Next time someone asks me to recommend some non-techno electronic music that still has a groove (I swear it’s more often than you might think!), I’m gonna answer with Heatsick! It’s the moniker Steven Warwick has chosen for his solo material, and through numerous small-scale releases, and now a good handful of “higher profile” vinyl slabs, it’s all out there for you to enjoy. I could see Heatsick getting along well with Americans like Blues Control and Peaking Lights, while still hobnobbing with European slicksters like Sebastian Tellier and Richard Schneider, Jr. His music is both bouncy and broken, pleasant and peculiar, and best of all, I never have the foggiest idea what his next record will do. For best results, open an additional browser, type “Youtube Heatsick” into your Google search bar, and let it rip while you read Mr. Warwick’s thoughts below.
From what I have gathered, you got started making music as Birds of Delay with Luke Younger, who does Helm… what led to you eventually focusing on your solo projects?
Birds of Delay still exist. It’s more difficult to configure, as we live in different countries and also are active with our respective projects. We’re still in regular contact though. When we started, it just happened really… we wanted to do it and we did it. We were self releasing our music and playing a lot, so it was quite immediate, and had a snowball effect. We would improvise a lot together, whether that would be live or at home, and record it all. Not all of it would be released, but I guess we were “learning” on the spot, so to speak.
I always felt that with Birds, there was an intersection between say, Alice Coltrane and Hermann Nitsch. Something very bright and ascending, but with a dark edge to it. I guess that’s the nature of Birds of Delay really. We have strange chemistry, in that we have very different approaches, yet it somehow gels and comes together, which I think is a good thing.
What was it you wanted to do, exactly? Start a noise group? Improvise music? Was there any aesthetic discussion?
When we started, (in the UK) there were no other bands our age (late teens/early 20s) who were doing what we were doing. Everyone else we met had been active from the ’80s and ’90s, so I guess they were excited to see someone young doing something. We didn’t have a manifesto, it was more a result of us knowing each other as friends and that reflected in how we could play music together, intuitively.
What made you want to do what you were doing, then? Were there older artists you looked up to, or people you knew who helped you figure things out at first?
It’s easier for me to talk about my take in Birds, as I dont want to speak for Luke? I grew up listening to all sorts. A chance encounter at sixteen, of this friend of a friend needing a place to crash, got me into modern classical, John Cage, Messiaen and Steve Reich, so I was pretty lucky in that regard, as I had never thought of classical being interesting at that point. Also, making trips to Nottingham and London you’d get cheap reissues of Sun Ra and Ornette Coleman, etc., or hear Masonna or Fushitsusha on John Peel.
You get pretty quickly into Japanese noise, British Industrial, but I guess John Peel was formative, really. There was no distinction between hearing early Warp, drum n’ bass, weird outrock, early rave, acid-house being in the charts, some Earache, Russell Haswell and Aphex Twin, or the guy from Add N To (X) doing a harsh noise night in Soho. When I was growing up, especially in the countryside, one of my best friends would do raves at his parents’ house in a barn. I remember kids coming into school with those multipacks of rave tapes.
So at what point did Heatsick become a thing, something you shared with the public?
Pretty much immediately. I still stand by those releases.
I assume you’re referring to the early CDrs and tapes you released. Were those formats crucial to the development of Heatsick? Looking back, how do you view those early releases?
What I like about the nature of CDrs and tapes is the immediacy. The distinction between a document and a piece collapsed. It was okay to release a live performance as a piece in itself. There was a bleed… also, the fact that you could do them in low runs meant that you didn’t have to be so special about them, in terms of agonizing over its temporality. It happened, and now it’s out. At the same time, due to its low run I could also hand-make and paint the artwork. They functioned for the most part more as presents for friends. I’ve always been equally as interested in the visual aspect as the aural aspect.
Have you considered reissuing any of those early releases in a larger edition? Or are you just looking to move forward?
I did think about it for a while, but then I wondered on its relevance to now. Whilst all the works make sense with each other (which is also why I kept the name), I feel I would rather keep developing my ideas.
In the Heatsick releases I’ve heard, the sounds and instrumentation vary really greatly, which is one thing I’ve enjoyed. Is there any sort of instrument that could NEVER be on a Heatsick track? Is anything off limits?
I’ve not really thought about what I don’t want to use! If it makes sense, I’ll use it…
Are there any visual artists that have influenced the output of Heatsick?
Definitely. I’m interested in visual art often, as well as books, films etc. I’m influenced and interested in people like Dan Graham, Hanne Darboven, Dieter Roth, Sturtevant, Josephine Pryde, Sabine Reitmaier, Gili Tal, Ed Lehan, Georgie Nettell, Isa Genzken, Jack Smith, Ernie Gehr, Katja Novitskova, Hélio Oiticica, Marcel Broodthaers, to name a few,
Where did the name come from? Does it have any particular meaning, or does it just sound good and fitting for the music you make under it?
I guess a bit of both. I wanted a name that sounded liminal, inbetween definitions, and heatstroke, a bit flat or quaint. I thought Heatsick sounded onomatopoeically better. I thought that having sick in a title was also nice; it’s a bit revolting…
I have to say, the song “C’était Un Rendez-vous” was one of my favorite tracks of last year. Who is that singing? Is that you?
Thanks, that’s me singing.
is there any track that you would say is the definitive Heatsick track? If you had to just play one of your songs to a stranger, to get them to understand what it’s all about?
I’m not really bothered about having to pick just one, maybe “Ice Cream On Concrete” or maybe a new song. I’m happy with it all…
Titles like “Pre-Cum Fog Ballet” and “Solipsistic Pillow” seem, at least to a guy like me, to be mostly just beautiful nonsense… is there some sort of meaning that I am missing in the titles of your releases, or are they meant more as colorful introductions to your music?
