Archive for February, 2014

Landed

I apologize for getting all LiveJournal on you, but Landed are one of my personal favorite groups to come out of the ’90s – not only did they put out fantastic records, they really meant something to me as well. They opened my mind to so many fresh and new concepts as a teenager entering adulthood (unhinged live performance, improvisation, costumes, unusual musical instruments, the concept of a “rock band” completely deconstructed), they sounded freaking great – it was like they took the scariest parts of rock songs, made them noisier, and stretched that moment into infinity. They were the Fort Thunder band that offered the fewest answers, came with this air of mystery that seemed completely unmanufactured, and produced a small handful of records that still sound fresh. When I first released an album of my own band, I ripped off Landed’s cover art design (shamelessly might I add), but what can I say, their influence was that strong. I won’t gush any further over Landed, because much like their music, this interview is long, intense, hilarious and worth paying close attention to. Founding members Dan St. Jacques, Joel Kyack and Shawn Greenlee all graciously participated.

How did Landed start? I’m not as interested in how you guys met, unless there is some great story there, so much as how did you all agree to create and perform the music you made? I can’t imagine there was much of a musical precedent you were following.
Joel: Landed started out of necessity, like all freakish things do. Things had reached a terminal head of convention. Granted, tons of sub-genres of music had evolved, but in each sub-genre there seemed to be rules and conventions that were silently adhered to. Shawn and I were just coming out of the Rhode Island School of Design, where we were trained in a particular line of thinking. We were after a larger idea than just some assembly of notes that were dutifully rehearsed and performed. We were lucky enough to be at this moment when a bunch of us (RISD grads) stayed around Providence after school, and began to become friendly with the local freaks. The bands like Six Finger Satellite and Thee Hydrogen Terrors, Arab on Radar – these were bands we’d seen but not people we knew. Then we got to know them as musicians ourselves living in the town, dedicated to Providence, not just kids passing through to go to school. For me, that’s when the real magic happened – between 1995 and 1997, when this openness invaded the scene and there was a sweet intermingling. In school we knew Dan as the dude that worked at the sandwich shop and was the sickest bass player in town, but then we started going over to his house and jamming. He was such a stone-cold freak that Shawn and I knew it was on… true love.
Shawn: Before Landed, we played under the name Land for a few months. So, Landed came out of Land. We had developed quite a bit as a band during our first months playing shows and the name-change acknowledged a new path we were on. What brought us together for Landed and what allowed it to thrive was the warehouse we all moved into in 1997, known as 556. We started as a three-piece that year, Dan and I both on bass and Joel on drums. We had played music together before. Joel and I had a couple early bands together, and were already friends with Dan. 556 was across the street from Fort Thunder (another warehouse, where Lightning Bolt was based). Joel and I both lived at the Fort earlier. Many of Landed’s other members lived in these warehouses. That community was really important for Providence music in the late ’90s.
The Fort plays a role in the Landed origin story. Fort Thunder would stage these big, tag-team, mock wrestling matches where wrestlers would dress up in absurd costumes and battle in the ring. At one event, Dan and I were a team, and Joel was the referee. In a match, Dan sprained his wrist, and couldn’t play bass at our next show, which was at a local bar. Rather than cancel, we decided to improvise a new set, maybe with one rehearsal beforehand. Joel and I stayed on drums and bass respectively, while Mat Brinkman (of Forcefield/Mindflayer) joined on electronics. Dan had a shortwave radio he was going to play. Up until that show, Joel and I were doing some vocal stuff, but we were mostly instrumental. We had already gotten a reputation for having an “active” live show, but this is when Landed really reared its head. As we started, Dan’s instrument broke. Without any warning, he took on a frontman role with vocals. We had not discussed this beforehand – it was a spontaneous decision. I remember Dan’s bass cab on the floor, him eating the speaker cone, and the audience in frenzy. The bartender freaked out on us after our set; he hated it. There was a tense, public argument with him and the rest of the show got shut down. On our track “Why I Live,” you can hear Dan chanting, “fuck One Up.” The bar’s name was “One Up.”
I guess we knew we were onto something different at that point. Dan was a singer, and the music we wanted to play was definitely about reacting to circumstances prior to and during performance, not about perfectly matching something precomposed. Both Joel and I kept accidentally hurting ourselves, which caused us to change instruments or the ways we played. This set us on a path to frequently change things as a working method. At one point in ’97, I had broken ribs and Joel had severe back and knee problems. The philosophy was that if we booked a show, we wouldn’t cancel on account of injury and we’d keep booking shows despite whatever issues arose. We’d figure out what to do with the ongoing circumstances and our performance deadline. I think this had a big impact on the music we made. Sometimes this involved adding or removing players. This is when Rick Pelletier enters as a core member. John Dwyer and Mat Brinkman were also regulars. We had arrived at the idea that we should write basic song structures around which we could improvise, and change these from show to show. We didn’t over-rehearse as we wanted the audience to be there for when we really nailed it. Members changed instruments. New members were added to the mix. Altogether, I think there have been thirteen Landed members. Shows were full of “obstacles”, either self-imposed or granted by the audience.
We knew that Landed shouldn’t be a band that was organized around a collection of songs, because as soon as creative differences or other circumstances happened, the band could easily die. We wanted a structure that actually reveled in the creative differences and the unforeseen circumstances. Something that was capable of adapting, allowed members to drop out and come back, and as a founding principle couldn’t “break up.” Sometimes we repeated sets for short tours, but a lot of Landed material was only performed once and went undocumented (or maybe documentation hasn’t yet surfaced).
The show that put us on the path to making some records is the one we played with Men’s Recovery Project, Dropdead, and Forcefield in Providence. That’s when we met Sam McPheeters who put out the first Landed stuff on Vermiform. That’s the show where Dan set himself on fire.

That’s an excellent early recap. I guess I am curious to go a little further back, not necessarily time-wise, but in the formation of your musical philosophies… like, how did you even come to the conclusion that a rock band could get up on stage and improvise the songs, get injured, and allow spontaneity and energy to reign supreme? I feel like for most people who start playing guitars and drums as teenagers or whatever, the general ideology is that “practice makes perfect”, and that being tight and well-rehearsed is a sign of superiority, even for punk bands. How was it that you were all so willing and eager to throw out rock’s rulebook from the get-go?
Shawn: I’d say our rehearsals have always been about preparedness for the performance. To me, improvisation is about being ready, having honed one’s skills, so that you can create extemporaneously. That’s where the dedication in rehearsal has been for Landed, much more than composing the details and hitting all the right notes at the right time. Even when we’ve agreed upon structures that have allowed us to get really tight, improvisation has been a factor. Sometimes it’s been completely free, and sometimes improvisation is constrained… like maybe certain players get more freedom, while others have to hold down the core; or there is a tightly composed rhythm everyone is playing, but otherwise it’s open; or there is some timing variable which isn’t resolved until we play it live. There’s a lot of care in crafting playing experiences that include potential discomfort and risk, and that’s a good thing.
In a basic sense, the ideas that were formed in our early days were about setting the music in motion and not stopping on account of difficulties. Like, if someone breaks strings, a guitar neck, a drum head, or a mic… keep going. There’s no stopping to re-tune an instrument or fix what’s broken. If the audience comes crashing into the drum kit and knocks everything over, that’s part of the music, not outside of it. In that way, Landed has been about the live event, much more than about delivering a live version of recorded/written songs. Reconciling that with the other rock contexts you’re getting at is tough, as I’d hazard to say that most rock bands want to play their tunes for the audience, have the audience listen to recordings of those tunes at home, and have that process repeat. Eventually the audience becomes so familiar with the songs, that enjoyment comes from the familiarity with and recognition of them, including the ability to evaluate differences between live performances and recordings. Then, ideas of good and bad performance tend to become really simplistic; it becomes about meeting expectations as listening habits are formed. Landed should totally register as dissatisfaction with that formula of music production and reception. But, that stance is only possible because we all have experiences in and also care about those other rock contexts you’re getting at. We’ve all had other bands before, during, and after involvement with Landed that aren’t anything like Landed. Landed provides a context to experiment.
In the various changes the band has undergone, we’ve had shifting notions of what preparedness should be depending on the music we decided to make. So, sometimes it’s involved doing something over and over for weeks in rehearsal in order to establish a framework from which to diverge from or return to in performance. Sometimes it’s involved establishing a set of cues to watch or listen for so that we can arrive at the same place at the same time. That might take three or four rehearsals to get right. In the early days, we might have met once or twice before a performance to devise a strategy, but we had a lot of performances, so one live experience was feeding into the next cumulatively.
Most importantly, I think that preparedness involves playing a lot of music together over extended periods of time, like months and years… and hanging out, listening to and talking about music. We’ve gotten to know one another’s vocabulary and be able to anticipate each other’s moves. We’ve been able to play within that relationship, sometimes subverting, sometimes complying, sometimes instigating. The individual vocabularies and group dynamics change, so that’s exciting too, to realize that your old expectations are wrong or that you have a new perspective.
Joel: Shawn was out in LA a few weeks ago and one thing that we talked about that I had almost forgotten was how much fucking music we listened to. As a group. Seriously listening, not having music on in the background and partying. This went on for years. We would go to Dan’s or Rick’s place (which was in the same warehouse where Shawn and I lived), and sit in the near-dark for hours listening to records of all kinds. We would sit without talking for entire record sides, over and over again. Then we would talk about it. Dissect it. Not only technically, but what made it tick in its dirty core. It was like a formal education, a seminar class in graduate school. We wanted nothing more than to thrill ourselves and impress one another. As for tightness and well-rehearsed-ness showing superiority, even in punk bands, I think we thought of that as total bullshit. Punk is a name for a kind of music that we can talk about, name, describe, and give examples, and punk is also a certain kind of attitude (outside of the music) that we were interested in exploring to our own selfish, extreme ends. Real freedom. Not according to some fashionable code of conduct. We played with a lot of these “punk” bands, and I think that by the end of those nights we had illustrated that those bands weren’t as punk as they thought they were.

