If you want to hear modern New York’s hot underground sound without any fireworks in the pit, snot-nosed testosterone or buzzsaw feedback, add Household to your queue! This semi-functioning band has been responsible for some of the most curious indie music to come out of Brooklyn in a while, filled with nervous confidence and quiet anger, among many other delightful contradictions. Comparisons like Young Marble Giants and Marine Girls pop up frequently (and aren’t off-base), but any artsy introspection is tempered by a deep-rooted punk attitude, the sort of stink you can’t wash off no matter how low you turn the volume knob. The new Household record, Elaines, is their best one yet, and if the sharp and illuminating conversation guitarist/vocalist Talya Cooper shares with me below doesn’t have you scrambling for a copy, I’m not sure what will.
How did Household get started? Would you say it’s “your” band, in the possessive form, seeing as you are the guitarist and vocalist? Do you write all the songs, or is it more of a democratic thing?
The initial batch of Household songs came out of an attempt to rid myself of serious bummer vibes in the summer of 2010 by holing up in a practice space with borrowed gear and some Tecate. I met Isabel Freeman, our bassist, soon afterwards, and the band has been a collaboration between the two of us ever since – she even came up with the name! Although I write the riffs and lyrics, she edits them down, reorganizes them, tells me how many times things should repeat, and cuts out a lot of ancillary bridges (or, on rare occasions, makes me write a bridge). Sometimes I think she is wrong, in which case two practices later I’ll acknowledge that yes, that should be a tom hit not a snare hat and no, we don’t need that bridge after all. The core of our sound is the interplay between my guitar and her bass parts. Isabel is moving to England at the end of this spring, and the band will then go on extended hiatus.
Why an extended hiatus, and not a breakup? Do you not feel the pressure that so many bands do, to sort of make the most of your small “window” for success and constantly notify the audience at large that you exist?
We already took a year-long hiatus a while back, right before our first record came out, so this last batch of recordings and shows has basically been our reunion. Isabel and I would like to play again together in the future, and it might be fun to tour the UK while she’s living there, so we decided that we’ll keep saying that we “are” in a band instead of that we “were.” To some extent I think that “window” might not exist anymore – given proper internet/friend momentum, it seems like any band can revive itself. I mean, think about all the unlikely tours that have gone down over the past couple years. Additionally, almost all the positive feedback we received about our music came while we weren’t playing shows, as the first LP kind of took on its own life, with minimal promotion and no touring. I know that’s more the exception than the rule, but it’s nice to know that there’s some leeway in how even such limited success as we’ve had can come for a band.
Do you have any guesses as to why your LP kinda took off when the band was inactive? Do you think it’s as simple as a bunch of people just really digging the music?
Honestly, I do, and that gives me a strange and otherwise unfounded faith in the internet. I also think that the moment was ripe for our kind of music, both politically (when our LP came out, I think it was the heyday of a lot of really awesome music-and-feminism Tumblrs) and sonically: we sounded sufficiently similar-but-different to some of our peers who were at or near their peak, like Grass Widow and Yellow Fever.
From your records, and band name, I get kind of a personal, domestic vibe from Household… like you’re a band that exists in the comfort of your own homes, more than trucking across the country in a van or living out on the streets. Is that something that rings true to you?
Partly that’s out of necessity. We have a Spinal Tap-esque disappearing-drummer situation, I have an office job, and Isabel works in film, which sometimes means she has to run off to Australia at the drop of a hat or something – all factors that making touring difficult. Also, I guess we do Household mostly as a form of psychic-death-resistance for ourselves. We picked the name partly because we found it evocative of womyn’s communal living/family of choice, and for me, playing music with other women serves the purpose I imagine consciousness-raising groups had in the day: a space where we can learn from each other (musically and otherwise) and collaborate – with all the joys and struggles that entails – in a place that’s set apart from the everyday. What we do is secret!
Finally, we’re old people and don’t go to a ton of shows or hang out or whatever, and our friends who’re musicians span a broad spectrum of genres and interests, so there’s no particular “scene” in which we feel particularly at home (aside from the general company of other mostly-female-identified and/or queer bands). It’s nice to be able to slip between so many different musical worlds – we’ve played with everyone from James Chance & The Contortions to Warthog to TEEN – but also sometimes feels a little lonely. Our scene is the internet? I don’t know.
Even though I realize my stereo has a volume knob, Household strikes me as a “quiet” kinda group. Is that something that is intentional? Am I off the mark here?
I like our recordings to have a lot of empty space; I like clean, thin, trebly guitars. Partly the quietness comes from the band’s sparsity, but I also imagine our music as a soundtrack to quiet desperation. In the ancient world, if you were mad at or jealous of someone, you’d write a curse on a tablet or a bone fragment or something and bury it in the ground. I think of our music as some kind of equivalent.
Lyrically, what are your songs about? Is there any particular mental space you come from, when writing the lyrics?
The first Household songs emerged from the first time my heart broke, which is also the moment when I think I became an adult. They’re about being less angry than just disappointed to find out the world is just how the world is, that what I want is to see capitalism go down in flames but in the meantime my job wants to know if I want to withhold part of my paycheck for retirement savings and should I do that? And that you want things – the world, your friends, relationships – to change for the better from the patterns and relationships you saw adults living out when you were young, but everyone just starts getting married and eating meat, and so many things that seem so basic and obvious continue to be denied from so many people. The songs on the first record have a lot to do with dudes and jobs, and most of the second record pertains to my own relationship to New York, which has been my home for twelve and a half years. Once when I was fighting with my mom about something, a general lack of ambition I think, she said “you know, Talya, New York doesn’t love you back,” and I just thought “that might be the thing I know best of anything.”