“Pre-Cum Fog Ballet” was made at the same time as “Total Afternoon Sundae”; they function together as a pre- and post- if you will. With my later releases, there’s a preoccupation with disco and the extended edit drawing out some anticipatory hedonistic impulse that I think is inherent in disco. “Solipsistic Pillow” was a bit of a joke on music being made around the time, where people were referencing sleeping states, and I thought that this solipsism was also a bit dull. Obviously it’s a play on The Jefferson Airplane and their artwork. I think it’s important to have a sense of humour. I think “be realistic, demand the impossible” is still a nicer message then merely “live in your head”.
Can you recall the last time you were laughing so hard you were nearly crying? What was so funny?
It was when I was with my friend Lawrence. We have a similar sense of humour, and we were recounting the absurdity of when we’d shared a bill together at some noise gig years ago and how the promoter and her boyfriend were being really weird with some punks and threw some cake at them backstage, and we were laughing at the absurdity of being annoyed at a guy who was a complete caricature, wearing an anarchy 666 patch over tartan bondage trousers, that we just cracked up so much we couldn’t stop laughing, and then we sent each other off to the point that we fell on the floor crying. I actually found it hard to breathe at one point, and I started laughing about that? It’s not that the story was that funny in itself, more that Lawrence is a genuinely funny person, for me anyway…
Abolitionist The Growing Disconnect LP (Different Kitchen / 1859 / Tour Van / Lost Cat / Sex Sheet / HAHAHA Cool!)
Sorry to start things off on a bummer, but this Abolitionist LP kinda has me stressed. They’re a punk group who are quite clearly influenced by Propagandhi, like a lot, but they play the music slower and more generically (kinda “local band”-style crusty pop-punk), and it’s mostly pretty alright. On a personal level, I feel zero passion for, or interest in, this sort of band, what with their heavy-handed politicking and snotty Fat Wreck Chords vocals – it’s fine, just not my bag at all. The main issue I’m struggling with is that this is the type of record that has me questioning my “I’ll review any vinyl you send in!” policy, because really, who that reads this blog about noisy punk and techno has any interest or desire to check out Abolitionist? Isn’t this just kind of a clog in the system, and taking my time away from writing about records that y’all might actually want to read about? But at the same time, I appreciate them sending it in, and wanna do right by Abolitionist, even if this is a record I wouldn’t think twice about otherwise. But, what if a hundred of their Warped Tour-going friends heard that I reviewed Abolitionist, and send in their records? Then what? Perhaps this review is neurotic and dorky enough that this problem will resolve itself.
The Afflicted Man I’m Off Me ‘Ead LP (Permanent)
The amount of cool British post-punk records that were released before The Exploited even first spiked their mohawks is staggering. I love that people were bored of punk as early as 1978 (actually probably earlier), and that characters like The Afflicted Man were able to exist, simultaneously carrying punk’s free-wheeling attitude and spitting in the face of those who adhered to its already-established rules. On this thoughtful and attractive LP reissue, The Afflicted Man and his friends take the caveman chug of The Stooges, throw it in a psychedelic bath of extended guitar wailing, and present the results as charming little songs, sturdy as a dub sound-system. If these guys were German, this probably would’ve been an oddball Brain Records release, but these guys are Brits, so they were playing in crappy pubs to angry and confused punks, and thriving off that tension. I’m reminded a lot of Mark Perry and all those strange Alternative TV and Good Missionaries records (that are all still inappropriately cheap to purchase online), but The Afflicted Man seems a bit more deranged and wild, and a little less interested in writing pop songs of any color. It’s great stuff and has a pretty wide range, appealing to all the different kinds of people who ever thought a guitar sounded cool when plugged into an amp. There’s a few Afflicted Man records out there, most of of which are great, and if you’ve been confused about where to begin, Permanent has made it really easy.
Bad Daddies Bad Year EP 7″ (Central District)
Here’s another punk 7″ featuring a crappy photocopied sleeve with a picture of the band standing around looking uncomfortable. If I got a new one of these every week for the rest of my life, I’d die a happy fool! Bad Daddies do a pretty juvenile-sounding hardcore-punk thing, like some cruddy intersection of the Necros / SOA school of hardcore and the snotty ’90s pop-punk of FYP and The Yah Mos. Five bonk-on-the-head punk tunes on the a-side, and a fun cover of Sexual Harrassment’s “If I Gave You A Party” on the b-side, all with a fidelity that makes me think Bad Daddies turned in a well-worn Memorex cassette to the pressing plant, unmastered and defiant. This record is not good, and not special, but I still am happy as hell to be hearing it right now. I am in a band that plays shows with random crappy punk bands on occasion, and it’s one of my favorite aspects of playing shows – hopefully I will get to share a bill with Bad Daddies before they break up, because let’s face it, bands this punk and careless usually break up sooner rather than later. And good for them, I say!
Michael Beach Golden Theft LP (Twin Lakes)
Make a left past the pines, head over a small drawbridge, and about a mile down the path, you’ll be surrounded by hundreds of hairy men in their 30s, big beards and bigger sunglasses, chest-hair coated in salt and sand, drinking good beer and barbequing veggies alongside steaks… you’re arrived at Michael Beach! This guy also plays in a group called The Electric Jellyfish, a name so psychedelically generic I can barely type it out, and that’s alright, because I prefer his solo work, like this nice Golden Theft album, instead. It’s a really pleasant time – Beach plays guitar and sings, and has a band backing him up (including the illustrious Utrillo Kushner, no less), and he seems to fit into all the best guitar genres and none of them – one song might call to mind Will Oldham, the next might smack you like The Jam, another smiles like the Promise Ring, and one more weeps like Neil Young. Hooks might be a little hidden at first, but they do jump out, and the mood is so warm and welcoming and classy that it’s easy to stick around long enough for them to appear. There seems to be no pretense here, no carefully projected image, just a guy who likes to write and perform rock music, and while that might not make for much of a newsworthy item, you can’t go wrong with Golden Theft.