To an outsider, that seems like a pretty academic, thoughtful approach to what might seem like insanity on par with pro-wrestling, mosh pits and Jackass-style stuntery. You say that Landed provides a context to experiment – at the same time, how much was it about just going totally crazy?
Shawn: There’s a lot of stories about Landed live shows which would back you up on claims of insanity and hedonism. I’m not going to dispute that at all, and totally acknowledge it. For sure, a good amount of irreverence and debauchery has been a consistent baseline for the group. Plenty of hijinks. It’s hard to imagine Landed performances without some buffoonery and misbehavior (for the players and audience). It’s a critical factor… otherwise, it wouldn’t be Landed. But, that shouldn’t undermine what I was saying early. It goes together. The music incites the revelry and vice versa.
Joel: If it sounds academic it’s because to a certain degree it was. We discussed and planned very seriously a way to perform without planning. I’ve always thought that live, Landed is about creating a chaotic situation. Inside of that situation unplanned things emerge, either moments of brilliance or complete failure. Both of these are good. If your ear is tuned right and your body is ready to move, you react to this situation by contributing, by pushing the other players to evolve their strategy in the moment. We don’t pick the notes or the rhythm or the “melody”… it picks us. We become conduits in a reactive state. The only note that matters is the first one. All the others are just following that one, dealing with it, responding and trying to put something together that (hopefully) to the audience is obvious that it is being done right there, for the first time, in the moment of performance. The band and the audience are all hearing this for the first time, together. That’s where the energy is, the freedom. I think we even became snobs about this. Playing with really great bands that went out there and did their duty started to seem laughable.

So the story of Dan setting himself on fire needs to be re-told. As I remember hearing it, he was wearing a sweater soaked in oil, and then had to give some bogus excuse to the hospital, so as not to be sent to the mental institution?
Dan: I think Shawn did a fine job explaining things thus far and I would be happy to carry the torch (so to speak… ha!) a little further in regards to “the fire incident”. A little explanation may be in order, as one does not come to the decision of lighting themselves on fire in a vacuum or should do so without good reason… unless they’re completely nuts. You make the call! Ha!
Anyway, the night of July 27th, 1997 was definitely one to remember! We were asked to play a show with some local faves: extremist hardcore-punk heroes Dropdead, along with the avant sounds of Forcefield and the legendary act Men’s Recovery Project headlining the night. Of course we jumped at the chance to play on such a sick bill, and I remember thinking we’d really have to make an impression playing with such heavy hitters, which leads me to some necessary background info.
The music we were working on at that time was quite unconventional. It was a very exciting atmosphere with all kinds of customized instrumentation and frequent line-up changes. With most of us the living in the same building, we were able to play all the time, but purposely didn’t do a lot of arranging other than the most basic outlines as Shawn already mentioned. We wanted that open and spontaneous feeling to be conveyed foremost over rigid form. It was an odd blending of post-punk, noise and electronica without the contrived efforts of creating a certain sound or fitting into a specific genre. The vibe of the music felt very dark, yet had an energy that was not apathetic or depressing (as some music with that tone can easily fall into) but had more of a cathartic and psychedelic effect on me. I had only recently become the vocalist of the band (itself a result in spontaneous combustion as Shawn also already explained) and quickly found myself immersed in a new sense of freedom of expression and performance.
This is where my head was at the time. I had always been into the idea of the spectacle and embraced the dramatic performances of some of the more peculiar bands that I witnessed as a youth. As a member of the local music scene here in Providence (since my teenage years) I was fortunate to be a part of a very exciting time in the development of underground music of the mid/late 1980s. It was very reactionary – rock, metal, punk and then hardcore had pretty much run their course and underground musicians all over the country once again began tinkering with new sounds and influences that were not necessarily connected to music. I saw a ton of bands play during those years but what I was really impressed with were the ones whose performances were on the more wild/experimental side. These were the groups that rose above the limitations of their specific style and sometimes exhibited almost superhuman attributes to their performances. I witnessed acts where the vocalists would cut their faces up and bleed all over the place or jump into the crowd only to land on their head and crawl back to the stage. I saw all kinds of shit that blew my mind as a teen and it really made an impression on me. That a “live” band should kick your ass, not only sonically but physically as well, and that the band’s energy should be projected outwards and not drain those bearing witness… yawn! Anyway, these are some of the things that helped create and inform my sensibilities about how I thought music should be made and performed (more specifically with Landed) and which ultimately lead to “the fire incident” which was (ironically) only hastily “practiced” the night before without much forethought or planning. I was not looking for a death-wish or trying to reenact some type of Buddhist monk self-immolation political statement (although I was very fascinated by those dudes), I just thought it would come of as visually stunning (in other words…crazy as shit!) and stir things up a bit for the “I’ve seen it all ‘arms folded’ Providence crowd”, and I can say that because it takes one to know one – ha! It was something I would have wanted to see myself – fire is a powerful thing, and it always arouses the human mind both positively and negatively, for better or worse. Although I wasn’t originally looking to get seriously injured, I soon found out it would end up costing me several weeks of some hard-ass healing time and more than a few painful nights being stuck to my sheets. All this being said (in hindsight of course) I do have to admit that it was definitely some sort of mixed/confused act of perverted/subverted/vanity/bravado/masochistic type of shit, which (for a time) seemed to only escalate with each Landed show thereafter.
So, back to the story: from the assumption that we would be the openers of the show (being the “newest” band on the bill) and reacting to the ominous droning sounds of J Ryan’s Moog synth, Shawn’s psychedelic “slide” bass/Optigan and Joel’s relentless tribal-like drumming at practice that week, I was inspired to come up with an idea that would initiate the perfect mood for the entire evening. Something that would not only startle the crowd, but also let the headliner know how dead serious we were about music/performance and our commitment to both. We had rehearsed our set for the show at least a couple times in the proceeding week in typical Landed fashion, going over an amalgamation of a few pre-arranged riffs but still relying on a lot of improvisation, a craft we were just beginning to hone – using very little to create something much larger than just the sum of it’s parts.
Having the fortunate position of being the first band on that night, we were able to set up our equipment/sound-check and then leave it there, ready to play. When we were finally told to hit the stage, I hung back in the dressing room while Shawn and J started warming up the stage with a creepy ambient intro vibe. I quickly removed the t-shirt I had been wearing and put on the polypropylene thermal underwear top I brought to douse in rubbing alcohol as I had practiced the night before, and with a last minute decision to use a little more accelerant than originally planned, I quickly found out it definitely would do the trick. I remember ditching the lighter as soon as my right arm went up as I ran out towards the stage. I tried to make it to the microphone but I went up in flames so fast that I completely knocked it over trying to get my shirt (now partially melted and still on fire) off of me. I was supposed to grab the mic and we would then all kick into the set together but it didn’t go quite as planned, but as you can see in the clip on YouTube, Joel did actually wait for me to get the mic in hand and then we all hit that shit as hard as we could for just over twenty minutes, if I remember correctly.
It’s funny that it has been almost seventeen years since that night, but it still feels so fresh in my mind. I clearly remember running out, knocking over the mic, seeing people backing up with terrified faces, ripping my shirt off, hitting the ground, grabbing the mic, screaming bloody murder (the lyrics I wrote for the main riff were “United States of pee / suck on my… techno pussy”), then jumping back onto my shirt (still on fire) and rolling around on it, then picking it up and throwing it all the while thinking to myself am I going to get into serious trouble here? I remember crawling around on the floor through the crowd, licking the floor, grabbing people’s feet, doing some weird version of the “windmill” slipping and sliding around in my own pool of lymph. I also remember a “cold” feeling beginning to encircle my neck and armpit, only later to discover that was where my skin was most burnt.
After our set, I quickly made my way to the men’s room to get some water. The vocalist for Men’s Recovery Project, Sam McPheeters, came in and asked if Landed wanted to put out a record on his label. He wrote a little piece about our “meeting” in the men’s room in his rag Shooting Space a couple of years later.
After much suggestion by a few buds, I finally drove myself to the hospital after having a look at myself in a mirror. I wanted to stay for the rest of the show but my lips were black (what was left of them) and my body was still smoking (steaming?). I wasn’t really in any sort of pain, I just felt cold. I was in shock, but still quite lucid considering the situation. By the time I got to the hospital my adrenaline must have worn off, because I definitely began hurting all over quite a bit and I remember not being able to stop my legs from nervously shaking – and then the throbbing set in, a pulse that seemed to have no end. The nurse who interviewed me upon arrival asked me what happened and I told her that I was a performance artist and had an accident during a show. I explained that it was an unexpected result of a poorly practiced piece involving rubbing alcohol and fire. I have to admit, I was a little nervous that they might send me to the funny farm for further analysis, but luckily I was coherent enough to be believed and the nurse was open-minded enough to take my story at face value as the truth. Which it was… for the most part anyway. I left out a few minor details, but nothing that was going to inhibit my treatment in the emergency room, namely the shot of Demerol that was offered to me.
Meanwhile, back at the Met, Forcefield was on next and decided to pump the club full of carbon monoxide via a scooter and a very long hose hitched up to the exhaust pipe….slowly poisoning the crowd. Then the Dropdead boys leaked lighter fluid across the stage and onto the floor of the club before setting it ablaze. Finally Men’s Recovery Project went on and did their thing as well, but unfortunately I can only recall what other people have told me of the rest of the show because I was at the hospital for most of it and was released only in time to get back to help with the equipment at the end of the night.
Note: this show and its display/use of extreme themes took place years before the somewhat recent tragic event concerning an infamous Rhode Island night-club and its irresponsible negligence for the death of a hundred music fans. A display of this sort would not likely ever happen again without serious fines and perhaps legal ramifications that no band would be interested in seeking out.
The aftermath: most of my face was somehow saved and only slightly burned, but my lips were burnt to a black crisp. They eventually fell off after a few days, revealing a fresh pair of pink ones underneath. My earlobes dripped a yellowish liquid/gel for about a week. My nose had a similar situation going on for about the same amount of time. My neck and chest were covered with very painful second-degree burns in some spots, healing time about three weeks. My hands were only slightly burned with a couple of spots having second degree lesions, healing time about two weeks. One of my armpits got the worst of it, maybe when I pulled the burning shirt off? There was a huge chunk of second-degree burns and a couple of third-degree burn holes as seen on the back cover of Landed’s How Little Will it Take (photo taken after about a week of healing), healing time about a month. Fortunately all of my burns healed with minimal physical permanency, but I can’t fully ascertain what the experience did to me psychologically. Those scars will last forever… just kidding! They’ve just been converted into tattoos.
Some people have asked me if I would ever consider doing it again. My answer: no, it’s kind of something you only have to do once.
Joel: I remember when the backstage door opened. The audience could not see in the door, just the people on stage. Shawn had set up in the crowd and J and I were on the stage. It looked like a second sun had risen when that fucking door kicked open. J and I shot each other a look I will never forget, something like, “Our friend seems to be in serious trouble, but we both know he’d rather have us push on…” And so we did. The second Dan hit the mic, my arms came down on the drums and the whole place “lit” up. Some people made for the door right away, thinking something really awful and unexpected had happened. But for those who stayed…