Do you ever think about moving somewhere else? Do you have any idea how easy it is to be in a band if you live in Portland or Baltimore or Columbus, etc etc?
If I leave New York ever I will move to the woods somewhere and learn how to play the dulcimer and make weird shaky-voiced old-lady recluse music about the moon, kind of like a cross between Kath Bloom and the Fates Furia LP.
Have you ever considered playing in a band where the other members are men? Or are there just already enough male-dominated bands in the world?
I’ve played music with men, both in Household (two of our wonderful fill-in drummers, Nick Millhiser and Jay Hough) and in a few other projects that never took off. While I’m not opposed to playing music with men, it’s just not as fun. Partly, this pertains to my personal history of playing music. Though I learned guitar in high school, I rarely played in public and quit when I started college because every band around me seemed comprised of dudes with sick chops and intense riffage. I didn’t sense a space where I could refine my skills and come to find a style that suited me, and decided that my role in music lay in DJing, collecting, fandom, etc. I didn’t form my first “real band” until well into my 20s, when I inherited a slot at a practice space, and my best friend Hannah (now of http://silentlunch.bandcamp.com) and I pulled our high-school-era Squier guitar and bass out of our parents’ houses and tried making music together, for the first time. It took a while to understand how to participate in a collaborative, creative process, to learn how to play and sing at the same time, to get better and more confident. We laughed, we cried, we talked about our periods, we wrote a couple hits. We played our second show the night before Hannah moved away, and I remember that when I hugged her goodbye and I was all teary and she was trying to get me to chill out she reminded me of how a year or even six months prior, it never would have even occurred to us to start a band, an activity that had abruptly become one of the most important pieces of our friendship and our lives (I think she actually just said “did you ever think we could do this?”).
As a result of this introduction to making music, I think of band practice as a safe(r) space. Because that moment of “oh shit/we can do this/we can do this together” is so fresh for me, and because most dudes around have been playing in bands since they were ten, I relate a lot better to women who – even if they’re seasoned pros – face some level of discrimination, or at least a set of misguided assumptions that so often frames the way people listen to and receive music made by women. Playing with women who are better musicians than I am has allowed my confidence and musical capacities to grow, and I’m able to share what I know now with women who’ve just found, as I did a few years ago, that jamming serves as a perfect counterbalance to the gnarlitude of the day-to-day. Whoa, I just typed the word “women” so many times. True confession: I sent this response to one of my sheroes, Grace Ambrose, to read over to see if it makes sense, and she helped me come to maybe the crux of all this: for many of my friends and bandmates, being in a band is doing something for yourself, but doing something for yourself together. Few dudes, in my experience, have that same set of stakes and desires.
Are there any Household songs in the works? Are you always writing new music?
I have a few pieces of things but I tend to work in spurts. Usually, when I start listening to a record compulsively and nail down what aspects of the songwriting appeal to me, I start reshaping those ideas into riffs and parts. My mood dictates my productivity a lot, though variably; sometimes when I feel super-depressed I can’t stop playing guitar and other times I deem everything I do totally worthless and just sit around and watch a lot of old-person-y British TV mysteries. This winter has been mostly the latter, unfortunately. Maybe sometime I’ll write a solo LP about Miss Marple and redeem myself.
Last question – if you could only have one in your life: punk or hardcore? Obviously they both can mean a million different things, so you can go with whatever definitions you want.
Punk! Imagine a life without the Petticoats? Or the Ramones?! Forget about it!
Basic Cable I’m Good To Drive LP (Permanent)
The un-Googleable Basic Cable were apparently a short-lived Chicago band, if I am to believe any of the sarcastically solemn artwork that decorates the album. Anyway, they are one of those modern noise-rock bands that technically aren’t really noisy (but trying to call them “post-punk garage” or something makes even less sense), and they’re alright. The vocalist has a John Sharkey sneer when he’s quiet and a Mark Arm howl when he feels the need to raise his voice, and the band kinda chugs along with the simplicity of Pampers (although not nearly as fast) and the rhythmic swish of Polvo (if I am allowed to compare P bands both young and old). Nothing too crazy here, nothing that really stinks or is incredible, just good music for guys who saw Bad Grandpa in the theater by themselves because all their friends got married and moved to the suburbs. There’s one song on here with a chorus that’s like “I could strangle you / I could fucking strangle you”, and while I’d prefer Screeching Weasel’s “I’m Gonna Strangle You” in a battle of Chicago-centric strangulation-based punk songs, Basic Cable have the whole “bitter guy who wants to laugh at the failings of others” vibe down pat, and it results in a good-if-unremarkable LP. They even manage to make a song with the premise of “everyone is nice” sound vindictive, so cheers to that!
Batillus Concrete (Andy Stott Remix) 12″ (Modern Love)
I like doom metal and I love Andy Stott, but there’s something about the combination of his gritty, post-industrial techno and the audaciousness of metal that worried me – what if it ends up sounding like a Playstation game? Dubstep is already teetering on the edge of self-parody, now almost fully claimed by the Mountain Dew generation, and I dunno, I don’t want to see Andy Stott go out like that. As it turns out, I was silly for worrying, as Stott’s remix of Batillus’s “Concrete” is fantastic. It’s super slow – the beat’s throb is a respite to the asphyxiating silence that sits within the rhythm, with only some sort of scraped bass-frequency to push things forward. The vocals are harsh and frightening, and honestly not too far from the vocals Stott used on “Execution” – it’s pretty wonderful hearing death vocals fit within the frame of evil electronic music without it feeling corny. My only complaint is that the remix is only five minutes long, which feels short, and well, I could probably go for at a few more doom-metal reworks care of Andy Stott, if not an entire album. Oh, and who the hell are Batillus, and how did they get so blessed as to receive the Stott touch? I hope they appreciate how cool this is!
