretty solid hardcore punk quartet that pay homage to Nine Shocks Terror not just in ape-like violence but in raging, vaguely-Japanese riffs, searing vocals and drumming that simply doesn’t quit, frequently approaching a Career Suicide level of memorable thrash. They recorded this in their practice space, and I can already think of a few hardcore groups I’d like to send there to get a recording like this, punchy yet far from clean. Top-shelf modern hardcore for sure, but when is one of these bands gonna really step it up and bring some live crocodiles or Malaria-carrying mosquitoes to a gig? Don’t you guys wanna really impress Sakevi?
Kyle Hall The Boat Party 2xLP (Wild Oats)
Kyle Hall a.k.a KMFH (that’s “Kyle Motherfucking Hall”) was my favorite techno teenager, but now he’s probably in his early 20s, and has been kind of quiet on the release tip, at least comparatively speaking. That is until releasing his first proper album, The Boat Party. It was absolutely worth the wait, because this thing rips! If you aren’t already familiar with Kyle Hall, he is from Detroit, and you can hear it in his sound, but he generally pushes things to be rawer and weirder than your average motor-city techno guy. Just check the first two tracks here: “KIXCLAPSCHORDSNHATS” is aptly titled, a minimal set of trebly hiss and unquantized beats, and “Dr Crunch”, which is even more ferocious, like Actress dropping an acid-house cut into a Game Genie. If anything, Hall pushes away from the thick slabs of bass that seems to be a given in modern techno, preferring instead to pierce your eardrums with high-pitched cymbal stabs and hissing static, all the while sending your legs into dance-floor overdrive. I know Hall can get house-y, but The Boat Party is mostly just non-heavy techno weirdness, stuck to the grid but burning through it like hydrochloric acid on your new Z Cavaricci jeans. I feel as though being inventive while not being intentionally weird is such a difficult thing to do with techno music, I mean there’s only so much you can do with a bass kick and a snare, but Kyle Hall truly invigorates the style with The Boat Party. All aboard!
Haves & Thirds It’s Mostly Guesswork / It’ll Clean You Out But It’ll Leave You Hollow Inside LP (Hot Releases)
Okay, so this Haves & Thirds record is technically two EPs, and is credited as both Hot Releases #31 and #32, but it’s only one LP. Is that allowed? Can I release a ten-song seven-inch and count that as ten different releases? Where does the madness end??? Now that I got that out of my system, I can get to the music of this unique record – one side features River Phoenix movie samples, the other Leslie Nielsen, and both are served with melancholic and dreary instrumental backing tracks. So as River screams at a schoolmate or Leslie drops knowledge on a detective, guitar tremolo beams through the grey clouds, drum machines bleat out their static rhythms and keyboards dance like wilted flowers. I suppose most people might say this record sucks, and I’m not about to get in a fight over it, but I’ve found these distant transmissions to be peculiarly soothing, like an alien abduction where it turns out they just want to watch Family Matters with you on board their flying saucer. Or perhaps as if you’re ten years old in 1985 and you’re trying to watch a movie in the den while your sister blares New Order from her room. I probably won’t tell my friends about this one, but will I sit in my room and listen to these two deceased movie stars ramble on as home-baked synth-pop thickens the atmosphere? You betcha.
Her Parents Happy Birthday / Physical Release LP (Alcopop)
The snotty sarcasm of Her Parents is evident before I even put the record on, from the band’s cheeky name (isn’t that what they’d call it in their English homeland?) to titling one of these albums Physical Release. That’s right, this LP is a collection of two albums, and rather than give myself a headache trying to figure out the logistics beyond that, I’m just gonna dip into the numbskull rock n’ roll fun Her Parents are splashing around. It’s alright – musically, they are doing a manic garage-punk thing that verges more on the Jackass / extreme-sports side of thing than Estrus or HoZac, with a vocalist who frequently howls and screams his vocals as though he were trying out for Halfman or The Refused. It’s safe to say Her Parents are still firmly stuck in the party zone, proud of the injuries sustained from drunken falls and house-party mosh pits. They don’t let all that booze keep them from sounding tight, though, and they flail through both of these “albums” like Jay Reatard on a Razor scooter. They’ve got a band name that is worthy of spray-painting across a Hanes undershirt and wearing out to a club, and the music to provide the proper soundtrack.
