I love a lot of modern-day minimal-wave, synth-pop, electro-goth, what-have-you, but even so, it can be hard to really feel impressed – the style is so codified and the standards so rigid that it can be less like appreciating an artistic statement than a finely-calibrated machine. That’s why Keluar’s debut struck such a chord with me – they hit a variety of synth-wave signifiers but transcend any specific genre or easy reference point. Their songs are deep without being cavernous, poppy without being corny, technical without being nerdy, and most importantly, uniquely their own, thanks in no small part to the vocals of Zoè Zanias, previously of the short-lived (and fantastic) Linea Aspera. Who needs obscure reissues when there are groups like this today?
When did Keluar begin? Was there any overlap with Linea Aspera?
Zoè (vocals): We met at Linea Aspera’s show in Leipzig in May, 2012, and it was in the following months that Linea Aspera recorded the last of its material. As one ended, the other began.
How is the music written – is it a collaborative process, or are the vocals and music fairly separate entities in the creation process?
Zoè: A mix of both. The first drafts of the instrumentals come into existence in Sid’s studio, but are then altered depending on what direction the vocal melodies take. We usually work separately in the physical sense, and drafts will be sent back and forth a number of times before the song is complete. I will sometimes join Sid in the instrumental composition process, but the vocals are always written alone.
So should I assume neither of you live in close proximity? Or is it just easier for both of you to focus on your respective roles privately?
Zoè: We started out when I was in London and Sid was in Berlin. I’ve since moved to Berlin, but we live in different parts of the city and just happen to work separately a lot of the time.
I feel like Keluar, overall, is a bit ‘warmer’ than Linea Aspera… is that something intentional? Or is my interpretation incorrect?
Zoè: Depends on the songs, but yes, in Keluar we use a lot less reverb, which leads to a warmer sound in general. The production deliberately evokes a smaller space, both in the instrumentals and vocals.
Is that something that was intentional, the warmer, “smaller” sound? So often synth- and electronic-based groups sound cold, but often that’s part of the appeal.
Zoè: The intention is to have a clear sound that is more direct and powerful. The sound itself isn’t smaller, but the rooms we use are. Whether it’s cold or warm is merely a side effect, and also depends upon the atmosphere we’re aiming to create in each individual song. We do not strive for either ‘temperature’, as it were, in the way some current bands seem to do.
Visually, and from your song titles and lyrical allusions, I get the impression that science and the natural world are a big influence, or muse, maybe. Is that something you’ve personally studied?
Zoè: I grew up in the rainforests of Southeast Asia assisting my mother, who is a tropical aquatic biologist. A fascination with the natural world is in my blood, and I find scientific language a particularly beautiful one. My educational background is actually in archaeology, with a focus on human evolution, but in the future I envision myself working more closely with living primates rather than dead ones. Lyrically, my most influential ecosystems are probably oceanic ones. There’s something about vast expanses of water that both enraptures and terrifies me.
That seems like a good way to describe Keluar in a way, both enrapturing and terrifying.
Zoè: That’s actually a very nice compliment! Thank you!
I’ve seen Keluar described as a more “experimental” group than Linea Aspera, and I thought that was interesting, if not something I necessarily agreed with. Is there anything you were trying or “experimenting” with Keluar, that you hadn’t before?
Zoè: Sid’s better at answering questions on the instrumentals…
Sid (synths, programming): I don’t really know what exactly “experimental” means in that comparison. The way I compose is always an experiment. “What happens if I plug this into that?”, or “What happens if I add this note to that note?”, or “What happens if swap this part with that part?”. If your question points to the genre “Experimental”, you need to tell me what this can be defined as, so I can try to answer.
Honestly, I don’t know what is meant by “experimental” when people use it either, because all music is kind of an experiment in that regard, and the idea of “experimental” as a genre seems ill-fitting – how can there be so many similar-sounding experiments? Is there any particular genre you’d file Keluar in?
Sid: It seems to be paradox. Nevertheless, I have an idea of what it sounds like when people consider something “Experimental” – and that is not what Keluar sounds like. But I guess the term “Experimental” is actually misleading, as you pointed out.
Zoè: Perhaps what people are detecting is the fact that Keluar has a few more sounds that are a bit unexpected, and that’s something people tend to associate with something being “experimental”. I’d agree we don’t fit into it as a genre title though.
Was there anything you particularly wanted to avoid aesthetically with Keluar?
Zoè: We’re more about aims than avoidance, but too much consonance is one thing we veer away from.
I understand you just finished up a tour… how did it go? Any particularly memorable shows? What constitutes a really great show for you?
Zoè: Finished up a large portion of it, with a few dates left in Stockholm, Copenhagen and Brussels. So far it’s surpassed our expectations in most ways. Almost every show felt like ‘the best so far’, and every audience made us feel welcome and appreciated. Really our main concern is having good sound on stage, without which its easy to lose focus and confidence. We were mostly pretty lucky. London and Athens stand out as my personal favourites, mainly because the audiences consisted of some of my favourite people on Earth, and I was proud to share the stage with some amazing performers those nights as well – Ashkelon (London) and Hawk Haven of Flesh United (Athens), for example.
Do people dance to Keluar? What artists would you want to hear if you were going out dancing?
Zoè: Of course. Isn’t that what gigs are for? Sometimes I’m proud to hold a crowd still for a moment – it often happens during the first chorus of one of our new songs, and can be my favourite moment of a gig.
Sid: We have songs that aim for making people dance, others don’t. I know it from myself: on a good concert, the fascination of the performance can make you stand still. And some sounds move the mind rather than the body. So body motion is not an important indicator for me. When I want to go dancing, I’m hoping to hear EBM-related techno. I can enjoy dancing to minimal wave, but it’s too soft for serious action.