Blood Red See Something Say Something 7″ (Square Of Opposition / Braddock Hit Factory)
If you’ve ever been to Braddock, PA, you’ve probably wondered what there could possibly be to do there – it’s a desolate shell of a small town. Well, the answer is clear – be straight-edge and play in a million different bands with your friends! Blood Red features a dear personal friend of mine named Dave Rosenstraus (currently most prominently in Hounds Of Hate), and this seems like another band he’d do, which of course it is. Fast, maniacal hardcore that is cleanly recorded and filled with unexpected riffs, quick changes and mosh build-ups. I’m reminded of Paint It Black and Trash Talk, although Blood Red seem closer to the DIY basement circuit in both musical approach and intent (they do start off songs with political samples, and the record comes with a hand-assembled lyric booklet, after all). Maybe a touch of Redemption 87 in the vocal department, too? Pretty cool stuff, and it makes me wonder where “hardcore punk” currently ranks on Braddock’s list of gross capital export. It’s gotta be up there, somewhere between Levis modeling and vegetable-oil conversion.
Bone For Want Of Feeling LP (Tenzenmen)
I know what you’re thinking… what of the Thugs-N-Harmony? Wish I knew, as it seems like our bud Bone is stepping out on his own. I’m kidding, of course, but who knows who this group is – there’s no insert, just a list of mysteriously foreboding song titles on the back (I don’t even wanna think what “See The Boy” and “Bath Time” are about). Musically, it’s somewhat interesting – Bone are a rock group with slow songs that seem deliberately, almost insidiously paced, really taking their time to reveal some sort of movement or passage. I’m reminded of Harvey Milk’s slowest material, or perhaps The Psychic Paramount if they had to wear those weighted wristbands that athletes wear to train in (I realize that comparison is a stretch, but bare with me). Maybe a slight Clikatat Ikatowi vibe when the tension comes to a head, too, or perhaps rather one of their lesser peers (The Great Unraveling or Sleeping Body, perhaps?). For Want Of Feeling is a cool record like that, keeping its cards close to its chest and forcing you to call its bluff, even with a solid hand.
Buck Biloxi & The Fucks Buck Biloxi & The Fucks Record LP (Red Lounge / Secret Identity)
Punk bands have utilized a variety of negative qualities over the decades, but Buck Biloxi & The Fucks have broken out into new territory with theirs: pure, unfettered arrogance. They’re like the Rick Martel of punk bands, and if you don’t like it, you can thank them as they kick you in the groin! Their songs are either celebrating their greatness (“I’m A Genius” being my favorite) or bemoaning your worthlessness (“They Should Have Killed You”, “Shut The Fuck Up” and “Shut The Hell Up” all prominent tracks), and I love them for it. Musically, it’s aesthestically similar to the late great Loli & The Chones, but Biloxi and his gang are less brash, and more modest in their classic punk riffing, with only the slightest tinge of garage in their sound. There are no drum fills (and on some songs, it sounds like only the snare is being played), and Biloxi down-picks every riff, resting only when the song is over. They’re really a phenomenal band, not just because the songs are catchy and good, but because of the aforementioned arrogance, essentially begging to be the band you love to hate. Even if it’s not a gag, I find their attitude to be refreshing and hilarious, and I hope Buck Biloxi is nowhere near finished telling the world how great he is.
Cellos Standard And Poor 7″ (Doormat)
So many bands playing heavy, precise “noise”-rock these days… I guess I can’t deny that it’s a fun form of music to play! Cellos are one of these groups, and they are decent. On these three songs, they go from a calculated Metz-style blast to grungier, stonier territory, as well as the usual “heavy Hot Snakes” vibe I so frequently hear. The vocalist has a nicely melodic bark that splits the difference between Phil Anselmo and the guy from Karp (although clearly is less distinctive than either). The whole thing feels pretty standard-issue, but not necessarily in a bad way? It’s like sure, I’ve heard the music of Cellos a thousand times before in many other bands, from the angry screams to the minor-key, drum-heavy breakdowns, but while they are fairly generic, they’re no disappointment either. Sometimes people just want a certain thing, and if you’re a Young Widows fan wishing Neurosis would play the cool bar in town instead of that big expensive club with the annoying security guys, perhaps this Cellos 7″ will keep you occupied for a while.
Concrete Asylum Social Anxiety 7″ (Bad Vibrations)
The music on this Concrete Asylum single is as murky and smudged-up as the cover art. I’m feeling it! They’re a hardcore band who call to mind Iron Lung and early Think I Care the way they pummel their songs into submission, guitars wildly feeding back before someone stops the tape. The songs are based on a series of fast hits, stretches of grind beats and the occasional high-speed d-beat, and the muffled recording adds a layer of grit without subtracting any power. The guitarist clearly wants a moment to show off his Greg Ginn-style leads, but the songs seem to blaze by too fast for an adequate chance. Never heard of this group before, and while there isn’t necessarily anything that is unique to them, all of these songs rage hard enough that I will keep an eye out in the future. And as both sides of this 7″ fly by in record time, they’ve done their duty in leaving me wanting more.
Cuntz Solid Mates LP (Homeless)
There were a few different reasons why I didn’t care for the first Cuntz LP that passed over my turntable, and as much as I wish they’d improved in the interim, they have not. First of all, they do the whole “hard-to-notice swastika on the cover” thing that Clockcleaner did with Nevermind… if you’re going to be a button-pushing noise-rock group, can you at least do something that wasn’t done in the past decade by a similar band? And secondly, none of these songs are particularly great or interesting (or even annoying, which I’d be willing to accept). I’d say Cuntz fall somewhere between the two-note monotony of Lamps and the knuckleheaded jubilance of The UV Race, but they lack the riffs of the former and the charisma of the latter. Instead, they just kinda sound like a less-talented Feedtime who want to seem drunken and outlandish but just come across as lazy and bored instead. I dunno, Solid Mates is far from the worst record in the world, it just seems like a mediocre collage of the various noise-rock (dare I even say “pigfuck”, Lord help me) groups that have come to light in the past ten years, and it almost makes me enjoy other bands in the genre less because of it. Imagine trying to feel psyched on the Misfits after listening to a dozen Misfits-inspired townie bands, you know? That’s mostly why I’m annoyed that I keep hearing Cuntz records.