Amazing. So, in moving forward with Vermiform, and putting out your debut album and 10″ EP… what was your thought process behind transitioning Landed from a live entity to a recorded one? Were you trying to capture the live show on tape, or do something completely different?
Dan: I handled some of our earliest studio recording efforts, and we basically set out to document what we would do live by recording the set a couple of times and picking out the one we liked best. We would then do minimal overdubbing if needed. We used a Yamaha 8-track so it was a very straightforward approach and it made the most sense economically. We would then take it to somewhere to be mixed and mastered.
We also recorded at Six Finger Satellite’s studio, The Parlour for a few sessions. They had a much more traditional recording setup with a proper mixing board and separate tape machines. But even with access to that equipment, we usually went for the “live” vibe and tracked most of the material together in the same room, reacting off each other as if it was a live performance. It wasn’t until much later (more recent Landed recordings) that we would sometimes create something completely in the studio and then “learn” to play it for a live show, mainly due to all of us living in different parts of the country, etc.
Joel: At first, the live energy seemed to be pretty important. Dan had a cassette 8-track that we recorded on, and Dan had this amazing King Tubby-style of live mixing that was pretty unique and gives the recordings he did a really singular, unique sound. But yes, at first I think that’s what we were after. Then Shawn began to evolve as an engineer and all-around digital bad-ass, and the stuff started getting more refined in the recording. For me personally, the recording always followed the live shows in order of importance. Landed was one-night only, night after night. Andre Breton famously said “always for the first time”. For me, that was Landed.
Shawn: Specifics on the releases would be a lot to get into, as almost every one was handled in a different way. Sometimes with the intention that it would become a record, and sometimes simply recorded to remember what we did that day in rehearsal. I remember that the Times I Despise 12″ was recorded entirely live to stereo DAT. Rick set up some mics to record the set after we got back from a tour. Our intention wasn’t that the recording would become a record. We recorded that in 2001 and the 12″ was released in 2006. Then, we were simply documenting where we were at with the songs after touring. Recordings were often just for us. Of course, we wanted to put out records, but we never felt the need to make that a priority.
Those early recordings that Dan did on his 8-track underscored for me how difficult it is to capture the live set. The context of the live performance is simply gone. The volume, the physicality of the performance, the sight, smell, interactions with the audience, etc. What I’ve always liked about recordings was the possibility to get a new perspective on the live event, mostly from the positioning and selection of mics, but also in post, with mixing, processing, and editing. It was important that we always had mobile recording setups, so that wherever we rehearsed there was some device recording. Sometimes we had the foresight to use a multi-track and set up mics properly. Other times, it was simply a stereo mic, placed a little closer to the drums than the amps. The released recordings reflect that range.
Recording definitely became a form of “instant replay” during rehearsals. We used recordings to pick apart what we did, to understand the dynamics that emerged and figure out where we wanted to go. I remember listening to recordings of rehearsals between rehearsals again and again. Repeated listening was preparation. It helped to find new directions.

You mention touring – how much did Landed tour back in the ’90s? As someone who never lived in Providence, I feel like Landed was so directly linked to that town and the Fort Thunder scene, that I’m wondering if audiences elsewhere were as receptive to your live performance. Was it a big difference, playing other cities?
Joel: Landed didn’t properly “tour” all that much, considering the amount of time we were actively playing. We’ve played as far west as Texas, so half of the country had the chance at some point to see Landed. Most of them didn’t. In keeping with the overall ethos of a band that can never die / have a permanent lineup / play a song consistently / do an encore, touring also wasn’t something we managed to fully embrace. I can’t totally say why even, other than that sort of planning, maybe, seemed too imposing. Our duty was to the music, and we really didn’t give a shit about much else.
When we did tour, people in other cities either had no clue and no one showed up, or people showed up and were really psyched to see us. On our first tour (1997) we were “the new Vermiform band”, so that helped get people out and provide a context for what we were doing. Pretty quickly we developed a reputation as a wild live show, so people came out for that as well, often with unrealistic expectations. Because our most active period was before everyone had a video and still camera in their pocket, the actual insanity wasn’t preserved for everyone to witness on YouTube. What remains instead is legend, which has a certain power over the imagination that we definitely embraced and fed upon. People were expecting us to tear our heads off or spit blood sometimes, because they’d “heard” it had happened somewhere before. That energy and expectation on their part fed into the intensity and purpose with which we played and most often made for a memorable evening. I think that we were lucky that way, to be active pre-internet. Don’t take me as some codger, but there really was something amazing to the way tales were twisted and exaggerated, and how those twists produced expectations that were sort of born on their own, the bastard children of what had really happened. And then that becomes the new reality that the band exists in. And that was sort of Landed’s goal all along in some way. To produce situations that created their own temporary “rules”, and then to operate inside that rule-set. And then to immediately break those rules.

Do you consider Landed to be a “Vermiform band”? Was there any camaraderie amongst the rest of the label’s roster at that time?
Shawn: Neil Burke lived in Providence for years, and Sam McPheeters relocated Vermiform to Providence for a time. We did the Why I Live 10″ and Everything’s Happening album with Vermiform. Load put out the Dairy 4 Dinner 7″ in between those Vermiform releases. Besides some comp tracks, those three releases were all of Landed’s recorded output until 2006, when we started releasing things from the archives and recording some new material.
Though our recorded output wasn’t a lot during our most active period as a live band (1997-2002), I think we did identify as a Vermiform band. Simultaneously, we were a Load Records band. Though in the big picture, we’ve always been a Providence band through and through.
With Vermiform, the camaraderie was mostly with Neil and Sam, and other Men’s Recovery Project members and associates we met through them. Neil performed in Landed on a number of occasions (including “Dairy 4 Dinner”), and Joel and I did one recording session as the rhythm section for Men’s Recovery Project, the outcome of which was the track “Sexual Pervert” released on the Grappling with the Homonids MRP/Sinking Body split LP.
Joel: I felt there totally was, at least with Sam and Neil. Neil Burke was a close friend of the band’s, and often played with us. Shawn outlined that relationship already. Funny thing is it still now feels a bit family-style. Sam McPheeters lives in Claremont, CA, and I see him as often as anyone sees that crazy hermit. And the only employee Vermiform ever had – Anthony Berryman – is one of my closest friends here in LA, the singer from a past LA band of mine called Megafuckers.

I’d say Landed were pretty unique and somewhat influential – I can’t think of any bands who sounded like Landed before Landed. Was there ever a point where you started noticing other bands who kind of adopted Landed’s style, one way or another? How did that feel?
Shawn: In thinking about bands that were influential on Landed, I’m sure we could each list important artists, records, labels, or live experiences that were formative. But rather than that, I’d focus on the bands we were connected to in-person. I think these relationships were key to Landed’s growth, what made us think about what we were doing. I think Men’s Recovery Project was certainly an influence. There was this mixture of absurdist performance, rock music, and sometimes odd / sometimes standard instrumentation that made sense to us. Joel and I had gone to see MRP in Philadelphia well before Landed started and before we became friends with those guys. I remember Hose Got Cable played the same show (with John Skaritza from MRP and Rah Bras on drums). I managed to see MRP another time in San Francisco. Must have been 1996.
Another clear influence is Six Finger Satellite. Dan has known those guys forever. Joel and I had seen them play while we were students at RISD, but didn’t become friends with them till 1997. Shortly after we did, Rick and J were doing stints in Landed, with Rick quickly becoming a core member. There was some crossover the other way too. Joel and I were in 6FS from 1999-2001, and Dan joined for the most recent lineup.
Another important influence is Dropdead. This town would be nowhere without those guys. Other Providence bands too, we played a lot of shows with Lightning Bolt and Arab on Radar. Just looking over the Load Records roster, there’s a lot of clear connection points and intersections. A lot of short-lived bands that sparked other short-lived bands that have impacted what might be a Providence sound.
Personally, I don’t have a good sense of Landed’s influence on other bands. I think certain aspects of what we did were unique, but I’d locate that somewhere in our overall approach and attitude to making music. I think we rubbed off on other bands in Providence, like they rubbed off on us. I’ll meet people from time to time, who know our records better than I do, which is cool. I’m glad there’s people that really care, and I’d be absolutely honored if some newer bands were using Landed’s approach as a model to build upon. If they do, I’d rather that they think more about our process and how that might lead them to new places rather than trying to emulate what’s on our records or what happened in our performances.
Joel: Wow, I’d say unique, but I don’t know about influential. We ran around in the pre-internet days, or at least we weren’t participating in it when it came around, so we didn’t hear much from other folks about our influence. I think that a band can become legendary in two ways. 1. You play forever and tour everywhere and everyone gets to see your thing. 2. You play a ton for a short time, in a small geographic region, to the same few people every time, and hardly anyone gets to see your thing… but then people hear the stories and the records after the fact. We were a #2 band. Sam still has a garage full of Everything’s Happening records. I look at their dust-covered boxes every time I go over to his house.