Zoè: Dancing is the main aim when I go out, and depending on the mood I can be inclined to move to anything from minimal techno to EBM, new beat, post-punk and minimal wave.
What’s next for Keluar?
Zoè: We’re currently working on a new EP, with an LP in our sights for 2014.
The Ar-Kaics She Does Those Things To Me / Don’t Need Your Love 7″ (Speakertree)
I get wanting to be authentically vintage and all, but come on, mostly any picture sleeve is nicer than no picture sleeve! I’m not gonna stick this in my jukebox and then slick my hair back with Brill cream, you know? Anyway, The Ar-Kaics try their hand at a Kinks-y riff with “She Does Those Things To Me”, and they fare pretty well, even if it’s kind of like saying “man, that basketball team absolutely dominated their rec league.” These stakes aren’t very high. It’s catchy enough that I’d shake a tambourine along if someone handed me one, at least. Same pretty much goes for “Don’t Need Your Life”, shaking a Nuggets tree and biting into the biggest fruit that falls, maybe offering a slight whiff of Love if I had to place a name. At this point, I’ve probably had hours of unmemorable garage-rock fun in the past three years or so, thanks to bands like The Ar-Kaics. I won’t remember these guys in the morning, but I can still vaguely appreciate the night we spent together.
Bad People Pearls Before Swine EP 7″ (Feral Kid / Feeble Minds / Ut)
If you’re gonna call yourself “Bad People”, one way of really committing to it is to have your 7″ cover art feature a deranged, sore-covered freak murdering cats. No one wants to see that, except, well… bad people! It’s an appropriate setting for the seven tracks of snotty hardcore-punk offered on the Pearls Before Swine EP, which are sadly not just Pearls Before Swine covers. Unlike many underground, local-level hardcore-punk singles I hear these days, Bad People are actually able to switch it up a bit in their approach, from flailing thrash to anthemic hardcore grooves. That’s not to say they suffer from too much creativity, though – no matter what they do, they sound like they should be on tour with Quincy Punx and The Dwarves right now, which is nothing if not a seal of approval. The singer has a cool, frothy voice that is never less than incensed, and the band backs him up appropriately. I think they might live close to Rational Animals (all of upstate New York is the same to me, I’m sorry) – I hope the cops in their town are constantly trying to arrest all these guys and failing.
John Bellows Traveller’s Shoes / Second Nature 7″ (no label)
This John Bellows single has nothing to do with me or Yellow Green Red, but I guess what are your other options for sending out an ostensibly self-released 7″ single of boring sloppy country ballads if you want someone to write about it? Maximum Rock N’ Roll probably has a garbage chute specifically designed for records like these, and most other blogs will just copy the band’s press-sheet (or Bandcamp summary, as it were) rather than sit down and give something like this a listen. “Traveller’s Shoes” and “Second Nature” are both hokey-pokey goofball alt-country, and so painfully not my thing that I drift off and allow subtle details of this single’s existence to remind me of things I do like: the banana vinyl recalls the Gorilla Biscuits 7″ (I’m due for a listen!), the guy’s name recalls the great Tracey Morgan character Brian Fellows, the b-side song title reminds me of the label that first brought us Reggie & The Full Effect (thank God for that). If this record is the sorta vibe you are looking for, what are you doing reading this blog? You must’ve been so annoyed when you followed through on my FNU Ronnies recommendation.
The Cabbage Heads The Cabbage Heads 7″ (SPHC / Faded Novelty)
Thank goodness for SPHC, a label that loves introducing me to irritating and stupid punk bands like The Cabbage Heads! This single nearly shocks the needle out of its grooves with an Exit Hippies-level blast of screechy feedback mayhem, that is until it settles into a pretty rote noise-punk record, like if Disorder only used ’90s pop-punk riffs (which is to say, pretty damn similar to The Wankys). I love that even when the clean, undistorted bass is rummaging through Screeching Weasel melodies, the guitar still sounds like a broken Vitamix, and the vocalist is unconcerned with either, just concentrating on holding the microphone the proper distance from his face. This kinda record lives or dies by its charm, and I don’t know, The Cabbage Heads are pretty charming, from the song “I Don’t Give A Fuck” to the hand-drawn cover art that makes Home Blitz records look like Van Goghs (and the fact that Faded Novelty somehow located a Discharge font for their logo doesn’t hurt either). I just hope these guys are fermenting hops and oatmeal in the back of a dumpster somewhere, and not buying corporate beer. Maybe I’ll just pretend.
Cairo Pythian Unity Mitford 12″ (Perennial)
I dig a ton of synthesized electronic music, but the aesthetic uniformity can kinda wear on me… like look at the cover of Unity Mitford, I swear there are a dozen synth-pop records that came out in the past year or two that feature an unusual assortment of household objects laid out on a colored background. But at the same time, when you’re good, you’re good, and this being my first time enjoying the music of Cairo Pythian, I’m happy to say that they’re really good, and can do whatever they want for cover art – I don’t care. The two a-side cuts are primo modern electro-danse, taking cues from The Human League and Gary Numan and intensifying the paranoia while cutting out the signifiers that make those artists sound like ’80s groups instead of something fresh and modern. The b-side features a slightly danced-up remix and a twinkly little library piece, and both of which are worth repeated listens. Honestly, I think the reason Cairo Pythian stick out to me is that they’ve got real finesse; the vocal melodies are catchy without being generic, the songs announce themselves swiftly onto the dance-floor, and the whole thing just feels so right and natural. I’ve heard that Cairo Pythian just keep getting better, so now I’m not sure if I need to check out their earlier records, or just wait for whatever they do next.