Demdike Stare Testpressing #004 12″ (Modern Love)
Sure, I could’ve offered a low-income student a full college scholarship with all the money I’ve spent on Demdike Stare records at this point, but what am I supposed to do, stop buying them? Not sure how many “test pressings” Demdike Stare plans on churning out, but I’m committed at this point, and to their credit, Demdike Stare is still pretty great, with this series revealing some delightfully unexpected results. “Fail” is the a-side, and it’s a real slow-boiler, eventually leading into a death-march that hinges upon the sound of a thousand cymbals slowly fluttering louder and louder. If I was making a movie about a Chinese army in the 1400s that battled a man-eating dragon, I’d be calling Demdike’s publisher right about now. “Null Results” starts just as slowly, until an outrageous jungle-break hits, shortly followed by a double-helix acid blast – all it’s missing is the throaty scream of Alec Empire and some evening news samples to transform my black cotton pants into PVC. Not necessarily wall-shattering stuff, but both of these tracks are pretty great, and provide further depth to an already intimidating discography. I just hope for my bank account’s sake they stop with all these expensive little drips and hit us with another tidal wave (in non-bespoke, unlimited edition).
Dollar Bar Paddington Workers Club LP (Mere Noise)
It’s almost as if I’ve rudely interrupted band practice from the look the two sweaty teens on the cover are giving me, trying to get through “Come As You Are” for the tenth time in a row just as I barged in. I had no idea what to expect going into this one, and was pleasantly surprised by the G-rated pop-rock that filled the Paddington Workers Club. Whole lotta Jonathan Richman vibes, sans his unique brand of quirkiness and with a healthy dose of “men’s choir” vocalizing instead. Normally pop music feels like I’m eating dessert, but Dollar Bar are like a plate full of steamed vegetables. They’ve got similar chord progressions to modern boy-next-door troubadours as varied as Mac Demarco and Tony Molina, but Dollar Bar sound like the cover band at your local pub’s wing night trying out a few originals for the disinterested locals. I realize this all probably sounds horrible to you, but there’s something about the squeaky-clean chutzpah of Dollar Bar that has me squarely in their corner.
Downtown Boys Downtown Boys 7″ (Sister Polygon)
In 2013 there were roughly four new bands that blew me away live, and Downtown Boys were one of them – they were like a renegade ball of energy, with at least half a dozen men and women spazzing out in their respective spaces. I was eager to see how that’d translate on record, and this debut 7″ is pretty darn good! They’re kind of unique, too – Downtown Boys remind me of Limp Wrist (in particular, the vocalist’s fiery bark is similar to Martin’s), but with a sizable horn section that has yet to realize they aren’t in a ska band. So you get these spastic, faster-than-appropriate hardcore punk tracks with a couple saxophones bopping along like it’s MU330, and while I realize that the majority of you are probably peeling out of here, it’s a chaotic combination that I find quite appealing. If you’re on the fence, go on and search YouTube for the music video Downtown Boys put out for “Slumlord Sal”, the second of the four tracks here, and see if its mix of sexual freedom and hilarity doesn’t push you over to Sister Polygon’s shop pronto. They almost remind me of punk before it was so codified, when Black Randy would play with The Screamers and The Dils because that’s just what you did, and it’s a refreshing sensation to experience.
Bobby Draino Brain Drain 12″ (100% Silk)
I talk a lot (okay, too much) about the slight differences between Not Not Fun and 100% Silk, but this Bobby Draino 12″ was clearly meant for the 100% Silk label – it might be kinda weird in some ways, but this is indisputably dance music. I dig the name “Bobby Draino”, because it’s just as likely to be a Jersey mobster as a wimpy hipster from anywhere in the world (my best guesses for Bobby Draino – Toronto or Manila). I am fine without ever gazing upon Draino’s visage anyway (he’s probably an MMA fighter who lives down the street from me and I have officially sealed my fate), as he produces a very modern form of faceless techno fun. This single sounds somewhat close to the earliest house-oriented Ital tracks, maybe a little of that Octo Octa album I enjoyed, and with the two “Cloudface Edit” tracks, a touch of the hallucinatory effects Actress and Bandshell frequently employ. I hear some late ’80s new-beat in tracks like “Sean’s Beach” too, and “Blecc” almost feels like an unsophisticated cousin to the mutant techno Untold produces. Very comfortable, humble tech-house, and if it were a touch rougher or meaner, I’d expect L.I.E.S. to be contacting Bobby Draino through his Soundcloud right now, finalizing the details to their 12″ release. It’s probably that extra bit of androgynous sweetness that has helped Draino find the appropriate home on 100% Silk, after all.