You guys all seem pretty keen on wild performances, improvisation, general ‘out-there’ musical behavior… were there any particular moments with Landed that really shocked you? Any shows, or recording sessions, or random run-ins with a fan on the street that took you completely out of your comfort zone or freaked you out?
Joel: A million of them. One small example: we played a sports bar in New Bedford that was horrifying. Large screen TVs showing Friends when we were loading in. Patrons mumbling that it “looks like they have AIDS” (not kidding). We brought Dwyer’s rooster in a box with us. As we played the locals moved in as though they were going to kill us, yelling threats at us. Dan is carrying the box around under his arm for the first ten minutes of the set while singing. Just when violence seemed imminent, we start really going crazy and Dan pulls the rooster out by its feet and raises it above his head at full arms-length, it’s body puffed up and wings flapping and feathers everywhere and us still ripping. The crowd shut the fuck up after that. There are many many stories like this. It could be an entire other article. It’s almost too much work to even begin thinking about these moments.
More details of personal shock and awe:
– Headlining the No Fun Fest in Brooklyn, watching Dan get sucked horizontally, about three feet above the floor, feet-first into a jam-packed basement crowd of the – what was that club’s name? It was sincerely out of a horror movie, some zombie-apocalypse kind of shit. That’s the only time I’ve ever seen real fear in Dan’s eyes, truly. My kit was being torn apart by the surging crowd, I didn’t know how long it could last, I had busted my finger at the beginning of the set, and then the look in Dan’s eyes… The crowd closed around him like quicksand, around his shoulders and head and then outstretched arm and hand and fingers and then he was just gone. If they’d told me he was dead I wouldn’t have been shocked.
– Taking the stage at Sudsy Malone’s in Cincinnati to the bartender and his two friends, on tour with Arab On Radar. We decided to have two of those guys play with us that night. I got off the drums and grabbed a guitar. Eric (AOR singer) was playing my kit, Craig (AOR drummer) was playing something else, Shawn and Dwyer out front. We start playing. Dan’s not around but that wasn’t uncommon – we’d often start without him, either by design or circumstance. After a minute or two I hear his primate growl come over the PA, and I sense his presence behind me. He’s close enough now that I also hear him just straight yelling, along with the PA. Without turning I begin to lean sideways and into Dan, not an uncommon move when I’m playing the guitar. He stinks. Also not uncommon. After about ten seconds I turn to face him, and it’s this crazy homeless guy from out in front of the club who we had met earlier. He had told us he was BB King’s cousin. Dan had brought him in and gave him the mic and set him loose. I looked through the club into the laundromat that was located at the back of the club, and Dan’s standing there behind a washer with his arms crossed laughing his ass off. There were more people there doing their laundry then had come to see us. The Assistant District Attorney of Cincinnati was there doing her laundry. After the show she took both bands out drinking in this fancy part of town, and then back to her condo to stay the night. I think there were nine of us.
– First tour, Pittsburgh, some second-story joint… a cafe? During the set Dan takes an intentional tumble down the flight of stairs we had hauled our gear up. This was an obscenely long flight of stairs. Dan ends up on the street, mic in hand but with no cord – keeps singing. He eventually finds his way back inside and up to the club just as Shawn and I close out the set. Afterwards, two high-school girls, who had just finished talking to Dan, ask Shawn and I, in all seriousness, what country Dan is from. We tell them Rhode Island.
– Baltimore – Store front, all ages show – first note of the set, Dwyer knocks a kid out cold with the head of his guitar.
Shawn: It’s almost hard to think of a Landed show where I wasn’t surprised by what unfolded! Partly this is attributable to whatever we had “set up” collectively (the known) and what the repercussions would be (the unknown). For the other part, this was due to what individuals or factions within the band planned ahead in semi-secrecy; here I’m thinking mostly of antics. The “Dairy 4 Dinner” set sticks out in my mind. We played at the Living Room and set up in a side-room bar which had tile floors. Dan carted in and dumped what seemed like 1,000 gallons of ice cream which quickly turned the entire room into a giant, sticky slip-n-slide. People flailed around on the dairy-soaked floor. One of the things I remember most about that night is that Randy, the owner of the Living Room, hung out with us way past closing, pouring us shots after we mopped up our mess. Rewardable behavior.
Other highlights involved firecrackers-in-pants, hidden seaweed, poultry assists, various props like scythes, full duct-tape body coverage, quasi-hallucinations, questionable costume choices, ill-fitting lingerie, pants-free percussion, welts, bruises, blood, mustache trimming, phenomenal crowd maneuvering, and stampede-like situations. I could go on. The “I Can’t Get Hurt” set also stands out. A week or so after the show where Dan had set himself on fire, we were back for another performance. Dan didn’t miss a step, no shirt, covered in his burns, belting it out. I feel like the fire show was a question, and that show was the answer.

Why did you go with the standard rock-group structure of bass/drums/guitar/vocals for Landed? From the way you describe the group’s general thought process and aesthetic choices, it sounds like Landed could have just as easily existed as synths and saxophones, or four guys on drums, or any sort of musical configuration. Was it important that the group was presented as a ‘normal’ rock group?
Joel: Landed often was synths and saxophones! We mixed that up quite a bit. But I think to a degree it was important to have the band have a consistent nod towards a traditional instrument set. Doing what we do with traditional instruments seems more radical and less obvious than slamming on a table of pedals (though we have had our share of pedal slamming!). The ability to make “new” sounds coming together with these traditional instruments felt amazing, like we were defiling these things that were meant to be treated in a particular way. I think that’s a big part of the Landed ethos – defilement. As much as we were celebrating this new way of being, we were very conscious to be sure that we were violating something, sullying its reputation, leaving it beaten down and exposed. To revel in something made while simultaneously exposing its making.
Shawn: There’s been lots of times when it hasn’t been a bass/drums/guitar/vocals set-up. In the mix we’ve had double drums, multiple synths, multiple vocalists, tapes, saxophone, harmonica, slide guitars, mixers + effects, and more. I think the largest line-up was the “Dirty Bomb” set where we expanded to seven members on stage; the smallest is probably the three piece (Dan, Joel, and I) doing vocals, drums, bass. For a good hunk of the 4-piece stuff, it was double guitars with one on the low end. The rotating membership has contributed to reconfigured instrumentation. There was an era when it was Rick, Joel, and I (drums and double guitars). Joel and I sang in that line-up without microphones. We could yell loud back then. A tour when it was Dan, Brian Gibson, and I (vocals, drums, bass). That tour was done with no rehearsals beforehand, just got in the Bronco with the gear. Totally improvised, one night building on the next. A classic line-up was a 5-piece. Joel and John Dwyer on guitars. Rick on drums, me on bass, Dan singing. Dwyer and Dan were always unplugging each other, not always by accident. Some of the more recent recordings feature the non-standard rock-arrangements. “Blow Your Burger,” for instance, is all synth, drums, and vocals (zero guitars). I think it’s important that we’ve oscillated between what’s considered a standard rock arrangement and what’s not.

Will there be any more Landed records?
Joel: Absolutely. Sands of Darkness. 2014. Get ready.

Reviews – February 2014

Adjowa 8 Ball 12″ (Happy Skull)
I loved the Systems Of Desire 12″ that came out on Happy Skull so damn much that I picked up this Adjowa EP solely because it’s the second release from that label. Now that I’ve heard it a few times, I can confidently confirm that it didn’t toss me against the wall like Systems Of Desire did, but it’s still a healthy, blood-pumping slab of sleek and modern dance music. “8 Ball” feels like a more house-inflected version of something out of the Night Slugs camp, like an Egyptrixx track if Egyptrixx was willing to turn off the weird for a few minutes. Sophisticated and sleek without feeling remotely pretentious, and you can dance to it at any moment. The flipside screws with me a bit, in that the Funkineven remix of “Red Leather” precedes the original version – some sort of deeply-rooted anal neurosis makes me uncomfortable when presented with this backwards order. Even though I am currently sweating and shaking, I will adhere to Adjowa’s ordering system and tell you that the Funkineven remix is a solid if unexciting “club tool”, like a lull between Alden Tyrell and Sebastian Tellier tracks on some fancypants Fabric mix, while the original version that follows is a dramatically different trip, sounding like you’re stepping in some fresh sand at a Sandals resort that hasn’t had its carpet updated since it was first installed in 1983. Pretty nice trio of grooves here, and certainly enough to leave me eager for whatever Happy Skull #3 ends up being.

Angie Turning LP (Easter Bilby)
Angie is the diva-fied moniker of Angela Bermuda, a modern-day Aussie rock goddess who features (and featured) prominently in Circle Pit, Straight Arrows, Southern Comfort and Ruined Fortune, along with surely more projects I am omitting. Circle Pit will always hold a special place in my heart, so I was excited to experience the Angie side of life, but I dunno… I’m not really feeling Turning. Mostly all music sounds better when slowed down a bit, but I’m not sure garage-rock is a genre where that’s the case – at the sluggish pace many of these tracks roll, I just find myself getting bored and antsy for something else. It’s not like there’s any righteous groove to settle into, or powerful riffing I can slowly raise my fists to, sadly. The cover art looks cool and all, she’s all tortured and depressed and her guitar is the only thing saving her from certain doom, but the recording isn’t grabbing me, and neither are the songs. I didn’t dig Turning at first, tried sticking with it, and it’s still as much of a chore to listen to as it was the first time. Oh well! I’m just going to politely forget this album exists and continue to eagerly anticipate whatever Angela Bermuda kicks up next.