Clay Rendering Vengeance Candle 12″ (Hospital Productions)
In the ’90s, underground punk dudes matured by getting into rockabilly and hot-rods, in the ’00s they sold their screamo records for funk and soul 45s, and now, they start industrial-goth duos with their legally-wedded partners. I am a fan of Mike Connelly (of Hair Police and Wolf Eyes, most notably), so I’m not trying to accuse him of trend-hopping or whatever, just noting that he is clearly no longer the baggy-pants-wearing, roll-on-the-floor-while-smashing-a-Casio guy he once was. Clay Rendering is him and Tara Connelly, in case the cover image wherein you can count their eyebrow hairs didn’t already make it clear, and it’s a pretty rudimentary take on dirge-based death-rock. “Nature’s Confusion” pairs a dying-battery drum machine with a sad, descending riff, played through what sounds like a tiny practice amp, and it’s completed by the vocals of either Mike or Tara (or both?) muttering some surely morbid prose. “Vengeance Candle”, which has one of the best song titles I’ve read in a while, is a bit more swirly, not too far from the recent Troller album, or maybe if Thrones and Duster worked together to quickly form a riff for a local goth night. You can drop the needle on either of these songs at any point without noting any big change – much like Vatican Shadow, Clay Rendering set the track in motion and shut it down about six minutes in. It’s good, although I might like it a little more because of my predilection for the people involved. It’s just nice to see happy couples sometimes, even if they are engaging in dark and morbid occult behavior.
Concrete Fence New Release (1) 12″ (Pan)
You wanna talk about industrial techno heavyweights, well this Concrete Fence collaboration of Regis and Russell Haswell is like Mike Tyson with Butterbean on his shoulders. This attractive 12″ (aren’t all Pan releases, though) features three tracks of squelching industrial techno, heavy on the industrial and rich with grey noise. It’s like you’re at an outdoor rave when a blizzard hits, numbing your skin and blurring your vision while one of the Concrete Fence guys runs rampant over the beat (I’m guessing Regis does the rhythm and Haswell crafts the noise, but who knows). I appreciate that the beat almost seems secondary to these tracks, as the main power-source that guides these tracks generally outlasts any rhythm, just coasting into space with full intensity. Very playful, but in an unfriendly way, which is often how I like my greyscale noise-techno to be. You’re not gonna be able to move any limbs with New Release (1) at your next DJ night, but you needn’t look any further for the perfect way to disturb your crummy neighbors.
Darkside Psychic 2xLP (Other People / Matador)
Been waiting on this Darkside album ever since the debut EP came crawling out of late 2011 like a bizarre little secret I wanted to share with everyone. Or actually, any new Nicolas Jaar material, for that matter – I try not to actively sweat college kids, but this guy just seems so confident in his weirdness that I am completely hooked. And now, Psychic is here, riding a tsunami of hype usually reserved for Thom Yorke and Vampire Weekend and relatives of Beyoncé, and I find myself in a similar position as I do with Iceage – I love the group, but can’t fathom why there’s an audience greater than like fifteen obsessive loner weirdos per city. Like seriously – Psychic is basically Dire Straits and Pink Floyd riffs (with a light sprinkling of Eddie Money and just a hint of George Thorogood), all drawn out past the standard bounds of monotony and buffered by quiet-noise interludes, with the vocalizations of a trembling fetus run through eight octaves of auto-tune, all of which is produced by a studio perfectionist wunderkind who probably actually paid money for In Rainbows. How is there an audience for this! The music is frequently perplexing, often incredibly sweet-sounding, just barely techno and barely not rock music. If you want a beat, it’s not there, and when it comes, it might just be some limp disco thing. I love Darkside for how unique and soothing and crafty it is, but I’ve gotta reassess my whole take on the world if this is something that can be marketed to Daft Punk and Arcade Fire fans.
El-G La Chimie LP (SDZ)
SDZ has been around since the early ’00s, but I feel like in recent years they’ve really come into their own, exploring mostly French weirdness and the post-est reaches of post-punk. This El-G album collects a few recent tapes and CD-rs and other barely-heard productions into one tidy LP, and it’s a delight! It’s a little hard to explain, too – most of these tracks involve some sort of hand-crafted electronic loop or warble, usually laced with some other sound effects of unknown origin, and some guy (presumably El-G himself) will mutter, sputter and cackle over top. I’m reminded of anything from Pseudocode to Floris Vanhoof to Felix Kubin to Nurse With Wound to The Rebel, or any mostly-electronic artist that is not afraid to completely abandon song structure and drift into a peculiar field recording or hallucinatory soundscape. It’s probably too punk and not academic enough for the Kye label, but also not really punk at all… maybe if Dan Melchior did a record for Ultra Eczema, it’d sound like La Chimie? One track mostly consists of some British guy reading the list of delayed trains at a station, and it seems right at home among the rest of the tracks on this record. I’ve got a big old stack of records at my desk here, trust me, and I keep pulling this one out – it just makes me feel good to have El-G’s bizarre banter and synthesized nonsense dripping all over my head.