Exit Hippies / Lotus Fucker split LP (SPHC)
Kind of a slick move, pairing your own band with the mighty Exit Hippies on a split LP. Can’t say I blame the folks behind both SPHC and Lotus Fucker, though – I am obsessed with Exit Hippies too, and sometimes you do what you gotta do just to get close to their greatness. I’ve already completely pledged my allegiance to Exit Hippies, so their side of this LP could be little more than amplifier feedback and Elmo samples and I’d still give it a thumbs up, but it’s actually legitimately great! Plenty of coarse, grating crust-grind suitable for mid-period Slap A Ham or early 625 Productions mixed with outrageous rave effects (and infected acid techno). It’s trademark Exit Hippies, and I kinda wish it was just a one-sided 12″, untainted with the presence of any mortals, and maybe with a sweet etching on the other side (now this is a band that understands artwork). No band could measure up to that, but Lotus Fucker are fine, at least – they continue to have impassioned spoken-word segments buffering their thrashy, squawky hardcore-punk, taking zero breaks between songs and sounding like a friendlier, sloppier mix of Nine Shocks Terror and White Load at points. Needless to say, I had to own this no matter who else was on it, but Lotus Fucker do not disgrace the gods they are paired with here. If you like deranged stoner-crust rave-core too, I am sure you feel similarly!
Fat History Month / My Dad split 7″ (Broken World Media / Ranch / Exploding In Sound)
Not sure what’s going on with Fat History Month – their side of the cover says “Sad History Month”, so maybe they’re starting to feel kinda sheepish about the name? Anyway, their track is a home-recorded (or so it sounds) nugget of downer indie-sans-rock, like a solo Dan Melchior track without the wit or pop hook, just the experimental collage-style format and a variety of instruments all stuffed next to each other. I guess it’s a cool track! My Dad’s song is called “Tom Waits For No Man”, which is almost so unbearable that I had to really force myself to drop the needle and not a brick, only for the sake of properly doing my job. This band is clearly made up of guys who insist on constantly making jokes and talking over an episode of Law & Order when you are just trying to watch the damn thing – surely you’ve met someone like this, right? Anyway, for some reason they are playing frantic emo-punk that goes from noodly to bombastic and back, all with a vocalist who is more proudly tuneless than the Milk Music guy. No thanks! Weird combo of bands to share a single, but I guess it’s kinda like dating – the remaining weirdos eventually all pair off.
Fishermen Patterns And Paths 2xLP (Skudge White)
The name “Fishermen” will excite no one, no matter what style of music we’re talking about, so let me do my part to excite you about this fantastic new techno group. I’m a cautious fan of the Skudge empire, and saw the Fishermen name getting bandied about with the “industrial techno” tag, so I figured I’d check it out – glad I did, because it’s killer! First, I’d say that this isn’t really industrial techno in the standard Regis / Vatican Shadow / Kerridge sense – Patterns And Paths is a club record, through and through. Which pleases me, as I don’t just always want to scratch my chin to techno, I also want to soak through my shirt in the middle of the night, and Fishermen offer plenty of opportunities for both. I’m reminded of a less ecstatic Planetary Assault Systems, or perhaps a more diverse Rrose, the way Fishermen cook up their meaty-yet-nimble grooves, grabbing from all corners of electronic dance music and setting it firmly in techno’s grid. It’s a diverse enough album that I never drift off, but it’s still consistently pounding and built with the structural integrity of an industrial bunker. If Vatican Shadow leaves you feeling unfulfilled, but you’d like to avoid the lowest-common-denominator blandness of David Guetta, I offer Fishermen as the happy medium.
Gentlemen Sex Tape 12″ (Homeless)
Anyone else completely exhausted by all modern transgressively-sexual noise-rock at this point? Seems like every week there’s some new band photocopying a picture of a guy in a leather mask and calling their tape “Creepy Bachelor” or “Cum Stain Stan” or some other obvious thing. Gentlemen are the newest one of these to cross my path (get it? They call themselves “gentlemen” but they’re really anything but!), and while I am predisposed to put them in the same burning dumpster I left my Francis Harold LP, I guess when I actually listen to it, it’s not so bad. Musically, they play kind of a fast, moody garage style with a good amount of grit on the guitar and a versatile drummer. The vocals are an indiscriminate whine that neither add nor subtract from the experience, and I dunno. Maybe this just hits too close to home or something, but I wish bands like this would just find other gimmicks – I’d rather see Gentlemen dress up like classic Halloween monsters or an ’80s R&B pop group, anything besides this. But maybe if you still think it’s novel that grown men have naughty sexual feelings, and want to dwell on that while listening to some rough n’ wild garage-punk, be my guest. Just wash your hands first.
Household Elaines 12″ (Dull Knife)
Nice to see both Dull Knife and Household are still in the game, as I have feared that both entities might’ve closed operations in the past year or so. Household are working in the same general aesthetic frame they established in Items, and they seem even more comfortable this go around, giving us some of their best songs yet. If you’re not already familiar, they sound like a tight little punk band stripped of all reverb, distortion and volume, which gives the songs this odd feeling of being cuddly and sweet even though they aren’t. The drums are sharp thuds, and the guitar, bass and vocals all exist only in the moment they need to in order for you to hear their sound. Nothing floats out in the atmosphere, everything is direct and bound by gravity, and it’s kind of a unique and awesome way for a band to sound, particularly when considering today’s “let’s turn everything into a ____-gaze” trends. “The Way Things Are” and “Panorama” are my personal favorites, but there are deceptively intricate hooks hiding in these songs (and plenty of plain-view hooks, too), and the fact that the EP is titled Elaines adds a new level of enjoyment, as I can’t help but picture the members of Household all dancing horribly. Hope there’s more Household to come!
Julie Of The Wolves Create / Destroy LP (Noise Pollution)
I can’t help but think that records released on a label called “Noise Pollution” should just be like, tuneless crust-punk and lo-fi harsh noise, so this Julie Of The Wolves LP surprised me with its level of musical talent and melodic tunefulness. They’re giving off some pretty heavy ’90s indie-rock / emo / math-rock vibes, rocking as if The Breeders still hadn’t reformed and the thought of At The Drive-In playing Coachella seemed laughable. They manage to take the structural integrity of math-rock and infuse emo’s warm humanity to it, which is a nice pairing, if not necessarily something I’m gonna tell my neighbors about. They’d go over pretty well with Alarms & Controls in the “modern-day adult people playing thoughtful Dischord-ish post-hardcore” category, although I’m not sure if they’d be worth paying a babysitter to go see perform. Definitely not the band for me, but if you’re old enough where you can no longer relate to today’s youth but young enough that you are aware of what they’re doing to annoy you in the first place, Julie Of The Wolves might give you some fleeting hope for modern rock music.