Axis:Sova Past The Edge / Grading On A Curve 7″ (Richie)
Richie Records doesn’t usually release music by artists in lackluster-cheesesteak territory (you know, anywhere outside of greater metropolitan Philadelphia), but the label’s A&R team clearly knows no bounds when it comes to bare-knuckle rock n’ roll. That’s how we got this Axis:Sova single, a dude from Chicago who is not afraid to objectify the female body (just check the dudely cover art). “Past The Edge” is a lo-fi riff-rocker somewhere in Human Eye’s orbit, driving on a drum machine beat and perfect for one of those scenes in an ’80s movie where teenagers are skateboarding through a city center together, ruffling the feathers of adults and pigeons alike. “Grading On A Curve” veers into Not Not Fun and Blues Control territory with its gooey haze, like you’re just feeling the echoed effects of a Cheap Trick stadium gig from across town, riding your bike in its general direction. I’ll admit, I’m a little surprised this one is on Richie, and probably the label’s weakest 2013 offering, not because it sucks (it doesn’t), but because the competition was stiff. Really gonna need to hear some more Axis:Sova to fully cast my vote, I just hope he leaves his Playboy collection at home next time…

Basic House Oats LP (Alter)
Seems like so many people are throwing around the word ‘house’ in their project or label name these days while deliberately not sounding like house music – is this the electronic equivalent to all those garage-rock bands calling themselves ‘(Something) Girls’ even though they’re all dudes? Whatever, I’m not hating, as I dig the name “Basic House” and the sandblasted noiseworks of Oats. For as non-musical as Emptyset and Andy Stott and Kerridge are, Basic House one-ups them on the extreme abstract-noise quotient, essentially forgoing any chance at making someone move their body thanks to its elongated static shock, industrial malfunctions and unsanitary electronic waste – it’s almost like a musical journey into the birth of the iPhone you are currently sexting with. Loops factor into Oats on more than one occasion, and I suppose you might be expected to bob your head to the pace of a track like “B.G. Feathers”, but I’ve seen videos of people bobbing their heads to Vomir performances – it’s 2014, all bets are off. Basic House is maximal industrial-technoise for the non-music Kye set, and I am delighted to have made its acquaintance.

Burial Rival Dealer 12″ (Hyperdub)
Just like 2012, Burial sneaks an EP into the end of the year. To think of it, no one has ever seen Burial and Santa in the same room at the same time! Kinda makes you wonder… anyway, this new one is really fantastic. Three tracks, mostly following Burial’s recent extended-mix approach to production, and I swear he leaves the “rain” sound effect on for the entirety of this EP – there should be a flood warning by the time it wraps up. “Rival Dealer” has a propulsive, almost nasty beat when it gets down to it, working those beautiful Burial-ized vocals on a nearly hardcore rhythm – had he called this track “Jack To The Groove (Matrix Mix)” no one would complain. “Hiders” is an uplifting ambient skyscape, and “Come Down To Us” is like five movies in one, all cinematic and beautiful and surprising on more than one occasion. The two longer cuts almost play out similarly to Madlib’s production style, jumping from one idea to the next with an occasionally jarring transition, but it’s all so provocative and alien-sounding and immersive that it’s like you are witnessing a dramatic piece of art, rather than waiting to bounce or shake to the groove. Even as Ableton software starts coming with Burial pre-sets, the originator remains as original and fantastic as ever. See you next Christmas?

Chaos Channel (Magic Bullet) – That Works To Feed The Pig 7″ (SPHC)
I only know a handful of people that have been beaten by cops, and don’t know anyone personally affected by nuclear war, so while those classic punk tropes are still meaningful to me, a song like Chaos Channel’s “New Stupid Piece Of Shit That Doesn’t Fucking Work” is an anthem. I’ll pump my fist and push the guy in front of me in the crowd if any band decides to play this tune at a show I’m attending, it’s just that relatably infuriating. That’s the b-side of this single, the a-side being the less electrifying “The Birds, Singing At Non-Reality”, which features some of the most technically-precise little drum-fills I’ve ever heard, to the point where I have to question if it’s an actual human behind the kit and not just King Diamond’s Snowy Shaw (that’s my code for “it’s a drum machine”). Anyway, Chaos Channel sound like generic poppy noise-crust ala The Wankys (or, umm, The Swankys too), complete with a strained Johnny Rotten vocalist and television-static guitars. Apparently they released a few records in the mid-’90s, then came back in 2010? I honestly have no idea where SPHC finds their bands – I am constantly boggled as to where any of them come from, and more importantly, how SPHC manages to find them. I like to think I’m unstumpable when it comes to obscure punk rock, but SPHC often leaves me feeling like a dork in baggy cargo shorts and a Bad Religion t-shirt at my first show whilst I peruse their catalog. Well done, sir!

Matthew De Gennaro Chuang Tzu Motherfucker LP (Soft Abuse)
Just some regular guy’s name doing an album for the Soft Abuse label… it could be field recordings of dolphins or digital grind-core, you just never know with Soft Abuse, which of course is part of the fun. Turns out De Gennaro just jams on guitar and violin (or some other stringed instrument that you can rub a bow across – I’m no maestro, I don’t know), and it’s often amazingly beautiful. These tracks generally feel like loosely structured songs, but who’s to say besides De Gennaro himself – the way his notes float and flutter in the air, it’s like watching two butterflies deep in a mating ritual, their movements just as likely to be specific dance moves as reactions to the breeze. Serious springtime meadow vibes, which is not what I usually associate with avant-garde solo violin, and that might be why it feels so nice, particularly as I am currently located in the center of a polar vortex. It’s still weird enough for Soft Abuse (especially when De Gennaro feels the need to speak), but I could see him tagging along with Steve Gunn for a weekend in an Appalachian cabin and making more organic musical magic.

E.A.T.E.R. Doomsday Troops – 5-Spårs E.P. 7″ (Loud Punk)
Hard to go wrong with Swedish hardcore punk circa 1983, and this reissue of Ernst And The Edsholm Rebels’ 7″ (let’s just call them E.A.T.E.R.) is no exception to the rule. The cover looks cool (I will never not love when punk kids got together to pose in front of a brick wall for their back cover shot), and just like the art, E.A.T.E.R. get the music right too. Somewhere between the bristles-and-spikes punk rock of No Future records and the Euro-hardcore assault of The Headcleaners and Kaaos do Ernst And The Edsholm Rebels fall, with punchy drums, gang-vocal choruses and a singer who probably got kicked out of class on a frequent basis. The songs have titles like “Violence” and “Religion”, and I dunno, what else do you want me to say? After a while with these classic hardcore and punk 7″ reissues, it feels like I’m trying to write a description for someone who has never eaten a chocolate chip cookie – just eat one, you idiot! What’s your problem!

Exorcisms Love Gone Bad / Two With Half 7″ (Exorcisms)
The band name, along with the cover shot of the group performing live in a murky green haze, had me wondering who would win this comparison challenge, Robert Smith or Ian Curtis, but nope! Exorcisms side-step the nu-goth-gaze I was expecting for something far more unexpected. Let me explain – for all the writing in their one-sheet about garage-rock, Black Flag, The Gories, Funkadelic (?), and Golden Earring (???), “Love Gone Bad” is straight up ’50s sock-hop rock, the sort of mid-set slow-dance that gives Fonzie and his poodle-skirt-wearing partner a quick breather. Why would anyone willingly write a song like this in 2013 or whatever? I can only admire their chutzpah. I was waiting for “Two With Half” to peel back my skull, and while it’s certainly faster, it’s like a guitar-school mix of “Hot For Teacher” and “Strutter”, the sort of music that routinely hits the stage at your least favorite bar or club in the town you live. I truly don’t get what would possess this band to share these songs in vinyl form, or how multiple people would be willing to commit such a crime of taste – someone like Jandek should sit up and take note. If you really wanna screw with someone’s head, tell them you are punk and then go out and sound like Exorcisms instead.

James Ferraro NYC, Hell 3:00 AM 2xLP (Hippos In Tanks)
The world would be a duller place without James Ferraro in it, that much is clear. I have laughed at more of his cover imagery than any other recent artist I can think of, and I never feel like I’m laughing at him – there is clearly a demonic, fried mind (penetrated by both drugs and ’90s Nickelodeon) at work here, and he has a willingness to do something that clearly sucks, even in the face of the rest of the world saying “stop doing that – it sucks”. Far Side Virtual sucked in a way that the whole underground had to stop what they were doing and take notice, a real colorful regurgitation of today’s Bluetooth-connected world, and this new one, NYC, Hell 3:00 AM is a less stupid, “better” work, and I am glad to say in this particular case, being “good” works in Ferraro’s favor. I presume from the title that I am supposed to picture a modern-day Manhattan at night, consisting of darkness, neon ads, lonely strangers and the occasional loud R&B thumping out of a passing car that guides you to your destination. The music mostly follows a modern sort of post-dubstep / post-radio-pop sadness template (not too far from what Hype Williams or oOoOO were doing), filled with dejected loops and autotuned vocals crooning about whatever. There is really no good reason for me to not be sick of amateurish auto-tuned pop-diva vocals at this point, of which Ferraro is frequently guilty here, yet I could pop this record on at any time and find myself enjoying it. I love art that is either fascinating or really stupid or both, and that has proven to be Ferraro’s signature recipe.