Ensemble Economique The Fever Logic L.P. LP (Not Not Fun)
I often wonder why some underground labels use shrink-wrap for their albums – I mean, isn’t it just a huge environmental waste, just so that record stores can have the safety of selling a brand new product or whatever? In the case of this Ensemble Economique LP, however, it makes perfect sense, because as soon as I sliced it open, the LP sleeve coated my hands in baby oil as it emitted a thick blast of Acqua di Gio-scented smoke. What I’m trying to say is, I feel like Not Not Fun and 100% Silk are forever in search of the ultimate late-night ’80s soft-core soundtrack, and they may have finally hit the bullseye with The Fever Logic L.P.. Ensemble Economique’s synth-based music just kinda wafts in (the clouds thick with goth-club condensation), a reverbed snare drum slowly keeps time, and an androgynous high-pitched creature either wails or coos, depending on the stage of coitus… kinda like if Eyeless In Gaza were actually Topless In Gaza. I can’t imagine watching this group live, if they play live, or are even a group – this is music for piles of bedsheets and comforters and fresh lube and disinfected hotel hot-tubs, not a plainclothed audience to stand around and stare at. That’s even if you want to call it music – Ensemble Economique seem content to keep everything in the background, seeping into the room’s mood rather than announcing themselves as a band you should be paying attention to. It hits the soft-core mark for sure, but I’m not sure if I loved it or not… maybe Ensemble Economique should’ve taken me out to dinner and drinks first, if they really wanted me this bad.
Frustros A L’Attaque Du Rien 7″ (Mutant / Tocsin)
The cover of this Frustros single had me stuffing little balls of toilet paper in my ears in preparation for a sonic assault – the cover drawing of a rotten baby getting messed with by a hooded freak has to imply noisy crust-punk, right? Not so – this French punk band prefers to write melodies and hooks instead of explosively bludgeoning. If you called them a French Wipers, I wouldn’t disagree, but Frustros nearly touch on melodic grunge in these four songs, at times like mid-period Hole with an entirely different vocalist? Mix that with one of the less powerful Bloodstains Across Spain tracks and you’re getting close to Frustros. They almost verge on post-punk power-pop, but also just kinda remind me of No Hope For The Kids. I think the packaging helps this one, because the insert and cover are cool, as is the hand-written center sticker, and as I can kinda go either way on the music, the overall package leans me toward a thumbs up. Perfect for times when you want punk rock, but without all the screaming and feedback.
Good Stuff House Untitled LP (Holodeck / Indian Queen)
Good Stuff House had me at their name – I mean, it sounds like it should be some L.I.E.S. project where Jamal Moss disassembles classic Green Velvet tracks, right? That’s not even remotely what Good Stuff House are about, but my pleasant mood was continued through these seven untitled tracks of roomy drones, meekly plucked acoustic strings and creaking antiquities. That’s what this house is cooking – a very Constellation Records-y stirring of ancient dust mites, a haunted banjo or two, a rusty saw vibrated until sound is produced, pretty much anything that sounds like it wishes it remained undisturbed but is instead being played for you. I might even get a slight Taj Mahal Travelers vibe on the a-side, as I get the feeling that I’m secretly peering into a radical hippie commune jam session that was never meant to be recorded. It’s pretty cool, the sort of record that is unremarkable yet highly listenable for early-morning tea steeping and obscure yoga poses. If Whole Foods had a drone records section, you best believe this would be in the new releases bin.
Guerilla Toss / Sediment Club Kicked Back Into The Crypt LP (Sophomore Lounge / Feeding Tube)
Of all the ways the Sophomore Lounge label presents itself, I think I dig it most when they are in Load / Skin Graft mode. You know: day-glo neo-no wave sploodge with all cylinders firing. That’s pretty much what I’m getting from Kicked Back Into The Crypt, a split between two groups I never previously heard but am glad to have recently connected. Guerilla Toss fits the bill exactly, sounding like a three-way mix of Coughs, Arab On Radar and Skoal Kodiak. They’ve got the sheet-metal noise-funk of Coughs, the perverted guitars of Arab On Radar, and the synthesized thunk of Skoal Kodiak, resulting in a group I’ve added to my watch list. Sediment Club’s pants aren’t quite as covered in silk-screen paint as Guerilla Toss’s – they are probably too busy spending their money on black sunglasses and cigarettes to even buy a can of Krylon, anyway. They fit right in with the TV Ghost / Slug Guts school of modern-day Birthday Party enthusiasts, as the bass bumps along while the guitar wonders what it did to deserve such torture – if the strings aren’t being ripped to shreds, they’re getting tweaked like nipples. They present with a mid-fi recording that allows the music to actually be heard, and I appreciate that, as it helps put their “James White dancing to The Birthday Party outside a Gun Club show” vibe into focus. I’m not optimistic enough to think that there are lots of people clamoring for good modern no-wave split LPs like this, but damnit, there should be!
The Headies Meta-Pop LP (Creep / Square Of Opposition / Start Something / My Parents)
If you were a fan of Northeastern US pop-punk in the ’90s, there’s a good chance your heart was touched by Plow United, perhaps the finest musical group West Chester, PA has ever offered. I was (and I guess still am) a big fan, but there’s no way I’m as big a fan as The Headies – the way in which these guys emulate Plow United is startling. Plow was Creep’s flagship band (and Square Of Opposition reissued the last Plow record), and The Headies are only about thirty minutes away in Wilmington, so there’s no way this is some random coincidence. Seriously, my thoughts bounce between appreciation of The Headies’ exacting craft and straight-up anger that a band would dare to play songs like this without fully acknowledging their position as a tribute act. “Please Kill Me” is a mix of Plow United’s most memorable songs, to the point where I can’t believe they are trying to get away with this. It’s good, anthemic, scruffy-necked pop-punk, but goddamn, do your due diligence and check out Plow United before you consider giving Meta-Pop a spin. The Headies might throw in some keyboards to throw you off, but the resemblance is uncanny!