Kappa Chow Punk As Fuck / Love On Me 7″ (Kiss The Void)
I know it’s some sort of personality defect, but I will forever enjoy bands bragging about how punk they are. Hell, I’m reviewing three such records this month, and while Kappa Chow are clearly the least punk of the three, I’m still pleased to have spent some time with this single. They’re kinda like a mix of Edie Sedgwick and The Mummies, total frat-rock, but the cool frat from whatever ’80s movie is stuck in your VCR. “Punk As Fuck” works as the Kappa Chow entrance theme, pointlessly bragging as it warms up the room. “Love On Me” features an equally obvious riff, the sort of thing that made Alice Cooper and KISS millionaires and still works for punk rock groups today. On second thought, neither of these songs are spectacular, but I love the sleeve’s cartoon art and the songs fit it perfectly, like a slime monster in a Ramones jacket coming to eat Archie and Jughead. You probably don’t need to hear this single, but I’m glad I did!
Ketamines All The Colours Of Your Heart / Turning You On 7″ (Pleasence)
This Ketamines single is the first of their four-volume “singles series”, the second volume I’ve heard, and I dunno, I kinda hope it’s my last. Nothing against Ketamines, I just have yet to connect with their music over the four tracks I’ve heard. Like “All The Colours Of Your Heart”, for starters – to my ears, it’s like a limp, sunshine-y take on The Grateful Dead’s “Shakedown Street”, geared for children’s television programming (local PBS station). “Turning You On” is equally silly fun, but this time I’m reminded of a lo-fi Elf Power with less-distinct vocals and a cutesy vibe that I haven’t sought out since I watched The Fraggles as a five year-old boy. If only Ketamines sounded like Faith No More’s The Real Thing, which was my favorite album when I was seven. At least that way I could make some action figures mosh to it, you know?
Graham Lambkin Abersayne / Attersaye 7″ (Kye)
For a guy with a musical résumé that is chock full of surprises, it’s amazing that we still never know what Graham Lambkin will do next, only that it will be bizarre and confusing and uniquely him. I was prepared for “Abersayne” to be the sound of an asthmatic horse breathing into a paper bag, or the mating calls of a ruffled grouse mixed with John Denver, but he flips the “found-sound collage” script and delivers a sweet, wistful fingerpicked acoustic guitar track, framed only by unusual frequencies of air and his own stifled muttering. “Attersaye” rides a similar sensation, replacing the guitar with a piano. On this one, it sounds like Lambkin and a couple friends (or strangers, or duplicates of himself) are singing along with a touchingly mundane sonata, where it sounds to my Anglican ears like someone is singing the word “piano” over and over. The cover photograph shows Lambkin and a woman casually dining in upstate New York, the white of the river blanking out the detail of their own faces, and it’s a fitting cover shot, as these songs speak to a similarly pleasant and unexplained celebration, presumably of minor triumph.
Lögnhalsmottagningen / Bad Daddies split 7″ (Emotional Response)
Here’s my first time with the tongue-twisting Lögnhalsmottagningen, who I never checked out before. I get that it’s the Slumberland guy doing a hardcore-punk band with a friend, and I still get a little irked when people start hardcore bands in a way that’s like “isn’t it outrageous and funny that we are bothering to play hardcore?”. Even if that’s not the case here, I love hardcore, and hate when indie guys or poseurs or whoever try to moonlight in a hardcore band as a joke, okay? Anyway, I figured they were cool anyway, and their tracks here sound good – it’s pretty fast without being raging, particularly as the singer seems to have as many syllables as the guitar has notes, seemingly racing each other to the finish. Very simple, no-frills punk music that is written with an early-hardcore song structure – imagine a re-shuffling of the riffs on Dischord’s first-year catalog with a nasally guy doing a punk impression of Twista. I liked the Bad Daddies for their crappy, unflashy debut single, and while their talent level and recording quality have both improved here, it hasn’t hindered my enjoyment. The vocalist still sounds righteously pissed, and the band is tighter and more focused, like they’ve accidentally found how to be good while not sacrificing the inherent lousiness of hardcore punk. Cool split, but you might flip past it in the bins as the cover is a generic label sleeve with nary a mention of either band. Then again, who am I kidding – when was the last time you eagerly flipped through the “New Arrival Split Singles” section of a record shop? I swear, it’s a lucky break if a record store carries any new singles these days. Shame on all of us.
Multiple Man Body Double / Surface Roads 7″ (Major Crimes)
Multiple Man are a new Aussie electro-duo, and just when I might’ve been ready to request a moratorium on new electro-duos, these guys remind me why I dig this sort of thing in the first place – it can sound pretty cool. “Body Double” has a thick Belgian New Beat vibe, like the beat could drop to half-speed and turn into a Lords Of Acid remix, but instead the beat turns urgent, and the distorted-four-ways vocals lead me to compare “Body Double” to the earliest, rawest Cold Cave recordings. “Surface Roads” has a similarly EBM vibe, sounding more traditionally awkward and dark than most of their modern-day peers, although it seems like most modern synth-wave / whatever groups are more interested in mining the early ’80s first-wave of post-punk synth than the late ’80s Euro-dance that Multiple Man seem to aspire toward. Nice new-wave guitars on “Surface Roads” too, buried in the mix deep enough that it could just be a sample from a Police or Men At Work record and I wouldn’t be the wiser. Wouldn’t mind hearing more Multiple Man soon, preferably like three hefty songs spread across a deeply-grooved 45 RPM 12″ EP. So many lesser groups are getting a piece of that action, so why not Multiple Man?