Full Ugly Drove Down / Back Shed 7″ (Bedroom Suck)
Full Ugly seems like an inappropriate name for a band that creates such pretty music. It’s the sort of band name that should be reserved for an Antiseen side project, not a band that writes songs like “Drove Down”, a wistful little indie tune that jumps the gap from REM to The Clean, picking up some Sarah Records dust along the way. Feels like two nerds on a date in the rain, just as the clouds part and the sun starts peeking through. “Back Shed” feels similar, reminding me of Seapony (although I fear that I may be the only person who ever really listened to Seapony) or maybe if Boomgates had a bookish, wimpy sibling, shuffling some jazzy moves toward the end. Pretty pleasant stuff all around from Full Ugly, although I do hope Bedroom Suck finds it in their heart to put out some more punk records soon. Wait, I guess they just did a Per Purpose album that I missed… sorry Full Ugly, you’re cool and all but I have other things to worry about.

Peter Gutteridge Pure 2xLP (540 / Xpressway)
Two things that don’t really intrigue me are reissues of obscure cassettes from the ’80s and that whole Xpressway / Flying Nun scene, so needless to say, I wasn’t tearing away at the shrinkwrap on Peter Gutteridge’s Pure like a madman or anything – I calmly opened it as thought it were another cable bill. Perhaps that was the perfect disinterested mindset to give Mr. Gutteridge a spin, though, as this is a pretty righteous album after all. Throughout the numerous songs on here, Gutteridge finds the missing thread between Lou Reed and Bruce Haack, the thread that never quite left the bedroom but was too comfortable under the covers anyway. Lots of light strumming with too-cool vocals, weird keyboards and jacked synths, guitars that sound like they are distorted through tiny amps, all sorts of cool stuff that works best as one large collection (of which this is). Pure can swing from a diet Suicide to a decade-early prediction of Floating Di Morel with ease – there’s really nothing to dislike about the clumsy pop and understated experiments that fill up this record. Shame on me for having any doubts!

Laurel Halo Chance Of Rain LP (Hyperdub)
Laurel Halo has been one of the biggest breakthrough techno artists of the past couple years (you know, breaking through from mental techno obscurists to a broader indie realm), and I’d say it’s been pretty justified – her music is usually engaging, often brilliant and always unique. I dug her last one, Quarantine, particularly for its weird vocal presentation, all up-close and unaffected, with many of the lyrics in the form of blunt, uncomfortable sentences I don’t wish to hear in public. It’s cool that she decided to drop that approach entirely for Chance Of Rain though, an instrumental record that pulls from a few disparate schools of music. In between these breezy, delightful little slices of CTI-brand jazz (Deodato or Stanley Turrentine would be proud), Halo has crafted mysterious chunks of shape-shifting techno, somewhere between Shackleton’s alien landscapes and the most recent Ricardo Villalobos records (the ones that human ears are yet to successfully decode, like his Re:ECM collaboration and the sprawling Dependent And Happy). I swear a track like “Oneiroi” even feels like the newest Burial EP at times, at least in atmosphere and tension if not tempo and rhythm. Chance Of Rain is a great experimental techno album, in that it mystifies as much as it pleases, and avoids the biggest pitfall of the genre – it’s never boring.

Heatsick Re-Engineering LP (Pan)
So I recently interviewed Heatsick, and he was charming and cool and all, but I hadn’t heard Re-Engineering at the time of the interview, and you know, what if it somehow sucked? That’s not a feeling I wanted to experience! Well, I must’ve listened to Re-Engineering about twenty times by now, and let me tell you that not only does it not suck, it is absolutely marvelous! It’s pretty much everything I liked about Heatsick before, but amplified: there are left-field slow-techno beats, hilarious deadpan vocals (and excellent lyrics), acidic techno from parts unknown, and a distinct playfulness that is quickly becoming Heatsick’s trademark. “Re-Engineering” opens the record, and sets the tone perfectly… it’s a rich stew of ’80s electro-funk, Future Times-style freakiness, a crisp DFA-style production and lyrics delivered by an automated checkout robot – the flow of the phrases “black power” and “gay Google” are so stupid and slick, it nearly brings a tear to my eye. I could write a colorful descriptive paragraph for each track here, but let me just summarize by saying there’s a great track wherein Heatsick has a one-way telephone conversation, an interlude where someone capably covers Oasis on an acoustic guitar, and a track of a few dozen exotic birds chirping away, among many notable techno jaunts. Sure, the damn thing costs $30 no matter where you are buying it, but it offers a wealth of musical enjoyment far beyond any human form of currency.

Insect Ark Long Arms 10″ (Geweih Ritual Documents)
This Insect Ark 10″ comes in a black art-paper sleeve that folds over into a snug little flap, the sort of packaging that should contain blueprints for how to rob a casino, or a date and time for a cocaine shipment that you plan on intercepting. It’s a good fit for the music of Insect Ark, who play a sort of sleazy, slow-tempo post-rock with the gusto and seediness of an old motel outside of Vegas. While I don’t think it’s the case, I can’t help but picture Insect Ark as a bunch of white guys in their 50s wearing fedoras, dress shirts buttoned half-way and big cigars dangling off their lips while “Long Arms” is played, and if the bassist ended up being George Clooney, I’d only be partially surprised. “Lift Off” has a similar vibe, but veers closer to modern-day Swans or Nick Cave due to the heavier sound, and “Symbols” wraps it all up with a post-rock sunset that wouldn’t be out of place on that weird Moin EP that the Raime guys did not too long ago. Not really a record I’ll be reaching for often, particular as its ten-inch size likes to hide in my bins, but the next time I need to settle a gambling debt with some ex-CIA meth-addict across town, I’ll be putting on Long Arms to psych myself up.

Joe Punters Step Out / Club Scared 12″ (Hemlock)
Joe has been pretty active lately, and each new 12″ is a treat – the song titles are usually curious (or downright funny), and as for the music, well who the hell knows what Joe has in store. I absolutely loved his recent Slope / Maximum Busy Muscle, a surprisingly club-oriented banger duo, and well, this new one certainly isn’t that. But I love it anyway, because why not? “Punters Step Out” is of minimal construction, and its most prominent feature is what sounds like a circus organ slowly running out of battery power, then springing back to life. I often wonder how and when Joe picks his source material, and “Punters Step Out” is no exception. “Club Scared” is closer to what I’d consider the ‘traditional’ Joe sound, rapidly ponging between wood-block claps and sprung rubber… it hits pretty hard for Joe. Then of course, the ridiculous vocal sample comes in, almost mocking you for seriously engaging with “Club Scared”. I don’t mind feeling stupid when it’s Joe that’s making me feel that way, though – I don’t understand where his brain is at, or where he gets his inspiration, and I hope I never do.

Joint D≠ Satan Is Real Again, Again, Or: Feeling Good About Feeling Good About Bad Thoughts LP (Sorry State)
I’m not a fan of long album titles, and I am getting kinda tired of old album titles being repurposed by new bands (that really should’ve started and ended with Clockcleaner’s Nevermind), so let’s just pretend this is a self-titled affair from Joint D≠, okay? After all, if you can get past all their baiting (lest we forget, their ASCII-based band name came about after a war against Juggalos), they’re a pretty satisfying melodic hardcore band that doesn’t neglect the hardcore end of the equation. First of all, it’s mostly all fast – their drummer does a pretty good Crazy Spirit-style locomotive beat when he wants, and many of these songs share the frenzied urgency of Neos. Within that sort of hectic, early Gang Green-style chaos, many of these songs share the melodic intention of Agent Orange or, dare I say it, Fucked Up. The singer has a nicely distorted boy-next-door holler, and even if I have trouble telling specific tracks apart (this album often feels like a rolling, unimpeded series of ‘parts’), there’s really no faulting what Joint D≠ are doing. Just do us all a favor and call your next album America Goes To Hell or Nuclear Cop-Killing Explosion, something punk and simple that we don’t have to think too hard about, okay?

J.T. IV Cosmic Lightning LP (Drag City / Galactic Zoo Dossier)
I missed this J.T. IV collection when it first popped up in 2008, perhaps kicking off Drag City’s modern-day role as an archaeologist of bozo-punk, proto-sleaze and hard rock of the finest quality (thanks for the Dwarr!). I guess this is pretty old news now, but Cosmic Lightning has been reissued in a nice tip-on sleeve, and for anyone else who somehow avoided hearing this five years ago, it’s a fun, catchy and confident collection of strange rock n’ roll. I might even use the word ‘radical’ to describe some of these songs, but I’d be using Bart Simpson’s definition, which wasn’t around back when J.T. IV were bugging their friends to come see them play. It’s great to imagine a time where you can do a parody of a Velvet Underground song before busting into some proto-metal jammers and then a weird acoustic ballad or two. J.T. IV and his band (other people played on this besides John Henry Timmis IV, right?) are talented musicians, and clearly didn’t get the memo that there were specific styles of rock music that bands were expected to adhere to. I remember hearing about how Fudge Tunnel got death-threat letters when they signed to Earache for not being metal enough in the ’90s, so I can only imagine the hassle it must’ve been for J.T. IV back in the day to navigate the politics of being an artist with so many stylistic jumps. The world is finally catching up to him.

Ketamines So Hot! 7″ (Hosehead)
This Ketamines single is apparently the third single of four in the “Ketamines Singles Series”, kind of a bold move for a band who ostensibly doesn’t have a very rabid following. Though if people are willing to pay money to release them, why not, I guess? “So Hot!” is kind of weirdly funky and off-kilter neo-garage, like a thrown-away demo from a collaboration between Beck and Ariel Pink which never actually existed. I flipped it over and got “New Skull Tattoo”, which has a very Dean Spunt-y vocal hopping on a chintzy carnival ride, barely making it past the height requirement. “Summer Mothers” rounds it out in a power-poppy fashion, with a quaintly amateurish delivery that belies the fact that Blink 182 could easily play these same riffs. Not really feeling Ketamines, although I certainly hold no ill will toward them – 7″ singles are cool, and if you have already completed the NOFX and Rancid 7″ singles series, Ketamines are quietly waiting to join them on your shelf.