High Aura’d / Blood Bright Star split 7″ (Anti-Matter)
It’s not often that I get to say “this split 7″ comes in a visually striking package”, but I’m saying it now! The cover is a nice, art-paper gatefold sleeve, with a beautiful wrap-around silver print on the outside and some cool hand-written (or so it seems) font-work on the inside. And the vinyl is mint green, matching the inner sleeve’s print in a way that I’ve always wished my sheets and pillowcases would (maybe someday). It’s interesting that they went all out with this first-class packaging, because the music doesn’t seem to be making the same effort. High Aura’d is a cool name, and their track is a slow-burnt droner, guitar set to a self-cleaning temperature as swells of sound crawl up the chimney, like a small part of an Oren Ambarchi or BJ Nilsen track – really, this thing is as long as an average punk song, so there is no chance to remotely settle into its calming warmth. Blood Bright Star fares a little better, as they sound like Earth in their Pentastar phase, playing the same simple four-bar guitar riff over and over, lulling you into a sense of security as Satan slowly wraps you inside his wings. Cool stuff, but I’d prefer an album of boring slow-baked instrumental guitar music than this brief side of a 7″ record. i I love the unnecessary act of playing vinyl records in 2013, but I’m hard pressed to say that this split is worth the effort. If you need something cool to display on your shelf, though, Anti-Matter makes it a hard record to deny.
Joe Slope / Maximum Busy Muscle 12″ (Hessle Audio)
My eyes light up every time there’s a new Joe 12″ released – for having the most generic name possible, there’s really no one else like him. The last 12″ single featured shattered glass and the sound of sawed wood prominently in its beats, so I was ready for anything on this one. Surprisingly, I got two meaty bangers, about as club-friendly as Joe has ever gone, complete with a 4/4 thump. “Slope” has that modern post-dubstep house sound, not too far from Joy Orbison or one of the slicker Pearson Sound tracks, but it truly captivates thanks to an elongated Chewbacca vocal. Sometimes I’ll see noise guys twist a knob and wince, like they are playing a guitar solo or something, but it’s really a sound like this that deserves facial gymnastics. “Maximum Busy Muscle” turns up the heat even further, flailing through jazz drum particles, an old car horn, a couple different vocal tics, and some supremely farty bass blasts. I know “less is more” often applies to techno, but I love the sonic lasagna Joe serves up here, easily his most physically demanding (and sonically infectious) dance cut yet. It’s a good thing he’s never revealed his last name, otherwise I’d be all up in his Facebook, bothering him for more tracks.
Kerridge From The Shadows That Melt The Flesh 1-4 12″ (Downwards)
Downwards is a cool label for many reasons, but the one I’d like to emphasize here is that not only have they practically birthed the industrial-techno sound, they manage to continually find intriguing new artists who fit their aesthetic bill. This is the second Kerridge 12″ on Downwards this year, and like the other, this is a stainless-steel monster… it feels like some ancient society is building a castle on top of my head while I listen. From The Shadows That Melt The Flesh comes in four installments, and I can break it down thusly: “1” is an unrelentingly punchy club-banger, “2” is a psychotropical submersion tank, “3” is an industrial-synth dungeon crawl, and “4” is a horrifying spaceship malfunction. I could listen to Kerridge investigate any of those four styles all day long, which leads to me flipping From The Shadows over and over, like I’m purposely trying to achieve carpal tunnel syndrome. The vinyl is beautiful, I love the uniform Downwards sleeve design, and I don’t have one good reason to ever stop buying records like this.
Lazy Obsession LP (Moniker)
Lazy surprised me with their energetic punk rock on their Party City 7″, so when that title track opened Obsession, I was already pleasantly prepared. Lazy are kind of weird, though – they’re on a label that is anything but by-the-books punk rock, and I’ve never heard any punks mention their existence, so I still can’t tell if this is just an earnest punk band or some sort of cynical trick, like I am being lured into their fist-pumping punk music only to find out it was an art installation all along. The more I listen to Obsession, though, the less that sort of thing matters, because this band is really good! I am frequently reminded of West Coast punk and hardcore circa ’78 through about ’82 – I’m talking bands like Avengers and X, and the feral hardcore offspring that quickly followed them, like maybe Sin 34 or No Alternative. The LP ends with a couple minutes of silence and then a wacky medley of outtakes or something, and it kinda feels like something Geza X would’ve done, more than some modern-day Brooklyn hipster band. Honestly, if punks aren’t talking about Lazy, I have to wonder what’s wrong with punks?
Little Big League These Are Good People LP (Tiny Engines)
Is there such a thing as “city emo”? If so, I’d say that Little Big League are ripe for the designation, and if not, well, let’s forget we ever had this conversation, okay? They’re a Philadelphia-based quartet who play their jangly, indie-approved emo-pop with the swing of Braid, the oomph of The Breeders, the thoughtfulness of Rainer Maria and just a little bit of Feist’s good luck. The two guitars are almost always playing separate melodies, and vocalist Michelle Zauner belts her heart out like she’s finally transitioning from LiveJournal to Tumblr. It can be hard to tell where one song starts and the next begins, as they are all structurally complex and constantly shifting; kind of like Aloha, but without the xylophones. I also get a taste of Philadelphia’s “proud underdog” attitude here, and it works well with the uplifting melodies and navel-centric guitar work. If one of them hasn’t already served me a margarita or an iced chai, I look forward to that day!