Rabih Beaini Albidaya LP (Annihaya)
Rabih Beaini is the mastermind behind Morphosis and Ra.H, one of whom is responsible for some of my favorite records of the past couple years, and the other who blew my mind a couple years prior. As far as I know, this is Beaini’s first record under his own name, and I’ll be damned if it isn’t one of his best albums, if not the! While these eight tracks (on the CD – sadly, the LP only gets six of them) are fairly diverse, this is essentially Beaini’s attempt at a free-jazz techno record. I can understand if that sounds like an awkward pairing, but Beanini is one of those guys who steps out to half-court and sinks the million-dollar basket in one try – Albidaya is without a doubt one of my favorite records of the year. The electronics will pulse behind a free-wheeling saxophone, maybe some synth-ooze will soak the sheets of a string section tuning up, or, as on “Song Of Extreme Happiness”, this record will sound like Moritz Von Oswald telepathically communicating with La Monte Young and Chet Baker in some sort of meditation over tea leaves. There’s a slight Sun Ra vibe too, not so much in musical similarity, but the fact that you realize you are listening to a visionary space-alien at work, not a regular human – I mean “Kessara2” sounds like the best song This Heat never wrote. This record ain’t cheap, it’s a Lebanese import, but you need it! You do!
Beaters Jester / 911 = 11 7″ (Volar)
I chuckled at the name “Beaters”… I mean they could be beating anything, from eggs to dicks, so this band was alright by me before the first note hit. Then the first note hit, and well, I guess they’re still okay. “Jester” sends some New Romantic guitars to guide a Cure-ish verse, at least until the chorus, at which point they get a little more rockin’ (or at least the drummer becomes noticeably excited). Depending on their hairstyles, I may be willing to even call this one “modern goth”, but who knows, they might look like Smashmouth and totally throw me off course. I don’t see how 911 equals 11, but it gives Beaters an excuse to put on some John Varvatos leather jackets and pose for the camera as if they were The Strokes, the singer doing his best “I just woke up” vocals and the music chiming along with the taut rhythms that The Strokes explored on their later albums, but still soaked in “Jester”‘s new-wave motif. Not feeling it as much as the a-side, but hey, I’m not going to stop Beaters from beating.
Dead Air Dead Air LP (Load)
Dead Air comes from the ashes of Black Clouds (or so I’ve been led to believe), a Massachusetts guitar/drums duo that were okay on vinyl but allegedly phenomenal live. Dead Air are two guitars and drums, and they beef up the Black Clouds sound with meaner riffs, less-obvious garage moves and a general thuggery you’d frequently find on AmRep (I’m thinking Cows or Tar). Kind of a Hammerhead vibe too, in that these songs frequently play out like a slowed-down, creeping Karp. Is that enough band names for ya? At first, Dead Air kinda went in one ear and out the other, only scraping out a little wax and brain matter as it went, but as I listen now I’m finding that these songs are a little beefier and longer-lasting than I initially thought. I mean, it’s a Load release, and when guitars are involved, these records are built Ford tough. Now if only Denis Leary was angrily ranting over top, this might be one of my year-end favorites, but it’s a solid showing just the same.
Donato Dozzy Donato Dozzy Plays Bee Mask LP (Spectrum Spools)
Donato Dozzy is one of my favorite techno guys – not only does he change up his sound considerably from release to release, he always sounds good doing it. He’s like one of those guys who looks as good in a suit as he does a cut-off Amebix tee, so if you hate him for his smooth versatility I won’t hold it against you; I’m a little jealous too. Last I heard from him, he was high on soft-core Skinemax techno, and now he is remixing the artist Bee Mask, a CD-r / tape-releasing electronic guy whose name I have seen but music I haven’t heard (maybe because I’m not much of a CD-r / tape consumer). Dozzy goes entirely Pop Ambient on this set, stretching bits and pieces of Bee Mask’s sound until it envelops the room – it’s kind of like the Harry Pussy effect, but with the comfort of cashmere, not the nagging annoyance of sand in your shoe. These tracks thicken the atmosphere, and Dozzy frequently works a Northern Lights effect, changing the texture and tone without ever poking a hole in his audible drapery. This sort of thing has been done many times before, and maybe it shouldn’t be so warm and enticing as it is, but it is. It is.
Eat Skull The Where’d You Go? EP 7″ (Volar)
Eat Skull are a group I essentially stopped listening to a year or two ago, but it wasn’t a harsh breakup – I like their music, I just kind of had enough, you know? Much like squinting at tiny text, listening to their music makes my ears squint, trying to hear the actual guitars and drums through the hazy din of lo-fi recording techniques. They definitely have some hits peppered throughout their discography, and so I looked forward to checking back in on this 7″, which is pretty clearly a “oh, you wanna do a single? Sure, I think I have some extra tracks laying around…” job. The two a-side cuts are just as I remember Eat Skull to be – buoyant, stoned and joyous, bopping through their homespun indie-rock like a child demolishing a neatly raked pile of leaves. The b-side’s “Jefferson Angel” is even more chill, leaving amplification behind for an acoustic guitar, a measly drum machine and the big wide open sky above, an instrumental track that was seemingly written to exist on the b-side of a 7″. I don’t know, I feel like we are five years after the lo-fi indie trend, which is the exact point of peak exhaustion / backlash, but I still dug these Eat Skull songs. Some bands are just unimpeachably cool, no matter what the weather is.