Nekromantiker Nekromantiker LP (SPHC / Bong)
From their seemingly endless well of globally-sourced noise-punk, SPHC brings us Nekromantiker’s debut album (with a little help in Europe care of Bong Records). I could go into the specific musical influences, describing which tracks have more of a Confuse-style guitar attack or a Swankys-level of silliness, but really, all you need to know is that there’s a song called “Destroy Nuclear Chaos” on here, and Nekromantiker have previously released a split 7″ with a band called Chaos Destroy. Not a whole lot bouncing around in their heads, which is completely understandable as the television-static guitars and random electronic sound effects (who knows what’s actually going on half the time) are sure to damage a few brain cells in the process. Not as charming as Exit Hippies or any of their lot, but still a solid LP of ear-damaging punk-noise or punk-damaging ear-noise, whichever you prefer.
Nerve City Asleep On The Tracks LP (Sweet Rot)
Pretty sure I heard Nerve City before and wasn’t that into it – maybe a record on Sacred Bones? I went and looked it up, and yep, a 12″ on Sacred Bones that didn’t do much for me (or my ailing memory), but if there’s a noisy punk label I trust, it’s Sweet Rot, even if they did become Canadian. I came to Nerve City with an open mind, and I dunno… if I were having a fit of cardiac arrest and someone put on Asleep On The Tracks in an effort to revive me, you might as well start calling funeral homes for availability. I get the impression that Nerve City started as a one-man strained lo-fi classic lonesome guitar-rock thing, where the mistakes are as important as the right chords being played. Nerve City has clearly improved, and gathered a bassist and drummer in the process, but none of this is really sticking to my ribs. The vocals are fine, the playing doesn’t suck, the songs never get too awful, but I can help but feel like I’m listening to a Sam’s Choice version of Ty Segall dressed as Bob Dylan for Halloween (and no one recognizing the costume). Maybe I just gotta have this guy over my house to fully get it, but until I open that AirBNB I’ve been considering, I can’t come up with a good reason to spin Asleep On The Tracks again.
Pearson Sound Starburst EP 12″ (Hessle Audio)
There was a time back in 2010 when I was shouting the name of Pearson Sound and Ramadanman from upon high, and sometime since, I’ve fallen off the wagon. Or maybe Pearson Sound is to blame – his earliest EPs under this moniker ushered in a crazy new dance sound, and I feel like he has settled into a comfortable spot since then, as peers like Joe and Untold get zanier and zanier. I’ll always trust a Hessle Audio EP though, and this one is a subtle and satisfying affair. “Lola” is pretty chilled out, and dare I say “down tempo” for Pearson Sound, guided by finger-snaps and a feeling that his aircraft is barely coasting over the hills, undetected by radar. It’s followed by a track called “Power Drumsss”, which I guess comes with more powerful drums, but it still feels a bit subdued, with a feeling of slowed momentum that’s a cool studio trick, not a dance-floor explosion. “Starburst” takes over the b-side, and it comes with more of that “J.J. Fad sucked through a black hole” vibe that Pearson Sound has been investigating for a couple years now, as though he’s trying to torture the secrets out of ’80s breakin’ music. If I can forget about how unexcited I’ve been about Pearson Sound for the last year or so, Starburst is a pretty sophisticated and enjoyable slice of a thinking person’s dance music, but I can’t help but remember back to Plsn / Wad and the ways Pearson Sound used to really jolt my system.
Shackleton Freezing Opening Thawing 12″ (Woe To The Septic Heart!)
Okay, so I love Shackleton, but when this new 12″ first came out, I was strongly considering taking a pass – I’ve already got like ten Shackleton records, and the cover art seemed a little less Pushead, a little more Spongebob (or say, reminiscent of the later Flying Luttenbachers albums). I was ready to just willfully deny it’s existence, but then I heard a clip of the title track, and damnit, I instantly got my head back in the game. This EP is tried-and-true Shackleton while still pushing out into a different direction, which is a pretty hard thing for any artist to do, but Shackleton does, and he does it so well. These tracks all utilize wood-based percussion instruments (either real or synthetic, I dare not venture a guess) in intricate, interwoven patterns that subtly shift and swing. I bet if you translated the tablature of these songs and inputted them into a computerized weaving machine, you’d get some beautiful and exotic-looking basket as a result. The title track is really the star of the show, particular as the weird vocal sample locks into place and I become compelled to jam along on the nearest flat, hard surface (not counting my abs). There’s a dearth of low end here, just those rippling waves of melodic percussion, and it makes for one of Shackleton’s most dazzling EPs yet. Love this guy!
Shadowlust Trust In Pain 2xLP (L.I.E.S.)
Trendy as it may be, I have been getting more and more into the L.I.E.S. label lately, and can you blame me? They’ve got a cool thing going on with all their semi-anonymous basement-techno. I was curious then to see this double LP release of Shadowlust, complete with actual cover art and everything, and it’s great too, even if it’s further divorced from the dance-floor that L.I.E.S. allegedly dislikes so much. If anything, it’s kind of how I wanted LA Vampires and Maria Minerva to sound – slow, evil, post-Terminator apocalypse synths that ensure you are forever trapped inside some Resident Evil death grid, with ghostly vocals offering as much warmth and consolation as the head of Medusa. Much of Trust In Pain is little more than two machines beeping their alarms with those eerie vocals walking through the dark, and it’s within this minimal frame that Shadowlust is so effective – the less there is going on, the more I can focus on just how freaky and unsettling it is. “Fluid Distortions” is a good example, as it’s like a C.H.U.D. version of Glass Candy, a disco ball that is cracked and dripping blood. Someone might point out a Suicide or Cabaret Voltaire influence, but it all just sounds like Sarah Connor running for her life an impossible situation to me, which might be why I can’t get enough. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go check to make sure my gun is loaded.