Herpes Ö Deluxe Priester Auf Der Lauer 7″ (Divergent Series)
I always kinda figured that the Divergent Series label just released records from their own little group of anti-social friends, so this Herpes Ö Deluxe threw me for a loop – they’re actually some bizarre group from Switzerland who have been making this weird ambient / non-ambient racket since the mid ’90s. It definitely fits in with the FRKSE frame of mind, where human intelligence has left Planet Earth and the listener is Will Smith, wandering through mountains and ruined cities while trying to not get eaten. “Priester Auf Der Lauer” has a slow hum that slowly reveals a bubbling lake of ooze and some tortured-prisoner vocal stylings, not entirely unlike something Sudden Infant would dip his toes into. “Kauend Hinter Mauern” has a Demdike-ish bass undertow, but this one comes with a man and a woman angrily arguing in a language I don’t understand (which is pretty much anything but English), framing another unsettling moment of uncomfortable electronic atmosphere and dread. I heartily enjoyed both tracks, although had they gone on much longer I would either end up smashing the record or devoting my life to completing the Nurse With Wound discography (an impossibly-terrible fate indeed). If you’re gonna catch herpes, might as well make it a deluxe, right?
Industrial Park Echoes / May 7″ (Toxic Pop)
I know some people hate it, but I kinda like when a band uses a photo that literally represents their name or title, like that Earth album called The Bees Made Honey In the Lion’s Skull where the cover is a picture of bees making honey in a lion’s skull, or this 7″ by Industrial Park, featuring a black-and-white (of course) photo of an industrial park, all decayed and empty and forlorn. They clearly set their sights on being another beautifully gothic (yet coincidentally on-trend) group, and that sort of lower-middle-level success is what they obtain. The main melody of “Echoes” slowly slides down the neck, the guitars armed with a ’90s Sonic Youth-ish distortion, as the lead singer deepens her voice to an unnatural degree and warns of trouble down the shaded path ahead. “May” is a bit more hopeful, and if the cover art featured a color-shifted psychedelic photograph, I’d say it reminds me of Belly more than Tamaryn, even though the beat sways for its entire duration, never quite kicking into a catchy melody. I definitely don’t need Industrial Park in my life, but if they lived in the same town as me and opened for Zola Jesus or Cold Showers or something, I’d stick around and see what they’ve got, sure! There’s nothing wrong with being a decent local band, and for today’s gothic youth, Industrial Park fit the bill.
Irreparables Irreparables LP (Nominal)
With song titles like “I Wanna Make A Fanzine” and “Dear Mixtape”, this is clearly the gore-grind epic we’ve all been waiting for. Gotcha! Irreparables are a British group on a label that used to be based out of Vancouver, but currently resides in Switzerland, and somehow mails its orders out of Portland. That’s a significant number of frequent flyer miles, and just the sort of zany connection to fit Irreparables’ minimal, amateur punk. That is, punk music that’s low on amplification and distortion pedals and high on twee-like wonderment and snotty attitude. It’s kind of amazing that a song like “Spit On The Pope” hadn’t existed until 2013, as it’s so obvious and so great that it feels weird that only now, in the age of iPad Minis, does it exist. Whichever band member sings that one (either Gwilym or Nagore, if I’m reading it right), her songs are always the best, as she has this tiny little squirrel voice that I would never dare to mess with. Those songs call to mind a mix of Titmachine and Manisch Depressiv, but performed through clean channels and with a personable attitude. The other tracks are a little simpler and poppier, like early Eddy Current songs if they were performed by dolls and teddy bears instead of young men. So overall, you get some soon-to-be-if-not-already punk classics and some inoffensive DIY twee on Irreparables’ self-titled debut. Maybe next record I’ll be ready to spend the night, but for now I’m just gonna hang out really really late.