Marcus Fjellström Epilogue -M- EP 12″ (Aagoo)
In case you thought Aagoo was just here to dance in indie-electro euphoria with White and roll on club floors with Hunters, they have revealed their snooty college-educated worldliness with this Marcus Fjellström record, he being a Swedish electro-acoustic composer. The label is calling this an EP, but you really get a whole lot of music on here, the majority of which floats in an uneasy space between calm and danger – it’s like watching shark-infested waters and not seeing a damn thing, but you still know what is most likely lurking nearby. Through the use of repetitive chimes, stiff percussion and plenty of natural roominess, Fjellström makes me feel like I’m stuck inside an ancient grandfather clock that is trying to die. If a ballet is ever performed to this, the dancers are definitely in all black and flopping around in anguish rather than gracefully pirouetting. It’s decent enough, and maybe if modern composers were my bread and butter I’d really be digging it, but there isn’t anything particularly exciting or crazy or soothing about Epilogue -M- that I can rave about. It’s a nice record to set the mood in a room, but I also own some killer candles for that very purpose.
Gag Gas Mask ’95 7″ flexi (Perennial)
I dug Gag’s 40 Oz. Rule ’90 single from earlier this year, even if I was still a little wary of its “what’s cool in hardcore today” vibe. And now I’m pretty sure they won me over entirely with this superfluous piece of art! Maybe I just love one-sided clear flexis (this isn’t even the only one reviewed this month!), but the killer fold-out poster sleeve and general “we don’t give a fuck” attitude are hard to argue with. Only two songs, the first of which (“Chains & Barbed Wire”) is a rugged bid at a Chaos In Tejas invite. “Warm Milk” follows, after some tape manipulation and unexpected saxophoning, and it’s more of a hardcore smear than an actual song, the sort of quick jolt that feels more like five Bllleeeeaaauuurrrrgghhh! tracks in rapid succession than a single punk song. I love the flippancy Gag put on display here, the mix of barely-considered hardcore music and beautifully-constructed punk art, the way bands used to do it before they just sat in front of computers all day. Not sure I even fully like Gag, but if they keep making records like this I will continue to insist on owning them.
Golden Pelicans The Earls / Chained To The Dumpster 7″ (Total Punk)
Pretty sure this is the second Golden Pelicans single I’ve received, and as I have no recollection of the first one beyond the band’s name, my hopes weren’t super high. Then I read the song title “Chained To The Dumpster” and my hopes got incredibly high! I blazed through “The Earls”, a hard-rockin’ garage stomper with plenty of vocal vehemence, but let’s face it, I was just biding my time until I got to hear a song called “Chained To The Dumpster”. I finally made it there, and sadly it wasn’t the mind-altering experience it should’ve been, but there are probably only one or two bands that could write a song up to the title’s strength, and they’re probably both dead by now. Instead, I’m reminded of OBN IIIs, or maybe The Saints if they were fronted by a grown man perfecting his Darby Crash accent. Cool stuff for sure, and hopefully this propels Golden Pelicans toward “bands my brain has remembered” status. Oh and the drummer is named Lil Stink, and it’s not just one of his bandmates playing a prank, because he is credited with the layout as well. This band just keeps growing on me!
Gorgon Sound Gorgon Sound EP 2×12″ (Peng Sound)
Gorgon Sound come from Bristol’s fresh new Young Echo crew of electronic dance guys who mostly just look like 8th Grade boys (at least they look that way to me – I must be really getting old). I know there are lots of other Young Echo-related records I need to check out, but I feel like this is going to be a hard one to touch – the packaging is beautiful, and the songs are so damn sweet. I didn’t know what to expect, except that it was supposed to be good, so I was surprised to hear that Gorgon Sound is pretty straight-forward electronic reggae, of all things. Sure, Gorgon Sound update the classic digi-reggae sound of the mid-’80s with today’s post-dubstep production values, but they keep the core as true and chill as any non-Jamaican could – imagine one of those great Yellowman or Augustus Pablo records from like ’85 through ’89, or maybe Dadawah’s Peace & Love album remixed by Boddika, and you’re pretty close to what Gorgon Sound is repping. I could compare it to Kutz, another modern UK producer working a modern-blasted reggae swing, but these Gorgon Sound songs are so sweetly uplifting and dark that they hit a much smoother spot than Kutz’s in-the-red bass drops. The two vocal tracks are by far the best (both Junior Dread and Guy Calhoun are top-shelf singers), but the instrumentals don’t drag either. I really can’t wait for more!
Grim Love Song LP (Art Into Life / Eskimo)
Grim seems to be one of the lesser-praised Japanese noise artists to come out of the ’80s, and I don’t think it’s because of any musical deficit, so much that Grim’s discography is sparse and understated. Still, Jun Konagaya (the man behind Grim) is an artist that seems ripe for the Vinyl On Demand treatment (super-obscure and high-quality output, with a bizarre aesthetic), but he hasn’t moved onto civilian life just yet, as proven by this fantastic new LP. For no good reason, it comes in a sturdy box with a unique art print inside (and I am a sucker for unique art prints), and the music lives up to this lofty presentation. Grim will re-appropriate religious ceremony music in an unsettling manner befitting of Black To Comm, he’ll piece together hallucinatory audio footage ala Nurse With Wound, pound out grinding noise like Hanatarash, or gargle up some psychobabble ala Runzelstirn & Gurgelstøck, and it all bears his unique stamp while smoothly flowing from one concept to the next. It’s a strange trip, but I can’t find a wasted moment or unfortunate stumble from start to finish – it’s like entering a really professional haunted house, one that you can’t help but admire as the crap is getting scared out of you. The fact that Konagaya must be in his 50s (at least!) and is still this demented only makes Love Song that much more appealing. I can only hope I’m still feverishly screaming into a smelly microphone at his age!