Mad Nanna I Wanna See You / The Nectarine Tree 7″ (Soft Abuse)
More Mad Nanna? Sure, why not! They’re probably my favorite sucky group playing today, and while all scientific evidence points to me being sick of them at this point, it hasn’t happened yet. “I Wanna See You” is as close as I think they’ve ever gotten to actually rocking, following a riff-based rhythm with vocals recalling the stern diction of Dan Melchior. “The Nectarine Tree” makes up for the musicality of the a-side though, as it sounds like the main guitar is being played one-handedly. It’s almost as if you were told you were about to take a bite out of a nectarine, but quickly slipped an olive instead – it wouldn’t be so bad if your tongue was ready for it. I don’t know, I am probably too ashamed to play this record for my friends (and they already know I like horrible music), but I am willing to continue holding Mad Nanna as one of my few (and favorite) musical shames. They just nail it, what can I say?
Mole House Be Around 7″ (All Gone)
I’ve tried hard to like Mole House in the past and failed, but I can be really persistent when I wanna be, so please, allow me to give this new single a spin. “Come Around” rocks harder than anything off their debut single, and if you compare it to their cousins Mad Nanna, it’s practically Aerosmith-like in its ability to kick sassafras. No drums, just a couple guitars playing the same riff and a vocalist that sounds like she is concentrating on singing really hard, like someone’s gonna kidnap her baby if she misses a lyric. It’s not a good track, but I am willing to say I enjoyed it. “At My Cuffs” is a bit sleepier, like Garbage And The Flowers, but if the flowers were dead and actually just part of the garbage at this point. I think I prefer this one; it’s as soft as thrift-store cotton and the soloing is perfectly sour-sweet. Pretty sure the Mad Nanna guy sings on this track, if that is a selling point for anyone. I think I still don’t like this band, but at the same time, I know I could be easily swayed. Someone email me a paragraph as to why I should love Mole House, and if I believe it, I’ll mail the record to you in a cruel twist of ironic masochism.
Multicult Jaws / Luxury 7″ (Reptilian)
This is the third Multicult record to be reviewed on these pages, and while the group seem to have a pretty strong supply of angular post-hardcore riffs in their tank, I am running out of fresh ways to describe it. They’re still good, still rocking out with a mathematician’s sense of timing, and I still have difficulty remembering they exist unless their records are inches from my face. Just not really my thing, you know? “Jaws” is all about the bass-line, unrelenting and contorted, whereas “Luxury” is a few shades funkier, and were it heavier, it might be comparable to something off the last couple Rage Against The Machine albums (except, you know, no guitar alchemy or impassioned rapping). Like a non-emo version of The Red Scare, maybe? I don’t know, I probably already said that last time. Do I have to start researching bands that sound like this to keep my reviews fresh? Please say no!
Oake Offenbarung 12″ (Downwards)
Downwards just really has the gothic industrial morbid techno ambiance thing on lock, from their roster to the uniformity of the 12″ sleeves. I really love it, and love picking up records like this Oake 12″, not because they are necessarily blowing my mind, but because they are intriguing new chapters in the Downwards story. If the photo of the attractive-yet-forlorn man and woman on the insert is to be interpreted as the members of Oake, it makes sense, as their music is seething, slow-churning tech-crawl, filled with spooky corridors and ghostly, wordless vocals that fill the room like a demonic fog. If there was a Black Rain remix of Portishead it might sound like this, all creepy and slimy and cold, but with the production of an Ostgut Ton dungeon-banger. Highly undanceable, but perfect for spending the night in a home where murders were committed one hundred years ago to the day, or just being around any nocturnal paranormal activity. The track titles are all coded gibberish, but it’s the steamy, heart-racing pulse of “Nihnin Ned Bargund” that captivated me the most. Now imagine that just as soon as I finished writing this review, I turned to look you in the face and my pupils were missing!
Pharoahs Replicant Moods LP (100% Silk)
All I know of Pharoahs is the album cover, the credits on the back (they are hard to read but I tried my best), and the music of Replicant Moods. I like to think I go into every new-to-me 100% Silk artist on neutral ground, because this label has released some all-out bangers as well as some records that simply don’t move me, and well, I’ve gotta stick Pharoahs in the latter camp. It’s alright – their music is basically a soft collage of ’80s Jan Hammer, ’90s rave and ’00s chill-wave, mostly too energetic to mentally lose yourself in, and not energetic enough to dance to. Kinda like a mix of the more boring tracks on the most recent albums by Omar S and Coyote Clean Up? Without any sort of context for this group, like maybe they are twelve year-old Argentinian twins, or one of them is blind and made these songs on a braille computer, I am at a loss as to how anyone could consider this music to be exceptional – this is an okay album, it’s just that most of these songs seem like the music you hear while you are waiting for the stuff you really like at a club, because you got there a few hours too early. I’m prompt to a fault!
The Pink Noise Greedy Heart LP (Skrot Up)
Last I remember, The Pink Noise were another foot-long Blank Dog, but the last time I checked in with them, Sacred Bones was still screen-printing all their LP jackets. I’m pretty sure The Pink Noise has released half a dozen albums since then (or so it would seem), but I always thought they were at the very least alright, and Skrot Up is a hilarious nut-job of a label, so why not check in? I’m glad I did, because The Pink Noise have shed their lo-fi garage-goth beginnings for a Killed By Death-y punk rock strut. I’m getting serious vibes of Peer Pressure, Chain Gang and The Maids here, groups where the punk rock just kinda chugs along and some average Joe talk-sings over it in the most normal-guy voice possible. I love it when bands sound like this, where it’s punk but the singer refuses to ever really raise his voice, and The Pink Noise seem to have settled into this sound quite well. There’s still a synth darting in and out of these songs, and the drums might even veer toward a Liars- (or at least Factums-)approved disco beat, but the singer keeps things a little too dumb to ever be accused of being art. Certain sects of punk sound best when there’s a greasy burger in its grip, and that’s exactly why Greedy Heart has me hankering for a big old pile of fries. Slot this one next to that recent Sleaze LP and I won’t even care if the only ketchup around is Hunt’s!