Jovontaes Paranoia Makes A Crazy Gift LP (Sophomore Lounge)
I’ve commented before that Sophomore Lounge is an unpredictable label, bouncing from freak-folk to sludge-rock to emo-pop as if that’s what every label does. Even as I have come to expect the unexpected, I still wouldn’t have imagined they’d throw a “skater kraut-rock” band my way. Jovontaes play a loose form of rock music, probably open for plenty of improvisation, with a focus on repetition, psychedelia and grooves, but they make it sound fun and youthful, like the Nickelodeon version of heady rock music. At times, images of Religious Knives wearing Skidz come to mind, or Can if they were commissioned to perform at an indoor waterpark. I like it best when Jovontaes come with a skip in their step, but they spend a good share of their time lounging under umbrellas, too. Make sure you’ve got the proper SPF and Jovontaes will be sugar-coating the rim of your glass in no time.
Kitchen’s Floor Deadshits 7″ (Easter Bilby)
Whenever I think of Kitchen’s Floor, I think of that song they have that goes “kidney, kidney infection”, because that really sums up the Kitchen’s Floor vibe – miserable punk-ish rock music that is terminally ill, flipping through the same dozen channels on the tiny hospital television while waiting for the nurse to come back and change your bedpan. This “new” four-song EP was recorded in 2008 and released on CD-r back then (remember those?), now given the appropriate vinyl treatment care of Easter Bilby. It features Kitchen’s Floor in acoustic duo mode, and while I prefer the three-piece amplified Kitchen’s Floor, they’ve never done me wrong in either format. Vocalist Matt Kennedy is still pretty indiscernible in his words, but you can imagine that songs like “Dishes” and “Deadshits” aren’t about the beauty of childbirth or his recent promotion at the office. This is a group that basically refuses to have cover art, for crying out loud, and the music is just as tunefully miserable as one could hope, seemingly written for unsatisfied gas station attendants who have no idea that Morrissey exists. Can’t go wrong with that!
Kowton TFB 12″ (All Caps)
Seems like out of nowhere that Kowton became the recent post-dubstep go-to guy, as his name keeps appearing on every notable remix EP or downloadable DJ podcast. Maybe I’m just slow to the game, since he’s got like a dozen records out before this one, but heck, I might as well start here, right? “TFB” is pretty cool, and I can see why Kowton is getting some traction – the beat somehow calls to mind the tricky, disjointed beats of Pearson Sound and Pangaea while also imposing the heaviness of Rrose upon the listener, in a package that seems oddly in tune with Girl Unit and the rest of the Night Slugs party posse. Definitely a solid slammer that dips into multiple popular techno sounds while still retaining its own voice. The flip has Karenn remixing the a-side, and in case you didn’t already know that Karenn is the team of Blawan and Pariah, now you do. They make it even heavier, and the beat does that shifty little poke that Blawan has gotten so supremely good at in the past year or so. This won’t be the last I’ve heard of you, Kowton!
Kremlin Will You Feed Me? 7″ (Grave Mistake)
Kremlin’s debut 12″ struck me as one of those good modern hardcore records that I don’t need to hear more than once, one of those bands that gets everything right on paper but just didn’t move me with their music. I am pleased to say that they step it up a notch on Will You Feed Me?, a highly raging five-song EP that calls to mind the finest moments of Headcleaners, Skitkids, Shitlickers and just a needle poke of Septic Death. I know there are plenty of other good bands doing a similar thing, but Kremlin’s drummer is just a tornado here, which may I add are recorded raw but entirely audible – kind of the perfect hardcore recording, really. The echoed vocals seem perfectly in place (and not just a matter of trendiness), and the riffs compel me to abandon all caution and enter the pit sideways. It’s just different enough to stand out, but as true to the oath of hardcore as Realities Of War or The Kids Will Have Their Say. Oh and the cover art sucks, making this one a winner all around. I’m sold!
