In an age of punk where it’s commonplace to see your favorite band playing a Blackberry showcase sponsored by Red Bull with promotional hash-tags smacking you in the face, it’s nice to know there are still bands who are playing music because it’s what they enjoy doing. It’s even nicer when these bands are as seductively strange as Oakland’s Yi, who manage to fuse all sorts of underground punk sounds into their own distinct brew. I hear the East Bay snot-punk sounds of Blatz and Crimpshrine mixed with the arty post-punk of The Monorchid and Outhud, but it’s all filtered through an early UK DIY lens, as if to imagine Desperate Bicycles playing a Gilman St. matinee. Their songs take all sorts of unexpected turns, but never at the expense of the group’s shared excitement, both in being able to play these songs and the chance to share them with you. They’ve self-released two 7″s, and most recently released their debut long-player, Crying, which is far more joyous than the title would lead you to believe. Guitarist and vocalist Jackson Blumgart and I shared a chat over email, even though we could’ve just as easily done so over frozen margaritas when Yi rolled through town a couple weeks ago.
When did Yi officially start? Were there other folks in the band before the lineup really solidified?
David (bass) and I started playing together in mid-2009, just messing around with riffs and ideas in a low key, no pressure/no expectations manner. We played with a few drummers but David kept bringing up that he’d like to play with Chris (drums) again. The three of us all went to high school together in Oakland and I always had my eye on David as we seem to ride the same wavelength most of the time (first time we met he was playing a Primus bassline) and kind of kept him in the back of my mind as someone I’d like to play with someday. It took almost ten years, but we’d both kind of been through the ringer being in bands which despite being filled with friends had sucked the fun right out of playing music for us. I think we had decided on our name prior to Chris coming to play with us so we had kinda been formalized by that point but once he was down it felt like my dream band was realized, a band where we try to do as much fun things as we feel like doing and do none of the non-fun things that are so easy to fall into doing when you are in a band. Everything just felt easy and non-stressful, we play when we feel like it and don’t play when we don’t want to, try to write songs that we like more than the last one and just follow our ideas wherever they lead no matter how dumb or lofty they might be. That vibe remains pretty much intact.
Is there anything in particular that Yi stands for, as a band? From your records, I’ve picked up a pro-DIY attitude, with a sort of community-based feel (due in part to the meaty thanks list on your second single)…
From my personal perspective as a band member I think I started out just wanting to find a way to keep playing music as I got older that wasn’t either soul sucking or needlessly time consuming. To use a roadtrip analogy since I’m answering this while sitting in a car in the middle of nowhere, I’m fine with taking a road trip that leads nowhere as long as the company is good and you’ve got some good tunes (at the moment: a Led Zeppelin live bootleg that sounds like a Siltbreeze record!). Besides that, just thinking about what it is you like about playing in a band and playing music and try to fill your time with that and avoid the rest of the bullshit entirely. We like recording our songs in a comfortable environment so they end up sounding how we want them to sound and so that we have a positive memory of making the recording. We don’t like sitting around in an awkward studio waiting for someone to get the perfect compression setting for the floor drum microphone, so we don’t do that. I like thinking of record cover/packaging ideas and just dealing with a pressing plant in general so we go that route even if it means waiting for money to be saved. We don’t like waiting for some labels to come around to our music or see it in some kind of profitable light so we don’t do that either. We like playing shows that are inclusive and welcoming to any gender/ethnicity and that offer some kind of pleasing aesthetics no matter the perceived genres of the bands. We don’t really like playing shows that are bro-downs in bars that think paying bands in drink tickets is cool, although this can’t be avoided and there are some cool and necessary bars in the Bay Area. As for being community oriented, there are a lot of bands around the Bay Area we feel a kinship with and admire but we tend to kind to be off in our own world sometimes whereas they all seem to share members/practice spaces and seem to party with each other outside of music. We usually show up to every tenth party and play some gnarly tunes and then go back to watching Rig Rundowns at our parents houses. The thank you list from our Punk Memories 7″ was genuine, but it was also meant to be a callback to those kinds of locals-only singles you might pick up in the ’90s where the thank-you list gave you a glimpse into whatever town they were from.
Have you been in a position where you’ve had to describe Yi to friends or family? Is Yi a punk band?
Usually if the person is savvy enough, “punk” does the trick, but dealing with grandmas or extraordinary squares I’ll go with “loud rock and roll”.
You’re an Oakland band, an area which seems to be thriving despite so many factors going against it (cost of living increases, proliferation of uninteresting music everywhere, etc). Do you have a sense of Oakland pride? Are there any misconceptions you’ve noticed people having about your city?