Roachclip Discovery Park LP (All Gone)
Pretty cool start for the All Gone label, following Mole House with Roachclip, another band that feels like they can fit in the palm of my hand; very baby hamster-like. Roachclip seem like they’ve actually all attended a thing called “band practice” though, as their charmingly simple indie-rock is the sort of thing no stranger would leave out in the rain on their doorstep – you’re gonna wanna bring this one in. I’m reminded at times of Spacin’, in the way that Discovery Park feels like it has a beer in one hand and is reaching for the chips with the other… a good public-park picnic record. More often though, it feels indebted to The Clean and probably a dozen other New Zealand bands more obscure than them, all delightfully jangly and easy, with keyboards sometimes taking center stage, other times barely audible, and plenty of down-strummed guitars and stately bass-lines, all with a vocalist who sounds like he’s to Lou Reed as Shannon Hoon was to Axl Rose (you know, the corn-fed hippie cousin). Although the inclusion of noise freak Heath Moerland on bass had me expecting some sort of rock-based Prick Decay sound, the pleasantries exchanged here are difficult to dislike.
Russian Tsarlag Gagged In Boonsville LP (Not Not Fun)
Russian Tsarlag has been a staple of the ’00s DIY noise scene, creeping out of Tampa (or at least the Cephia’s Treat crew) and all over the East Coast. I swear I’m not a stalker, this is just a guy whose name has been around, you know? And sadly, I think this is the first time I actually heard Russian Tsarlag! I guess I always presumed it was cut-up junk noise, or some form of guitar autism (in my head, I’m thinking something between Pod Blotz and U Can Unlearn Guitar). Maybe at some point that was true, but Gagged In Boonsville threw me for a loop – this album is little more than mellow guitars, soft vocals and an unobtrusive drum machine filling in the rhythmic gaps. It’s cool! Imagine some lonely bedroom project on Captured Tracks, but renovate the bedroom so that there is no fancy new Macbook, just a Windows desktop someone spilled coffee on years ago, a mattress with the elastic sheet permanently dangling off one corner, and a filthy laundry basket that is now also used for Taco Bell wrapper disposal. Super lonely, decrepit music, almost reminding me of that recent Haves & Thirds album with the movie samples, but even that had some optimism to it – listening to Gagged In Boonsville often feels like reading some loser kid’s diary after he killed himself, and getting a glimpse of the pain he’s been hiding. The last song on the a-side samples in some laughter that turns to weeping (or is it vice versa?), which sums up the vibe eloquently. Lovely album!
Terveet Kädet Piinaavanautinto EP 7″ (SPHC)
What do the internet, Bon Jovi and Krysten Ritter all have in common? Terveet Kädet is older than all of them! Seriously, here’s a hardcore band you can rely on – they have been cranking out decades of hardcore, to the point where “legendary” status actually seems appropriate. And somehow, even as they have surely grown and matured as people, they are still releasing records of raw, non-melodic hardcore with crude images of male genetalia on the cover. I’m not sure how a band can release so many records without ever really progressing musically (how many d-beat riffs can you squeeze out of the same sponge?), but Terveet Kädet seem to have done it (although to be fair, I haven’t heard at least half of their sprawling discography, so maybe there are a few NOFX-sounding records in there – I am merely speculating). I actually had to check to be sure, but yeah, these six songs were recorded in 2013, and it’s as ripping as the young bands that wear Terveet Kädet patches on their denim jackets.
Those Howlings Paid For You / Dip It In 7″ (Swear Jar)
Which howlings am I talkin’ about? Those Howlings, man! They’re an Austin-based trio, and this is their two-song EP, as simple and acceptable as a grilled cheese from any diner in the universe. Their music is kind of like a ’50s sock-hop take on indie-pop, like if Go Sailor made their way to the Enchantment Under The Sea dance, or if the Vivian Girls dressed like Janelle Monae. It’s pretty fun, G-rated rock n’ roll, the sort of band that probably plays at those “school of rock” camps for eight year-olds, because they are talented, friendly, easy to listen to, easy to understand and impossible to be offended by. Not really my thing at all, I mean I’m never going to want to listen to Those Howlings again, but it’s nice just the same… kinda like finding some quarters in your pocket, you know? You’ll never think about those quarters again, but you enjoyed getting in a few extra rounds of pinball.
Tiny Migrants Tiny Migrants 7″ (Mere Noise)
One thing I really dug about the massive influx of current Australian punk 7″s was that it seemed to come from the simple desire to make music, like all these bands just love being bands and doing their own little records themselves or with friends. A real DIY spirit seemed to run through it, from Sydney to Melbourne, and I don’t know, this Tiny Migrants 7″ is the first recent Aussie garage single I’ve come across that emits a strong “pro-gear, pro-attitude” vibe. I might very well be way off, but from the credits on the back cover to the promo-sheet and the music therein, Tiny Migrants feels like a band that measures success in ways beyond “did we get free beer and a working PA tonight?”. The four songs here are suitable enough Back From The Garage interpretations for today’s modern indie audience, reminding me of anything from The Oh Sees to Dum Dum Girls, but without any distinct personality of its own. It’s a fine EP, I am just nervous about it for some reason, like if I say I like it, I’ll just find out a week later that all of Tiny Migrants’ parents are entertainment industry lawyers and sponsored by the Australian version of Monsanto. Whatever, my intuition is probably totally wrong, so I am going to punch myself in the balls right now so that Tiny Migrants don’t have to fly all the way over here to do it themselves.