Literature Tie-Dye / Apples 7″ (Square Of Opposition)
Is this a 7″ single, or my beach vacation checklist? Either way, Literature make it pretty comfortable to slip into your summer clothes and dive face-first into a chunk of watermelon with their upper-class take on indie rock. “Tie-Dye” is a pretty pleasant tune, one that reminds me of The Cuffs and Ted Leo and Real Estate in that the guitars are chiming, the performance is tight and well-rehearsed, and the pop hook is just big enough to touch without getting in the way. “Apples” is presumably not about the band members’ laptops, but from the way these guys apply Instagram filters to their guitars, I’m sure they aren’t slumming it on Windows 95 desktops. This one is catchy too, like Vampire Weekend if they never ventured beyond American soil. If anything, these songs are so brief and delightful that I wish they each had a partner of similar quality on their respective sides, but that’s the best sort of problem you can have. This single would go nicely alongside a bachelors in English, because hey, at least one of those things is useful!
Manipulation Manipulation LP (Sorry State)
I love American hardcore, and I love Japanese hardcore, but there’s something about American kids emulating Japanese hardcore that usually leaves an odd taste in my mouth… suburban white kids purposely phrasing things grammatically incorrect and using war atrocity photos never quite deliver the level of authenticity I’d imagine they were aiming for. Manipulation, on the other hand, are guilty of none of that – they simply reach a Japanese, Burning Spirits-style hardcore fury through their own intensity and skill, the sort of hardcore music that hits more like a crashing wave than individual songs with choruses and verses. The singer has a vocal delivery not unlike that of the guy from Gauze, as though he is physically kicking and punching each syllable out of his body, but there is plenty of American-born hardcore influence to be found here as well – I am frequently reminded of Talk Is Poison, Men’s Interest and Die Kreuzen (sure, why not) as Manipulation barrel through this album. The band’s individual parts are kind of indistinct, but when put together it’s just this heavy, gnarly hardcore bomb that no sensible hardcore enthusiast could ever deny. I think they’re great!
Mindless Attack Mindless Attack 7″ (Cephia’s Treat / Mindless)
It was my understanding that Mindless Attack is a punk band featuring the guy who does Profligate somewhere in its ranks (whose recent Not Not Fun 12″ I enjoyed), and the premise of that guy being involved in something as unglamorous and crusty as a punk band like this had me intrigued. I figured Mindless Attack had to be weird and noisy or some sort of ironic art statement, but nope – this is full-on beer-swilling, batch-patch-wearing, basement circle-pit punk rock. I am taken off guard by the lack of affectation or artistic flair… Mindless Attack pretty much just sound like a mix of Submachine and Limecell, like they should’ve been advertised right between Flatus and Das Klown in a 1995 issue of Maximumrocknroll. It’s mostly mid-paced, gruff stuff, and so untouched by anything before or after the mid-’90s that if I put it on after being sent to bed without dinner, my bedroom will slowly morph into a Showcase Showdown show and my t-shirt will develop an Operation Ivy print on it, like a punk rock version of Where The Wild Things Are. It’s not even a remotely good or interesting record, but look at what Mindless Attack have done to me.
Morphosis Dismantle 2xLP (Honest Jon’s)
There was a time, a naive time perhaps, when I thought there could be no techno guy cooler than Ricardo Villalobos. I still admire him in a way that other middle-class guys my age admire Derek Jeter and Johnny Knoxville, but I have to say, I think Morphosis is probably the coolest techno guy at the current moment. 2011’s What Have We Learned still sounds fresh today with its peculiar meld of minimal tech-house and mystical kraut-rock, and he follows it with Dismantle, an album that sounds nothing like it. Rather, Dismantle sounds like a sea of electronic insects turning one of those Switched On Moog records into their hive, pulsing with dozens of high-pitched tones and electronic rhythms that are pounded out live in real time. And when Morphosis fires up the first of the “Music For Vampyr” trilogy that finishes the album, it sounds like Tomita crash-landing on a desert planet that exists under Kevin Drumm’s tyrannical rule. There are probably about three people on Earth that I want to hear manipulate live techno, and Morphosis is the first – he just slays these tracks. At first I was a little put-off, waiting for What Have We Learned Part 2, but after careful consideration, this one is a real treat for anyone who wishes Emeralds recorded one last album under the influence of gallons of Rockstar energy drink.