Head High Burning 12″ (Power House)
Head High is another alias of René Pawlowitz, whom you and I know better as Shed and occasionally The Traveller. Under those names, he’s released some of my favorite electronic music of the past couple years, so I had to hear what Head High was about. It’s certainly different from the Pawlowitz I know – this EP is purely early-’90s rave-house, like it was plucked from a Fantazia party in 1992. “Burning (Keep Calm Mix)” is truest to the form, really jamming those familiar piano chords hard, with only the slightest hint of present-day production surrounding the bass/snare interplay and overall texture. “Keep On Talking (Dirt Mix)” starts off like Elgato or Pearson Sound or some other Hessle Audio troublemaker, but then a warbly keyboard makes its way to the front, followed by those classic hi-hats, and the result is not unlike something Untold would dip his toes into. “Burning (Keep It Mix)” finishes off the title track with a more psychedelic cymbal effect, like they are tripping over themselves as that same set of chords is dutifully hammered on the piano as if Fast Eddie just entered the club. Maybe it’s because I know this is Shed in a different costume, but Burning has really been doing it for me, poking me in a rib I didn’t know I had, the one that dresses like Dwayne Wayne and wears AIDS-activism t-shirts. Time to dance!
Hero Dishonest Alle Lujaa LP (Peterwalkee)
Not sure why it’s the case, but hardcore-punks tend to age better in non-American countries. Most hardcore groups with guys in their 40s and up in the US are cheesy cash-grab reunion acts, whereas if you travel to Japan or Germany or whatever, you are much more likely to find thrash-minded, squat-residing punk guys still screening their own shirts in their basement and raging with the fury of teenagers. Hero Dishonest are a good case in point – this Finnish group has been around since like 1989, and rather than ever entering a melodic phase (or worse, a Hot Topic phase), they flail through their songs like Gauze or The Futures, just ballistic thrash-punk with tight changes, hysteric vocals and plenty of guitar meltdowns. Occasionally they veer into crossover territory, but they still blaze, so it’s like listening to a Crumbsuckers album on 45. The Finnish language is cool, lots of rolled Rs, so it frequently sounds like the vocalist is just spouting off karate sound-effects to my English ears, an appropriate vocal pairing to Hero Dishonest’s music. I wish my uncles were this punk!
Hoax Hoax LP (no label)
The hardcore LP is a tricky endeavor. There are countless hardcore bands who debuted with killer 7″ EPs, only to get lost by the time their album came out, either losing their fire, spreading themselves too thin, or complicating the hardcore formula to unfortunate ends. Hoax are probably the best modern hardcore band today, I’m not afraid to make that claim, and thankfully they avoid such pitfalls in their debut LP, a true testament to what down-tuned mosh-riffs, smashed foreheads and aggressive pessimism can combine to create. I could go on and on about the great cover photo and the insane undertaking of six giant poster inserts, but my reviews are short, so I’ll get right to the music – it’s the Hoax we all know and love, blasting through eleven rippers and one perfectly crusty intro care of Pharmakon. They push through d-beat ragers, Celtic Frost-style stompers and full-on mosh bliss (complete with a breakdown where the Rival Mob guy yells “break down!”), teetering between the “mysterious guy” hardcore scene that birthed them, Southern Lord doom and just pure beautiful hardcore-punk. It may not be as immediately visceral as their second EP (the Youth Attack one), but it is just as intensely satisfying, complete with their weird Los Angeles fetish that ends the album (and, if rumors are true, the band?). If you tell me you like hardcore and you haven’t picked this up already, just lie to me and tell me you have so I don’t lose all respect, okay?
Itinerant Dubs Itinerant Magic 12″ (Itinerant Dub)
Here’s another cool mystery techno project worth unraveling. If I had to venture a guess, I’d say this is a Mark Fell project, and here’s why – he’s prone to other “anonymous” techno guises, the music is marked with the way he likes to float in and out of rhythmic stability, and it comes distributed straight from Honest Jon’s (which means this ain’t no amateur hour). “Itinerant Magic” is nine minutes of aerated dance-hall bleeps, bristly percussion, slurred vocals and woozy loops, all moving through your field of vision at their own individual paces. Same mostly goes for “Jack The Dub”, using a nearly identical selection of sounds, but delivering a harder edge by way of what seems to be a chopped-and-screwed jungle beat. “Monkey” is the short finisher, combining windswept plains and thick rainforest vegetation as the sounds of the first two tracks are carelessly tossed down a flight of stairs for our amusement. I dig the singularity of Itinerant Dubs, and the fact that it fits right into today’s techniverse without specifically sounding like anything else.
Kam Kama Passer-By / Joseph Stride 7″ (Sister Cylinder)
Just gonna put this out here right away – if Kam Kama do an album, they gotta title it Chameleon, because I can’t get that Culture Club song out of my head while thinking about Kam Kama. Musically, there isn’t much of a connection there, but Kam Kama have a sound that certainly could have existed simultaneously as Culture Club, as they work a moody power-pop / early new-wave vibe in both of these songs. I’m thinking of the less-notable, more commercial-sounding bands on Bands That Could Be God, or maybe it’s some other vaguely-new wave Boston band that bears distinct Kam Kama vibes to my ears. “Passer-By” is a speedy tune, subdued and stern in its delivery, and “Joseph Stride” is the chilled out jam, the sort of melancholy tune that helps explain why roughly five million young adults wear different versions of that Joy Division Unknown Pleasures design on their shirts, jackets, totes, hoodies and iPad cases. A little like The Cure too, but it never explodes with emotion, just kinda simmers, and feels like the sort of morose-but-not-too-morose goth-rock that might’ve made it onto The Crow soundtrack if it was a double LP. Pretty decent, if ultimately unmemorable, but I get the feeling Kam Kama are just getting started. And by the way, if it wasn’t clear earlier, I like the name!