Sneaky Pinks I’m Punk / Puke Pudding 7″ (Almost Ready)
I’m sorry, but any 7″ single that features songs called “I’m Punk” and “Puke Pudding” and comes with a poorly scribbled David Bowie mock-up cover is going to have to commit some serious musical crime for me to not love it. This is just all I ever wanna hear, you know? For the past decade, I’ve been confusing Sneaky Pinks with Shocking Pinks and Shearing Pinx, and this might finally be the chance I distinctly remember Sneaky Pinks by name. “I’m Punk” is a simple, rock n’ roll-y take on minimal punk, like Nobunny without the gimmickry. Somehow, there’s still a lot that one person can do with the word “punk” over and over (and over) again. Good stuff! “Puke Pudding” is a tasty treat too, nothing but guitars and vocals, which kinda sounds like a second-generation-dubbed Sloppy Seconds song with the bass and drums removed, or maybe if The Queers wrote a song for a fake Killed By Death comp released by Rip Off Records in 1996. The hypothetical release I just described probably took more thought than the song “Puke Pudding” itself, and that’s just one of the many reasons why I love this record.
Bil Vermette Katha Visions LP (Permanent)
Now that we’re nearing the end of obscure punk records to reissue, let’s move on to the seemingly endless selection of private-press synth records! I’m being silly, but really, there has gotta be hundreds of these things lurking in dusty cardboard boxes below the record racks, just waiting for someone with a creative ear to rediscover. This one is pretty cool, and I can see why Permanent would invest a small sum of money in re-creating it – first off, the name “Bil” is cool, and secondly, he pretty much does what you’d hope a solo synth guy from 1984 would do. There are plenty of budget-level Vangelis and Klaus Schulze arpeggiated grooves, with many wet-sounding textures and settings on the a-side (and one track even features synthetic seagulls, further cementing the vibe I was picking up). The b-side gets a little more creative, with an ice-cold vocal track that calls to mind both Gary Numan and Tin Man, and even a scorching guitar solo on the last track, starting off deep in early ’80s cheese and ending up somewhere closer to Matthew Bower, if you can believe it. If you’re lamenting the loss of Emeralds and don’t feel like digging in your local record shop’s attic for something like this, Permanent Records is offering an easy solution.
Video (Join The) Hate Wave / Captivity 7″ (Total Punk)
Here we go, a Total Punk single from Austin’s Video, one of the more distinct (and great) modern-day punk bands digging into various classic punk influences, both obscure and poseur-friendly. I loved their LP, lots of catchy hits, and this new 7″ does not disappoint! “(Join The) Hate Wave” is a great sing-along party crasher, a bit moodier than their debut, and dare I say more tuneful (the bassist gets to play more than one string). The vocalist still makes the group though, perfectly snotty and melodic and kind of unique – I could easily pick his sneer out of a prison lineup. “Captivity” is another mid-paced fist pumper, featuring a great nagging guitar lead and a mean-mugging rhythm that makes me want to cut the fingertips off my leather gloves and start vandalizing suburbia. This is some prime-time, top-shelf punk rock here, and it’s great to hear a punk band start off great, take their time with their follow-up and kick ass with that too. If you buy only one Total Punk single this year, you need to get a second job or something, but if you insist, make it Video!
Warthog Exterminate Me 7″ (Katorga Works)
Ever since I saw Warthog kick up an unhealthy level of dust in a West Philly basement a couple summers ago, I’ve been waiting on some vinyl. Not only because I could barely hear a damn thing and had no idea what was going on (or what the vocals sounded like), but because they were ferocious and hilariously winded between songs. This debut is cool! The title track opens it up with a very X-Claim!-style mosh-riff and snarling vocals reminiscent of the shortly lived (and fantastic) Men’s Interest. They follow that with “Rites”, which takes sort of a chugging Impalers-style approach to hardcore-punk and messes up its hair a bit (but don’t worry, there’s still a short guitar solo). More Men’s Interest vibes continue through “Potential”, with a Ginn-like riff sped up to Die Kreuzen speeds, and it quickly tumbles into “Yes, Master”, another quality ripper. No real surprises here, just another band that manages to incorporate the best possible classic American hardcore influences with a new-school touch (echoes of Hoax and Creem, if only in spirit and recording quality, are present), and does so to excellent results. I’m always down for records like this, and as I believe Warthog have at least two more singles slated for the near future (or so I’m told), I won’t be kept waiting long.
The Zoltars Walking Through The Dark LP (CQ)
I never expected to like a band named “The Zoltars”, but their first album was a charming chunk of understated indie-rock nerd-gloom. This new one is cool, too! This sort of thing is never really my personal favorite, just sort of coy and quiet and moody indie-rock that teases you with its hooks, but I really do dig The Zoltars – they just keep it the right amount of simple, and the singer has a memorable voice. The whole thing kinda sounds like doomed romance, as if The American Analog Set got into hard drinking and came out the other side alive but without all the friends they used to know. It’s kinda like a simplistic Modest Mouse with tasteful piano and a vocalist who sounds just enough like that awful old-guy pedophile character from The Family Guy that his voice really sticks out in my brain (that’s an awful and unfair comparison but I just can’t shake it). The lyrics are great too, evoking a sort of sophisticated confusion that I don’t get from many other bands. I bet no one goes to Zoltars shows, and that kinda just makes them that much cooler in my book.