Quailbones Lord Dion’s House Of Discovery 7″ (Ghost Orchard)
This is the second Quailbones single that has passed across my desk, and if I’m not mistaken, the first was pretty cool. I’ll admit that I mostly forgot about this band though, because while their raucous, post-punkish indie-rock is a great way to spend fifteen minutes, their songs didn’t quite stick with me. On this next one, they are certainly still good, but also haven’t written the song that sent me spinning from my chair in a fit of ecstasy either. The drummer is pretty revved up, the guitar performance is agile, and the vocals are a long echoey trail of melodic mush. They nearly reach an Adverts tautness on “Nervous Elect”, but mostly stick in the Wire / The Intelligence school of quirky post-punk rigidity. Maybe they are great live, I mean they certainly charge through these tracks with gusto, but I think I’m the type of guy who needs either abominable hooks or a notable vocalist to invite a record like this back to my room after a night out. But if you’re easy, well then hey…
Satanic Rockers Fu Kung LP (Albert’s Basement / Black Petal / Sunshine & Grease)
Last year’s Satanic Rockers 7″ was just what I needed, a fusion of bad metal riffing and DIY ineptitude with all the swagger of a grown man living with his parents. I was psyched to hear about the existence of this LP, and when the bold cover art was revealed, I felt like a comicon crowd watching a new X-Files movie trailer for the first time. There are ten tracks here, and while the quality varies, this is still the Satanic Rockers that won my heart from the very start. Their guitars are about as tuneful as Iceage’s, and played at an unhurried pace through tiny practice amps, with a bored vocalist who sounds halfway between Graham Lambkin and the Pheremoans guy. It’s all well and good, but somewhere into the second side, Satanic Rockers seem to have forgotten that the tape was rolling and just sprawl their mess all over the floor, the sort of musical crime that they know they’ll get caught committing but go forward with it anyway. I think it’s “The Legendary Pignose” where they reach a “Sockeye covering Wooden Shjips” moment, and I love them for it. A 2013 favorite, to be sure!
Sete Star Sept / Noise Clown’s Play / Globalizacao 10″ (SPHC)
Split ten-inch? Check. Evil clown artwork? Yep, that too. If those characteristics haven’t already sent you jumping to the next review (and who could blame you), your tolerance shall reward you! At least it rewarded me, as this Sete Star Sept stuff is absolutely great! It’s like that wonderful Black Dice 10″ of decomposed hardcore songs mixed with Arsedestroyer’s relentless brutality. I am not entirely sure I hear vocals (or actually, anything besides snare drum half of the time), but that’s fine with me – whatever Sete Star Sept are doing to produce such a frantic, unhinged series of noise-core freakouts, it absolutely does the trick. Tell your college-educated roommates it reminds you of the first DAF album if that helps smooth things over. Noise (love the name) on the other side are decent scorched grindcore crust, but dwarfed by their co-defendants. Theirs is a live recording from 1993, and it’s so quiet and lo-fi that you may want to consider bringing over a friend and having a conversation while it plays, to create the full art-installation experience of what it’s like to hang directly outside of a hardcore show. I guess you probably don’t need to own this one, but I’m gonna hit Google right now and pray there is a Sete Star Sept double LP out there waiting for me to get my mitts all over it.
The Sleaze Tecktonik Girlz LP (Total Punk)
With the band name, album title, and a song called “Big Azz Buttz”, I was expecting some sort of saucy garage-punk take on Big Freedia themes from The Sleaze… I even made a point of having a light salad prior to listening, as I anticipated lots of gooey cheese and meatballs. Shame on me for doubting the Total Punk moniker, because The Sleaze aren’t stupid at all, at least not in a bad way – this album has the sound of a great unheralded punk classic, like a 1978 demo recording that was recently unearthed and given a thorough reissue. In particular, the vocalist’s frequent nonchalance recalls those Savage / Shake youngsters (Section Urbane in particular), while the music itself feels rooted in snotty punk as diverse as The Victims, Le Shok and Video. The songs stand out from each other, even as they all sound like the same band, and there’s a mix of thoughtful care and total foolishness that I find utterly enchanting. Oh, and it turns out The Sleaze have been making these great records for like five years, I just never noticed until now. If life were a game of wall ball, The Sleaze would be the tennis ball flying toward my ass.