The Love Triangle Clever Clever LP (Static Shock / Sorry State)
I had written The Love Triangle off before Clever Clever ever hit my turntable… I swore I previously heard some middling “psychedelic” rock by this group, and I dunno, I just wasn’t in the mood. I can’t tell you how quickly my day turned from bad to good when I actually did put it on though, because this record is great! Must’ve just been the generic band name, maybe I heard some other bad Love Triangle, because this is taut, rapid-fire punk rock that truly rips. I am distinctly reminded of the earliest Total Control records (before they went synth shopping) as well as the first Clorox Girls album – highly simple and fast rhythms, played with furious down-picking, fairly clean-sounding guitars (you know, for punk rock), and a vocalist whose too-cool distance and accent puts him closer to The Victims (the Aussie one) than I thought was humanly possible in 2013 (or 2014, or 2044 for that matter). You could say they sound like a mix of Red Cross and The Victims and I would smirk in agreement. I love this style of music so much, and while it’s simple, so few get it right like The Love Triangle do. More, please!

Merx 20000 Sq Ft Under The Sea LP (Permanent)
20,000 square feet is a lot of real estate for one lonely Ian Curtis impersonator and his variety of drum machines, rhythm boxes and noisemakers, don’t you think? Normally this type of guy would only need like, the mess hall of a sunken ship to set up his gear and morosely jam for a handful of anemones and an eel or two. Getting to the music, Merx is okay, if fairly typical for the modern underground – deep and unintelligible vocals, minimalist electronic exposition ala Chris & Cosey and Suicide, chiming reverb on the guitar, even a few moments of vaguely industrial clamor (complete with screamed vocals). Merx doesn’t commit to anything in particular, so much as kinda just throws it all into a casserole and hopes that, with enough salt, it’ll taste fine. (The title track, which fully consumes the b-side, particularly feels like a soft slurry of the aforementioned similar artists.) I’d say that it generally does taste pretty good – nothing really to fault here, unless you are the type of person who gets angry at any artist or band that isn’t at the top of their genre, as if music is a competition that must be won (it ain’t!). While the album title might suggest otherwise, Merx is somewhere in the middle of the current underground shift from noise to beat-oriented electronics.

Mr. Oizo Amicalement 12″ (Ed Banger)
Mr. Oizo is looking more and more like Zach Galifianakis’ Hangover character, from the looks of this cover, and that is an aesthetic decision I can get behind. Honestly, if Galifianakis was French, I’d expect him to make techno like this – energetic to the point of a tantrum, simple and effective, darkly humorous and contagiously fun. This EP almost feels like a punk single in its brevity (four tracks, only one over three minutes long), and it’s a decent if non-essential addition to Oizo’s colorful discography. Three of the tracks are standard club-work, like peak-time Boys Noize, but the one that caught my interest (and probably everyone else’s) is “Solid”, which features a choppy vocal hook courtesy of none other than Marilyn Manson. Honestly, I was a little disappointed that it’s just the one vocal line over and over again (“You look like shit when you dance”, in case you don’t feel like Googling a YouTube clip) – Manson’s voice is kind of perfect for ecstatic Ed Banger-style techno, and I really just want a whole album of Manson singing random crap over top, rather than a short sample for the hook. If not Mr. Oizo, maybe Luomo could lure Manson for his next album? Please don’t make me learn Ableton just to make this myself. Anyone got any the stems for Mechanical Animals they can WeTransfer to me?

Nah Difficult LP (Ranch)
One of the fun things about writing about random records I would’ve otherwise never heard is when I am not just turned on to something I hadn’t heard before, but I’m also surprised by it. I probably should’ve investigated the liner notes to Nah’s Difficult before putting it on, because from the label it’s on and the beardy-chinned drummer on the cover, I was expecting more No Idea Records-ish, heart-on-sleeve emo-punk. Nuts to that – Nah is just one dude, carrying an intensely focused art-mind and his drum kit, presumably with unlimited practice space access. Difficult is almost all drums, with random sounds and effects replicating bass and treble here and there, and it’s pretty killer. The opening track is intensely similar to This Heat’s “Testcard”, to the point that some might get riled up, but I get the feeling that Nah’s Michael Kuhn came to his own musical conclusions, even if coincidentally quite similar to This Heat’s. There’s a definite This Heat / early DAF vibe throughout, with lots of strange rhythms, heavy stops and starts, technical fury and a clear celebration of the post-production process. Boring as that could be, Difficult is really quite engaging, and it always feels realized, not like I’m just listening to a practice tape of semi-considered ideas. An anomalous record in more ways than one, which is why Nah has been a delightful musical surprise.

Nervous Talk Introductions 7″ (Mammoth Cave Recording Co.)
I kinda knew I’d dig this Nervous Talk single the first time I set my eyes on it – just something about it, I guess. It didn’t hurt when they kicked into “Introductions”, either – this is some classic power-pop by way of ’90s teen sitcoms. I’m picturing Zack Morris and A.C. Slater performing “Introductions”, with Screech’s cousin from out of town on vocals. Very friendly, fun, easy-going rock. Nervous Talk kick it into overdrive on “Shut It Off”, veering closer to Teengenerate than Bayside High, which is kinda good because I can only digest so much high-fructose corn syrup in a sitting. And “Hit The Town” wraps it up, splitting the tempo difference between the other two, which oddly resembles mid-’90s Screeching Weasel. I can guarantee your head won’t explode from Introductions, but I’ll enjoy a good poppy punk band any day of the week – I’ve just slated Nervous Talk for next Wednesday.

Norms Norms 7″ (Permaculture)
Finally, the world’s first Cheers-themed hardcore band! I always would’ve figured it would’ve had to do more with Woody… anyway, now that I got that out of the way, Norms are a hardcore group from Budapest, and they seem to toe the line between Youth Attack-inspired porn-mag misanthropy and regular screamy hardcore-punk. I can’t imagine what it’s like being punk in Budapest, probably not as easy as it is here in the States (although they’ve got the same internet as us, right? So Execute flexis and Tapeworm singles are just as easy to download?), so I wanna give Norms a little more leeway for sounding average, which they pretty much do. They’re good, though – the songs are full of energy and the drumming seems like it involves three hands at times, and if the singer isn’t jumping into people and flailing about when they play these songs live, they need to find a replacement. I’m not gonna recommend any of you go out and buy this 7″, it falls on the lower side of average on my hardcorometer, but if you find yourself with a trip to Budapest and want to know where the actual cool stuff goes down, you should probably find Norms on Facebook and send them a message – they seem like the type of band that’d happily show you around and compromise your conservative Eastern values in the process.

Nubs Little Billy’s Burning / Job 7″ (Last Laugh)
Last Laugh continue their streak of high quality, near-exact replicas of classic and obscure punk singles with this Nubs EP, which features the true Killed By Death classic “Job”. Unlike The Cartoons and The Joe Hebert Band, I am already intimately familiar with the punk rock greatness of both of these tracks, “Job” in particular, with its stop-start rhythm and nihilistic approach calling to mind The Crucifucks before they existed. The cover art is nearly exact (although thankfully no longer oversized), and I don’t know, what else can I tell you? Just type “Nubs Job” into Google and you’ll instantly see (and hear) what I mean. I often feel like reviews of these classic punk reissues are more like minor advertisements telling you “hey, this exists now!” than any sort of meaningful musical criticism, because really, what can you say about a killer punk single that came out over 30 years ago, near-identically reproduced? I can safely predict that they won’t become stars and that this will be their only 7″ release. Now if only Last Laugh would stop promo-izing all the stuff they send me with clipped corners and marked-up labels – I get paid zero dollars to do this, and pay for the web hosting myself, and you wanna go out of your way to make sure that I don’t get $1 back at the record shop when I trade it in? Can we at least pretend like I deserve some dignity?

The #1s Sharon Shouldn’t 7″ (Sorry State / Alien Snatch)
If you were an Exploding Hearts fan, their sad and untimely demise probably had you presuming they were the last great power-pop group that would ever exist – how can any new group come close, not just in sound, style and songwriting, but all three? Well, The #1s are the closest thing I’ve heard to the authentic punky power-pop 45 RPM 7″ single style than anyone in a long time (sorry Gentleman Jesse, you never quite pulled it off as I had hoped you would). “Sharon Shouldn’t” is the song to hear, highly Exploding Hearts-y in both recording quality and overall vibe (the chorus’s bounce and the singer’s voice are more than a little similar), and yet it’s just so sweet and perfect and vulnerable and catchy that I don’t care who The #1s may or may not be biting. The b-side features a song called “Boy” and a song called “Girl”, “Boy” being the upbeat walk through back-alleys with your punky friends and “Girl” being the long kiss under the bleachers you’ve been waiting all semester for. I’m as surprised as you are to say that this is a pretty flawless single – all the parts are perfectly in place, and while none of these songs are the catchiest things I’ve ever heard, they are close enough that I’m delighted to put it on my turntable again and again. Way to go, guys!

Pampers Pampers LP (In The Red)
Gotta hand it to these guys for calling themselves Pampers – in a world of self-deprecating band names, they take it one step further to self-defecating. It’s simple and embarrassing and effective, and after blasting their debut album on more than one occasion, I can’t imagine this band being named anything else. Instantly, I’m reminded of the heavy-fuzz assault of Mayyors and the laconic stomp of Lamps, bands that took a reductionist / speaker-blowing approach to garage-punk (for which the world is forever grateful). Pampers might be a bit rowdier and raunchier than either of those two, though, as their songs occasionally flow into free-form freakouts, although I’m referring to floor-falling, amp-toppling sweat-fest freakouts, not any sort of musical wizardry or soloing. They play fast, and fast is never a bad thing in my book. Oh, and all their song titles are short little spurts like “Monkey Drip”, “Purple Brain” and “Sack Attack”, which also reads like a list of band names they’d probably share the stage with. The picture of them holding their instruments wrong on the insert is subtly hilarious, and I dunno, Pampers seem to get everything pretty much right. Looking forward to seeing them live later this month!