Kwaidan Make All The Hell Of Dark Metal Bright LP (Bathetic)
You know when you’re watching one of those modern “aliens coming to bring the apocalypse” movies, and they go between scenes of the soon-to-be hero at home with their family and shots of massive grey-black space-vessels slowly creeping toward our planet? The music of Kwaidan is perfect for one of those two scenarios, and I’m sure that once I tell you that the group features a member of Locrian, you won’t need me to tell you which. The rumbly, crumbly low-end is constant, and it’s spiked with occasional shots of percussion, acting more like buoys floating in a dark ocean than any sort of musical time-keeper. Kwaidan invokes rhythms here and there, usually in some sort of mechanical-industrial sense, but even when all cylinders are firing it feels more like a morbid space-float than any sort of rock or techno music (even when they get all Explosions In The Sky-ish with chiming guitars, it still doesn’t feel very post-rock). I like this sort of thing here and there, and Make All The Hell Of Dark Metal Bright fits the bill nicely. I don’t know how some people have the patience to be in one group like this, let alone a couple, but I guess there are some who live for the meditative power that only the subtle drift of a heavy drone can provide.
Male Bondage Love Moon LP (Glory Hole Drink Or Die)
Glory Hole has sent me what seems like a hundred of their releases at this point. I know that’s not the case, but the majority of these records are just so boringly decent that I look at them much in the same way I remember looking at my homework back in school, the sort of numbing chore that weighs me down until I trudge through it. This Male Bondage LP is no exception – these guys offer a bottom-heavy take on angular indie-rock with burly screamed vocals, like a really dull version of Fucked Up, Queens Of The Stone Age and At The Drive-In all blended together with a slight metallic edge. They are technically proficient, and perform these songs with a keen level of accuracy, but if that sort of emotionless data was what I cared about, I’d be better off writing a blog about electrical meter readings. As I near the end of this review, I am starting to feel kind of excited, knowing that, while Male Bondage have not wronged me in the slightest, I will soon be free of the weight of having to think about and then write about this record. But if you generally hate my taste, and wear a band hoodie more than one day a week, you should throw “Male Bondage Glory Hole” into a Google search and see what you stumble upon.
Missing Foundation Missing Foundation LP (Dais)
Dais has been a pretty sweet label from the get-go, and has a nice selection of modern artists in their roster, but it’s their knack for reissues where they really knock it out of the park. Their reissue discography is like a weird noise lover’s dream, and it now includes the first two Missing Foundation albums, a group who seem to have been forgotten in the excavation of great ’80s noise (at least until recently). Missing Foundation is their debut album, and man is it sweet – musically, this group just punished anything in their path. They will wallow in harsh, decaying noise with screamed vocals looping like sirens, splay their guitars over crappy beats like an even more nihilistic No Trend, and rumble the speakers so severely that you’ll find yourself standing in a doorway like it’s an earthquake drill. The chaos of Crash Worship tempered with the intensity of Swans, a real winning combination. Missing Foundation is a masterpiece, and the fact that these guys weren’t just art provocateurs, but actual deranged street-dwellers, out committing petty crimes and destruction, makes it that much sweeter. I am on the hunt for an original copy, but in the meantime this Dais reissue is the perfect place-marker on my shelf.
Missing Foundation 1933 / Your House Is Mine LP (Dais)
Here’s the second Missing Foundation LP, also graciously presented by Dais, and depending on the time of day you ask me, I might say it’s even better than Missing Foundation! This one feels like more of a rock record on the whole than their debut, and it predates so many great things to come in the underground – the maniacal spew of Harry Pussy’s Ride A Dove; vocals that recall frozen black-metal tundras; the harsh monotony of power-electronics; and pretty much every iteration of noise-rock, from the beefy ’90s AmRep sound to the modern-day Twin Stumpses and New Fleshes… Missing Foundation lay a wide, umm, foundation for so many nasty forms of underground noise. Even the dated drum machines sound pretty perfect for the wild vocal ranting and errant noises that accompany them. I can’t imagine how crazy this record must’ve sounded back in 1988, because it’s a quarter of a century later and this still sounds pretty unstable and deranged to my jaded, heard-it-all-before ears. I enjoy being able to get a kale-infused lavender kefir smoothie when I visit New York, but Missing Foundation make me long for a New York where you’d get punched out just for saying “kale-infused lavender kefir smoothie” on the street.
Moin EP 12″ (Blackest Ever Black)
Once I heard about the impending release of this Moin EP, I was eager to get my paws on it – Moin is actually Raime under a different name, for reasons I didn’t initially understand. Apparently they recorded this on some whim and wanted to keep the project separate, and it makes perfect sense once you hear it – it might feel like Raime, but it certainly doesn’t sound like it. Most noticeably, Moin seems to be a rock group, using drums, bass, guitar and vocals, even if they are might actually be all chopped up and manipulated on a computer. I was actually really thrown for a loop by the opener “Murphy” – it starts with some minimal, post-punk guitar tension, like maybe This Heat or Loren Connors or something, but then the drums bust out this emo-core riff, and some guy actually screams an emo vocal! Who would’ve guessed. And then “Stacie” hits, and it’s almost like I’m listening to Fugazi’s 13 Songs or Tool’s Undertow as remixed by Raime, where the guts of the music are pulled out and hung from the rafters in some sort of grotesque art installation. I have to say, the sheer unexpectedness of Moin’s EP has really impressed me – I would’ve never guessed that they’d go in this direction. Hell, I’m not sure anyone has gone in this direction before, so while it’s certainly not my favorite record this month (and weirdly calls to mind Lil Wayne’s guitar-rock record in its inexplicable genre repurposing), it’s been a really pleasurable experience.
The Mole Caregiver 2xLP (Maybe Tomorrow)
There are a handful of electronic producers who have made certain insanely good tracks that I follow them for years after the fact, hoping that they will capture the magic once more. Gerry Read and Cosmin TRG are great examples – I absolutely loved the first records I heard by both of those guys, and have kept up with them for at least half a dozen records since, none of which came close to my initial experience. The Mole is one of them, too – “Dreamer” is one of the smoothest barely-house tracks I’ve ever heard, a perfectly executed loop that I never want to end (as evidenced by my iTunes play-count). I’ve spent a good bit of time with Caregiver, and don’t get me wrong, this is a fine album of modern tech-house, drafted with a wide palette of instruments, samples and effects, it just never quite touches my soul like “Dreamer” did. If I heard “Hey Miss” or “Our Time Has Come” out somewhere, I would no doubt shake my rump, and they feel mighty good on a night-drive with the windows down, I just can’t say that there is a truly standout track in the bunch. I’m gonna blame that one on my lofty expectations, not The Mole, though – this guy is cool, and Cavegiver is as sophisticated and enjoyable as any dance album you’ll find this year.