Violent Bullshit Age Of Quarrel II By Amon Duul II 7″ (25 Diamonds)
I went pretty easy on the first Violent Bullshit record I reviewed, mostly because I felt a little sorry for them, since anyone else I know who has heard this band dislikes them (to put it nicely). It’s not that they play horrible music, it’s just that the music is generic and their antics are annoying, as evidenced by this EP’s title. Like it’s barely a funny quip the drummer would make at the end of a practice, so if you are amused enough to use it as a title, I don’t want to proceed any further with your band, you know? Anyway, this record is more of the same, modern Trash Talk / Paint It Black-style hardcore replete with gratuitous backing vocals, and a song called “Drunk Boys” that is the worst, stupidest “love” song I’ve ever read, like I’m talking a fifth grade-level emotional development. And even if it’s somehow ironic or a joke, I’m not accepting that as a valid excuse! It’s almost like Violent Bullshit is a high-level art-prank in which the group exists only to devalue Orchid records, but screw that, I’m hanging onto Chaos Is Me for as long as I live. Actually, check back in with me after a couple more Violent Bullshit records and see if I haven’t reassessed my stance.
White III LP (Aagoo)
Apple has got to be selling more musical equipment than Fender and Peavey at this point, right? It seems like today’s youth gravitates toward computer screens filled with horizontal wave-forms rather than electric guitars, which is why I hear at least one new record that sounds like this White LP every couple weeks. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about – giant, sprawling sampled/electronic atmospheres that recall every genre of music at once, only to end up falling somewhere between Animal Collective and Coldplay, a dead zone where baristas and graphic designers gaze into each others’ beards. And you know what else? If you are a fan of upbeat, casual electronic pop, a record like III is gonna feel pretty alright, just like most of these projects do. White, in particular, recall Cornelius and The Verve and Ariel Pink and Rollin Hunt through the first few tracks – shortly thereafter, my brain stops processing the hodgepodge of all things pop and just kinda coasts along. If you love this stuff, White won’t leave you hanging, but if you are old and hate what the world has become, you’re probably already on the third paragraph of the angry email you are about to send my way. “Doesn’t this twerp realize there was already a killer noise-rock group called White who released records on Behemoth and Satan’s Pimp in the mid-’90s, anyway???”
White Reaper Conspirator / The Cut 7″ (Earthbound)
Here’s the most pleasant surprise I received this month! The pixelated cover-art makes me think of some sort of throwback ’80s synth dairy product, and the band name makes me think of “wild” metal-punk with funny mustaches and a fat guy that always gets naked, but these two fantastic songs go in an entirely different direction than either of those presumed style signposts. “Conspirator” is the best and fastest song that The Briefs never wrote, with a jumpy Plow United feel to the beat. If I did a punk radio show, I’d probably open with “Conspirator” this week, as the chorus is stuck in my head and can probably only be relieved through multiple replayings. “The Cut” is great too, going in a slightly grungier direction, and very nearly beating Roomrunner at their own game of guitar sludge, slacker melodies and tuneful crash n’ bash. Seriously, White Reaper absolutely destroys it with this single… who knew?
Yi Punk Memories 7″ (no label)
There’s nothing more useless than reading a review that says “you’ve gotta see them live to get it” – it’s why I can’t stand watching all these competitive cooking shows, how am I supposed to know what is really best if I can’t taste it? Anyway, that first Yi single was a cool punk spitball, but it was only after seeing them on the big stage that it became clear what a formidable band they are. And Punk Memories makes that even clearer, as these three songs come with a greater clarity (you know, for a record that was mastered in some guy’s bedroom) and a tighter degree of performance. I’m reminded of the up-tempo Monorchid tracks on Who Put Out The Fire?, the inclusive lo-fi feel of Violent Change, the frantic songwriting of The Mae Shi and the excitement of walking into Amoeba for the first time and realizing you completely forgot everything on your want list. They even have a cool little extended jam on “Junk Memories” that recalls both the professionalism of Wire and the anti-professionalism of Tyvek. I was always afraid I was gonna tear the newsprint sleeve of the first Yi single when removing it from my bin, so it’s helpful that Punk Memories comes in a standard card-stock sleeve, as I’ve found myself pulling this one quite a bit more.