Permanent Ruin Más Allá De La Muerte 7″ (Warthog Speak)
It only took one 7″ for Permanent Ruin to become one of 2013’s finest purveyors of hardcore, so I wasted no time grabbing this new one. Surprise surprise, it’s a full-steam rager too! The drumming switches on a dime from blast-beat to galloping thrash, and the guitars and vocals all manage to keep up, almost inciting the song to move faster. Five songs might seem like a sizable portion of music for some groups, but I swear I am getting back up to flip Más Allá De La Muerte mere seconds after sitting down (I like to saunter from turntable to chair). It’s kinda funny that Permanent Ruin take a fairly aggressive stance toward whoever is listening to their music and reading their insert (I am called a “shit head” and threatened with a fight before I even fully unfold the insert), which is kind of interesting because Permanent Ruin seem to be one of the most unanimously beloved hardcore groups active today – either they are just really ungrateful or their harsh words are aimed elsewhere. I’m not complaining, though – some of my favorite groups have songs that threaten my well-being for talking behind their backs, so while no one I know has said a discouraging word about this fine band, Permanent Ruin might as well stay vigilant on that matter. Great EP!

Ruleta Rusa Aqui No Es LP (Sorry State / Trabuc)
In a world of punk record covers where demon skeletons get around on automobile or horseback, the cover rendering of this evil reaper traveling by steam locomotive is refreshing. Ruleta Rusa are not afraid to think vintage when it comes to their means of transportation as well as their punk rock sound, which mixes the classic downtrodden Wipers sound with the first wave of European hardcore punk. Sure, you could say they sound like a mix of The Observers and Invasion if you are thinking of more modern times, but Ruleta Rusa seem less poppy and more pessimistic – think early Funeral Oration rather than late. All the songs are in Spanish, and the vocalist’s gruff delivery works well with riffs that are just a little too complex and refined to appear in an Aus Rotten song. This isn’t my favorite style of punk, I’ll be honest, it’s just a little too “mid-paced” in both ragingness and intensity, but Ruleta Rusa do nothing to besmirch the decades-long tradition in which they are participating – not that I ever doubted Sorry State’s curatorial eye anyway.

Sapphire Slows Allegoria LP (Not Not Fun)
Sapphire Slows are one of those artists that wobble between Not Not Fun weirdness and 100% Silk club-access (or probably more accurately, she swings both ways, having released records on each label). I suppose Allegoria is a bit more refined and sounds more experienced than previous releases, but it’s definitely still the same ultimate premise as before: cozy, effervescent techno-gaze with cooing vocal fog. Every song is like opening a fresh pack of Trident, each flavor more intricate and decadent than the last (I swear I’m chewing some Tropical Blue-Raspberry Margarita before the a-side is even finished). Occasionally the vibe drifts off into a more self-reflective melancholia, but generally Allegoria is poppy synthetic fun, like jumping into one of those big inflatable ball-pits inside the recreational wing of the space station in which you live and work. Or maybe the soundtrack to an erotic Pokémon video game? It’s cool and entirely unbothersome, but ultimately I wish Sapphire Slows would focus on a more compelling, less-echoed vocal performance, or music that does more than just fill up space with a familiar form of tech-pop warmth. I’m definitely in the mood for one of those ball-pits now, though… or at least some gum.

Slag Slag 7″ (Hesitation Wound)
Had this 7″ came out in 2001, the cover art would’ve featured an angry skateboarding skeleton, perhaps grinding across the skull of a particularly feeble George W. Bush. Since it came out in 2013, though, the band name’s logo is a withered, black metal-esque form of Old English lettering, and the cover art is a creepy surgery scene. I make this comment to point out that for all the ways that the outer appearance changes, mid-paced, ferocious hardcore never really changes, as Slag sound pretty much like Tear It Up, The Snobs and The Rites, that time when thrash-core was in full force and moshing was still done in a circular fashion (what’s up with all the side-to-side slams these days?). Nothing too special about Slag, but all the parts are firmly in place, and I will admit, the back cover made me giggle (whoever thought up women holding up signs that say “420 Liar” and “I Huff Worms Dad” needs their own comic book deal). It’s a little bold of them to actually name a song “Death Side”; it’s like the owner of a suburban boxing gym naming it the Mike Tyson Arena, but whatever, I can appreciate Slag’s interest in button-pushing. Maybe you can, too!

Stable Boys Attitudes 7″ (Ranch / Evil Weevil)
If you asked me back in 1998 how long I thought gruffly-screamed pop-punk would remain popular, I certainly wouldn’t have guessed that it’d be going strong into 2014. I guess for as long as there are young men in college who decide to stop shaving, there will be room for bands like Stable Boys. They remind me of Animal City, Snowing, Hot Water Music, maybe a touch of Lifetime if you don’t consider the vocals, and Algernon Cadwallader, whom with they apparently share some members. Poppy and uplifting, probably played in basements to a crowd consisting of slightly nerdier replicas of Stable Boys, everyone singing along when it’s appropriate and just generally having a good time, even if some light moshing breaks out. I can’t fault this sort of thing in any way whatsoever, even if I have personally had my share some years ago. Maybe this music means something to you? I don’t want to stop Stable Boys from changing your life if I can help it.

Stink Bugs Supernatural / The Mountain 7″ (Swashbuckling Hobo)
I generally look forward to a new Swashbuckling Hobo release with the vigor of a dentist appointment, but I try to keep an open mind, you know? Like hey, this Stink Bugs single is pretty good! “Supernatural” is an acid-fried garage ripper that can only be played by older dudes who’ve got nothing to lose, no Scion or Sketchers money on the table that they have to bend over backwards for. I’m a nerd of many things, but ‘guitar nerd’ isn’t one of them, and yet I can still appreciate the craftsmanship that surely went into the psychedelic guitar leads (not the melody so much as the searing tone). “The Mountain” is enough to wake the ghost of Man’s Ruin, a very simple garage tune that The Original Sins, The 13th Floor Elevators and a million other bands have written (open up a Melody Maker from 1964 through 1989 and you’ll find one of these bands inside), but it still feels good and manages to keep “generic” from being a pejorative. Either that, or I’ve finally been fully swashbuckled and my ears are no longer of any use to me.

Sulphur Lights Cowboy 7″ (no label)
Did Clint Eastwood just walk into my saloon with vengeance on his mind, or am I just listening to the new Sulphur Lights single? I couldn’t have named the a-side track better myself, as “Cowboy” twangs, hoots and hollers like there are bullets aimed at its boots. “Nothing” and “Beat You Up” are two more mean-spirited, classically fuzzy garage-rock stompers, and they share the b-side. The vocalist is perfectly half-drunk for the recording, “Beat You Up” ends in a total equipment tumble, and while there is certainly nothing exceptional (or even particularly notable) about these songs, I can’t envision a world where I’d remove the needle prematurely. They’re a lo-fi garage-punk band from Brisbane who offer very little information with their records (neither of their two EPs even has their name on the cover), and that’s fine, because you’re either spiritually programmed to enjoy this sort of rock n’ roll or you simply never will.

Torn Hawk Bad Deadlift 12″ (L.I.E.S.)
The L.I.E.S. keep flowing at such a quick pace that it’s hard to even know exactly what’s been coming out. For example, had I heard this Torn Hawk 12″ a couple months ago, it may have ended up on my 2013 best-of list – it’s killer! Four tracks on here, each inhabiting their own weird zone. “Bad Deadlift” kicks things off with a Kassem Mosse-seque house track, built upon a stutter-step skip and some seriously druggy sounds. It’s followed by “Trap Door”, which feels like it’s just gonna be some weird loop collage made from failed ’80s TV theme-songs, but instead blossoms into a beautiful and huge tune that feels like a 50/50 mix of U2 and James Ferraro (there’s no singing or Bono presence, so maybe 40/60). “Money Becomes Only Itself” is almost as bizarre as its title, feeling like Oneohtrix Point Never’s recent material remixed by Actress or Bandshell, and “Put That Crotchless Thing On, Then Save My Life” feels like you are exiting a ’90s hip-hop club through its plumbing system. I’ll admit, I was expecting some cool lo-fi techno constructions from Torn Hawk, but these four tracks kinda blew my mind. The hunt for all other Torn Hawk begins!

Sven Weisemann Inner Motions 3xLP (Mojuba)
For as much as I usually don’t gravitate to the somber, introspective emo-house that Sven Weisemann produces, I’ve listened to a variety of his records quite a bit. I’m just a sucker for cloying melancholia when done a certain way, and Weisemann really hits that sweet spot for me. Inner Motions is certainly chock full of that bittersweet sense of longing and sadness, too, but it’s a bit more lively (by Weisemann standards), and possibly my favorite work of his yet. The whole thing feels like one warm, tender deep-house womb, where dub-techno drums give way to soaring strings, twinkly piano riffs and a club-ready production. You can easily tune it out, or you can stick your whole head in and let Weisemann guide you through fog and ice to your estranged lover’s doorstep. He also throws these private-diary vocal samples here and there, which took me by surprise in a good way – nice to know Weisemann isn’t afraid to really intensify the vibe he’s created. Not sure this record is for everyone, but I for one always wondered what it’d be like if Basic Channel did an album of Sigur Rós and A Silver Mt. Zion remixes, a question solved by Inner Motions.