Lee Noble Ruiner LP (Bathetic)
I’m gonna credit Kurt Vile as the guy to start the modern-day “rock n’ roll outsider standing around with his guitar and an amp on the cover” style, so when I saw Lee Noble posed similarly, I already had a freeway in mind. The first song kicks in, and I’m feeling the Kurt Vile vibes musically too… at least before Noble pushes the song further and further away from the earth, leaving us all to drift in the atmosphere, Sandra Bullock-style. Noble never returns to his home planet on Ruiner – this is as hazy and faded as any drone record, but somewhere in this giant cozy womb, Noble is strumming his tiny little songs. I think Kurt Vile actually does have a few tracks like these, the bubbly, psychedelic interludes that peppered his early records, but Noble really expands that idea, forgoing songs entirely and getting all kaleidoscopic with visions of red cherries and distant planets and naked bodies drifting through your field of vision. At first, I was hoping he’d bust out a song or two, but I quickly learned to enjoy the drifting, ambient headspace Noble inhabits, and pluck a purple apple off an orange tree while looking at my distorted reflection in a nearby pond. I’m surprised the poster over my turntable didn’t turn blacklight as Ruiner swirled around.
Perfume River No Wind 7″ flexi (Symphony Of Destruction)
I saw this Perfume River flexi on a shelf at a record shop, and it’s a hard record to ignore – screen-printed, die-cut, fold-over cover, clear one-sided flexi-disc, more skulls and skeletons and dead bodies than your average Xbox game. I understand Perfume River to be a Philly-based side project of one of those Salvation guys, a band I enjoy but have never seen due to their eight-minute live sets and early show slotting (I perpetually arrive five minutes after they finished). This one definitely sounds like a side-project, but in a good way – this is a band that efficiently and powerfully delivers raw and meaty d-beat hardcore, heavy on the Shitlickers and Anti-Cimex vibe. The riffs change, but the songs remain the same, and I have no qualms with that… this is war-atrocity hardcore and it delivers the goods, these four songs gunning in and out before you know it. Maybe if the art wasn’t so cool, or this guy (or guys) wasn’t local, I wouldn’t be quite as enamored, but I am already eager to dip my toes in the Perfume River again.
Shahman Sounds That Look Like Us LP (Revolution Winter)
Well, the two guys on the cover look like twins, both with beards, one in a flannel button-up, the other in a t-shirt… so I guess Sounds That Look Like Us does sound how they look. Which is to say, modern post-emo guitar-rock. You know, guys that were probably in more straight-forward hardcore and emo bands in their teenage years and early 20s (presuming they’ve been going at it that long), who have comfortably evolved into playing basically the same thing but with various mature influences, like shoegaze and prog and Pitchfork’s Best New Music. I’m reminded of The Red Scare at times, and A Place To Bury Strangers at others – this is definitely heavy post-emo rock where a variety of amplifiers and effects pedals are tried out, complete with screamed vocals during the loud parts and sung vocals during the quiet parts. Anyway, if you’re wondering if it’s good… I guess so? This sort of music really doesn’t appeal to me; I am definitely not going to upload Shahman to any playlist of mine, but they are talented enough, and they keep things moving at a pace that keeps boredom from ever setting in too badly. Not sure that “countless shades of presence haunt this record”, as the back cover boldly claims, but maybe I’m just not cut out for grasping shades of presence in the first place.
Sleaford Mods Austerity Dogs LP (Harbinger Sound)
In this day and age of “try before you buy” being the record shopping norm, horrible surprise purchases happen less and less to all of us. But I’ll admit it, Fusetron (or perhaps more accurately, Harbinger Sound) got me on this one! I was salivating over the description, which had me expecting some sort of brutal mix of Whitehouse, Regis and Blitz, like the meanest UK artists of the past forty years all melded into one horrifying album. I put it on, and it was as if Nelson from The Simpsons slapped the back of my head with one of his trademark “ha-ha”s. Sleaford Mods actually sound like Native Cats or Arab Strap fronted by two angry ranting skinheads, big loudmouth skins who don’t stop yelling at you even after the cops arrive. That’s the extent of it – simple, near-mellow drum machine / bass / looped-sample musical accompaniment and these raving lunatics. Once my shock and embarrassment wore off, I realized that I actually do like Austerity Dogs – these guys are truly nuts (and there’s a full lyric sheet included!), embodying the street-level violence and fear of England much in the way that Hank Wood & The Hammerheads did for New York City a year ago. It’s pretty unique, more than a little vulgar, and one of the more interesting albums I’ve heard in a while. I’m still warning you, though – find an MP3 before you start writing a check!
Soft Riot No Longer Stranger LP (Volar)
Seems like at least once a month, I get another solo synth-wave album, usually with a picture of the artist dressed up like they played bass for Siouxsie And the Banshees or something. This seems to be a style of music most people are able to perform competently, and I love it when it’s great. I’m not sure I can say Soft Riot is great, but No Longer Stranger is definitely good! Most of these songs are slower than dancing-speed, which gives it a different character than the rest of the synthy bunch – Soft Riot is in no rush, and gives all his beats plenty of room to breathe. Nothing is overloaded, so each time a new warble or plink is introduced, it matters. The vocals are thankfully more in the Alan Vega “murderous whisper” style than the dreaded “forced Ian Curtis baritone”, a move I consider to be a true Night Sin (get it?). The more I listen to this one, the more I like it, which is often the opposite for this style of record… Soft Riot is just unique enough, mixing Gary Numan with Nervous Gender in a pleasing way (and covering a Hoover song in acknowledgement of what must be some hardcore roots, an aspect that I appreciate as so many ex-punkers-turned-ravers seem desperate to distance themselves from a couple years ago). Check it out!