Tropical Trash Think Back Kick A Beer 7″ (Sophomore Lounge)
This is the second Tropical Trash 7″, and it’s so similar in appearance to the first that they’re practically identical twins, both sporting irreverent cartoon images screened on a bulk-rate white sleeve. This one seems to rip a bit heavier than the first one, though – I remember the first being a weirder trip through various states of downer guitar-rock, but Think Back Kick A Beer starts ripping right away, bridging the gap between Rye Coalition and CCR Headcleaner. Definitely a faster noise-rock sound, a little too “rawk” to be an easy hardcore classification, but meaty and raging just the same. They still get a little silly – just check the up-and-down riff that opens “Ritual Bath”, which transforms into a Hot Snakes-styled song, oddly enough. Thought I heard some Landed in there at one point too, but Tropical Trash move around so fast that it’s hard to squeeze them into any cage, a quality they’d surely take as a compliment. Just like the cover art, there are a bunch of cool ideas all jumbled together, leaving it up to the listener to pick and choose what to focus on.
TV Ghost The Amputee / The Mold 7″ (Kind Turkey)
TV Ghost have got to be feeling pretty good about themselves right now, because it seems like anyone and everyone is clamoring to release whatever scraps these guys have laying around – first a reissue of their first 7″, and now this, their first four-track recordings! Hey labels: you know you can just send a band an email to tell them you like them without also offering to release a record, right? It seems like a bit much, but at the same time, it’s not like this is bad music – even in 2007, when the average band member age was 14, these guys had a handle on condemned garage-sludge. “The Amputee” is a spider crawling up your leg, its vocals bashing into guitars and drums, like seven Cramps records played on top of each other while melting in the sun. “The Mold” is exponentially more frantic, almost reminding me of The Crimson Curse, had they released their records as scratchy 78s that had to be dug out of the ground to be played. Both songs work together nicely, and I can understand why both Kind Turkey and TV Ghost themselves would be proud of this one. It’s a cool little time capsule for sure, but I look forward to moving into the future with TV Ghost, where we all belong.
Beau Wanzer Beau Wanzer 12″ (L.I.E.S.)
I dig the L.I.E.S. label, but not to the point where I am compelled to pick up all their releases – it’s just more than I need or can afford, really. So I pick and choose, and when there’s a guy named Beau Wanzer doing a track called “Balls Of Steel”, I must oblige. A-side “Outside Auto” is a very live-feeling and rudimentary tech cut, as the central disjointed loop never leaves the captain’s chair, with various drum machine patterns buzzing beneath. Definitely feeling a Hieroglyphic Being vibe there. “Two Orders” kicks off the flip, slightly more reminiscent of Wanzer’s work with Mutant Beat Dance (I’ll always love that name), but still very basement sounding, like Kassem Mosse controlling an 8-bit Nintendo helicopter. Finally, we get the “Balls Of Steel”, and I’m reminded of Levon Vincent’s earliest and grimiest recordings, all with the vibe of Green Velvet’s “Answering Machine”. Definitely the star cut here: it almost feels like a novelty, except the beat is no laughing matter. Give “Balls Of Steel” a listen and see if you aren’t clinking along in unison!
White Finger P.A.P. Fats 7″ (Finger Recordings)
So many White bands these days… kind of strange, isn’t it? Well, this is White Finger, and they are a modern-sounding noisy grunge group. If you were able to peel apart the grooves of the Nirvana / Jesus Lizard split 7″, and then thread them together, you’d be a genius, and it also might sound similar to the songs White Finger are cooking up here. The riffs are pretty cool, managing to be mean and simple without feeling too generic, and the vocalist does an echo-laced “I’m craaaazy!” vocal style which generally works well with these tunes. If Roomrunner had a high-school-dropout alcoholic bartender older brother, there’s a good chance he might be White Finger, or at least hang out together. I’d say it’s pretty good, but I also can’t see myself remembering much about this band a couple weeks down the road, if only because I already am keeping track of roughly two dozen White Something bands in my head, and these songs are satisfying if not overly noteworthy. If you live in the same town as these guys though, there’s a good chance you love ’em and think I’m a fool for not giving this record an A+, which is the price I’m willing to pay.
Youth Code Youth Code LP (Dais)
Upon hearing about the existence of Youth Code, I was extremely skeptical – as I understood the group, they were the new industrial EBM project of Ryan George, a guy whose musical resume mimics that of Wes Eisold almost to a tee. I’m not saying I expect every grown man to play the same form of earnest hardcore he played when he was eighteen, but something about the idea of the guy from Carry On now doing an electro-goth thing seemed hokey at best and supremely disingenuous at worst. Still, I trust the good folks at Dais, and I have to say, Youth Code ain’t bad, nor are they Cold Cave Jr., much as I had feared. That isn’t to say the music of Youth Code is creative – they’re just mining a different specific sound, specifically recalling Skinny Puppy, Nitzer Ebb and KMFDM, with hints of Atari Teenage Riot, Portion Control and even Ministry. I can’t think of many (any?) other ex-hardcore kids doing a similar thing, and Youth Code does it well, blasting angry political snippets over gunfire drums, in-the-red vocal screams and pipe-bomb arpeggios. There aren’t any standout tracks, so much as one continuous flow of aggressive industrial-goth with plenty of anger and frustration guiding its path, or at least it’s so expertly faked that I can’t tell the difference. I like it more the more I listen to it, that’s for sure. I’d go and see them live, but I’m not sure I can risk looking at the Carry On guy in a Hitler haircut and leather pants – the music is definitely cool, but I’m not quite ready for that.