Sokea Piste Ajatus Karkaa LP (Peterwalkee)
Peterwalkee continues their Finnish exchange program with a reissue of Sokea Piste’s 2011 album Ajatus Karkaa. Just like their earlier 7″, this isn’t your standard Finnish hardcore sound – Sokea Piste are far moodier, with plenty of tension and depression running through their music. I’m actually kind of reminded of some of the more pessimistic American emo-core groups of the ’90s, like Halfman and Merel, groups that flung themselves into hardcore in a mess of frustration and tangled guitar cords. Sokea Piste never get to the point where they’re rolling on the floor, though – there’s still a significant low-end and rhythmic-adherence to show that these guys are probably listening to way more Totalitär or Out Cold or whatever Kangaroo Records has co-released in the past twenty years than any Ebullition product. And maybe just a touch of AmRep misery in there, too? Whatever Sokea Piste’s influences actually are, it certainly works for them, bringing all sorts of gloom to hardcore without relying on images of atomic bombs and war crimes. I have no idea what any of these songs are about, they’re all in Finnish, but I still feel it, you know?
Whatever Brains Whatever Brains LP (Sorry State)
In what feels like only a year or so (but I’m sure it’s closer to three), here’s the third Whatever Brains album, in which they still take a pass on the delightful practice of naming your albums. Wasted opportunity, boys! Anyway, I have been a Whatever Brains fan since I first heard them – I haven’t heard a Whatever Brains record I didn’t like, and still, I’m kinda wondering who was really anticipating this third album right now. It’s just a lot, you know? But whatever (brains), this third one is another quality product. I can tell you how it differs from prior releases: way more keyboard-y, slower pace, kind of a maniacal new-wave vibe ala Gary Numan at times, and far fewer hardcore or punk moments. The singer’s elastic, nasally vocal is the one constant, purposely annoying but still cool enough to wear sunglasses on stage, and the songs still call to mind mid-’00s post-punk ala The Intelligence or The Unnatural Helpers or maybe even Dan Melchior and Jay Reatard if you want to go a little further out. As good a starting point as any for a Whatever Brains novice, but if they come at me with the fourth LP six months from now, I’m gonna just be repeating myself unless they drastically change things up (I’m talking sinus-cavity surgery for the singer).
Whore Paint Swallow My Bones LP (Load)
Here’s a band whose name I don’t feel comfortable saying in front of strangers, which was probably at least part of their rationale for going with it. They’re a Providence-based noise-rock group, of which there is a storied and diverse lineage, and I was all prepared to hoist them up alongside Landed and Arab On Radar and Olyneyville Sound System and the dozens of others. Only thing is, I’m really not that into this record. The singer kind of does this operatic heavy-metal style of vocalizing, one that I’m not a fan of (don’t let any Teenage Jesus comparisons fool you, there is no out-of-tune caterwauling here), and the music is all fancy-pants riffing and dramatic chord progressions, the sort of musical showboating that leaves me wondering where the closest group of teenagers practicing in a basement is. The recording is crystal clear too, which the producer is probably proud of, but it lacks the sonic spit that I look for in my burly, mean-mugging rock music. Still haven’t seen this group live yet, so maybe I’ll fall in love then, but for now I am just kind of relieved that I don’t have to rave about “Whore Paint” to my friends and have my mom accidentally overhear.
Woodsman Orphan My Name Is Ishmael Ali LP (Obscure Me)
Neil Young may be Neil Old at this point, but I’ll be damned if there aren’t more indie-rockers touched by his music now than there were ten or twenty years ago. I’m not saying Woodsman Orphan are purposely trying to reenact a still-living man, but the sad campfire Fraggle rock of My Name Is Ishmael Ali shares a few signifiers. The vocalist sure goes full-on with the tribute, and the band mostly just shuffles along like Low, or Bright Eyes, or the little-remembered Troubleman group Kepler (at least I dug them, okay?). So while Woodsman Orphan self-identify as freak-folk (that’s one warning sign), they’re really more like a late-’90s slow-core emo group with a taste for their parents’ record collections. It’s not bad, but I probably have a higher tolerance for this sort of pap more than most of you – it must be some sort of genetic defect, but I can sit through Pedro The Lion like nobody’s business. I just hope Woodsman Orphan don’t dress up like their idea of poor people when they get on stage, or I’ll take back all the nice things I said.
Zola Jesus Versions LP (Sacred Bones)
For as nonplussed as the last Zola Jesus album left me, I still consider myself a permanent fan. She’s just written too many great songs, and has too distinct a voice and presence in the modern indie-goth realm for me ever turn my back. I was excited to hear Versions, as the idea of a stripped down, classical take on some of her best songs sounded like a sweet deal. Unfortunately, I think it was sweeter on paper than in action – Versions is a nice project, but one that ultimately makes me wish I was listening to the original songs instead. The best Zola Jesus songs are usually pretty simple – three repeating, staggered notes over which she belts out her best Siouxsie Danzig (or is that Glenn Sioux?), with synths blaring, smoke-machines churning and percussion blasting. When given a string section to fill the musical void, these songs sound quaint and pretty, but also a little boring – it’s like I’m sipping on chamomile in a Victorian bed-and-breakfast instead of being tied to a leather chair and doused with black coffee. Listening to “Night” on here, probably my favorite song she’s ever done, I can’t help but think that this would’ve made for a neat UK-only b-side or something, as opposed to her next authorized full-length album. I caught her live show in support of Versions, and it was actually really incredible though – the beats sounded more blown-out and heavier through a live PA system, and she really sung her heart out, unlike some of her softer performances here. My love remains intact!