I think we feel a sense of civic pride just from having all grown up here and having our families here. It’s definitely my favorite place in the world that I’ve been to so far, and is diverse in every way imaginable. It’s always kind of had a tough underdog status that served well as a deterrent for various undesirable culture vultures but that is changing/has changed due to whatever is happening across the bay. As far as music goes, there has always been good things happening in Oakland but for a long time it was overshadowed by either Berkeley or San Francisco. Thanks to urban adventurers discovering Oakland a few years ago, now it’s the place to be I guess. We tend to stick to a little subsection of bands like Violence Creeps, Prison Library (RIP Mick), Yogurt Brain, Acid Fast, Wet Drag, Seperate Knobs, Street Eaters/Wild Assumptions/Fleshies, Stillsuit, Replica, Rude, etc., but there are always new bands showing up and blowing us away. As long as people acknowledge that this was a thriving functioning city before they showed up, we are all good.
How’d your recent tour go? Any specific tragedies or triumphs you care to recall?
Tour was fun, and simultaneously it reinforced the fact that I am in no way a road dog. I can’t speak for my band mates, but I pretty much hit the wall energy-wise by the last night. It was a good time though – we got to meet good people in some places we’d never been before. Personally I was most psyched to get to see Meltaways, K9 Sniffies, Alpha Hopper, The Holidays, Mordecai and Splashin’ Safari, and to spend time in places I’ve admired from afar like Baltimore, Louisville and Philadelphia. I’m not sure how often, if ever, we’ll be doing anything another week-long thing like that, so it was nice to enjoy it while it was happening and to get back to regular life. People were really so very generous to us with their time, money and attention, which our tiny band feels exceedingly grateful for.
The art for your album is mostly handwritten on each copy (correct me if I’m wrong). Why not just get printed sleeves or do something no so personally time-consuming?
Besides just being a fan of those personal packaging touches that used to be more common with DIY records, it’s mainly because I need something to sustain the excitement of releasing a record while it is being pressed and not let the waiting drag the experience down. It is also pretty pricey to print up jackets and although I’d like to be able to support that segment of the record production industry one day, it is honestly just not in the budget for a bare-bones operation like ours. The artwork for our LP went through a few variations – originally it was just going to be a one color silkscreened image of Ed Harris crying at the end of Apollo 13, but we had some internal disagreements about what people might think we were implying with using that classic image. Magically though we all approved the same image being used twelve times instead of once, a good example of band decision-making not making much sense. Anyway, screenprinting one color would’ve been a much less time-consuming task but since consuming time was the point, I decided to just handpaint the title on each record. This has allowed me to do the painting safely in front of my parents’ new television, which has access to a lot of cable channels and streaming video services, so it’s a pretty perfect excuse to take full advantage of that and kill a few Saturdays out of direct sunlight. The back cover track listing was supposed to use another classic DIY punk record method, the rubber stamp, but after spending a few nights carving up some rubber, I inked it up and discovered I had carved the stamp in such a way so that the text would be backwards when stamped, and was quickly reminded why people spend the extra money to have professionals print things for them.
What scenario would be worse: no one buying your records, or your records being bought up by people you personally dislike?
It’s probably a nightmare for most bands who take the effort to write/record/release music that no one will care about what they have done, so I’d probably go with the first option being worse. But I also think it’s pretty much out of your control once it’s out in the world anyway. I’m not sure we have much of a dedicated fanbase really, but there isn’t really anyone I can think of who we actively dislike who shows up to our shows on a regular basis.
Doing the records by hand like that, is it in any way a sort of backlash toward instant streaming-MP3 culture, where the extent of the artwork is a JPG image? Or did you just really want to catch up on TV?
Not a backlash, as we also gladly make our stuff available in multiple places online for free. Since demand for our physical records is pretty low, it is possible to create a more personalized object for the people who value owning things like that, and then make a cold unwelcoming HTML link available to everyone else who just want MP3s for their cell phone. I’ve kind of trained myself to not judge people’s listening habits or routines; one of my best friends growing up would exclusively listen to CDs on shuffle mode, never once hearing albums that he loved in the order that the musician intended them to be heard. This kind of thing boggles my mind, but it probably desensitized me to the weirdness of things like viewing our Soundcloud playcounts, where people avoid certain tracks like the plague in great numbers but other songs are really popular with no clear reason.
Where does the name Yi come from? I’ve been bothered that it’s not a playable Scrabble word on numerous occasions since I first heard of you guys.
That’s surprising that it’s not playable in Scrabble as Yi is the name of a pretty large ethnic minority in China/Vietnam, though I’m not really familiar with the rules of that game re: non-English words. Anyway, our name is an appropriated from the greeting/affirmation “yee” popular in Oakland/Richmond in the mid ’00s by the area’s high school-aged hyphy youth. When I brainstorm band names I tend to fixate on certain words and write them over and over in a notepad, like an insane person. I was like seven pages deep into the word “Viper” when I got distracted and stopped at “Vi”, and then like Tom Hanks deciphering the Da Vinci Code, my mind warped and bent and I drew one little line off the “V” and all secrets were revealed. I brought it up to David that night at an Ovens show in San Francisco, and he just started laughing which is how you know you have a good idea.
Let me turn this fairly standard band-interview question on its side – are there any specific forms of guitar-based music that Yi is NOT influenced by?
I’ve never gravitated towards shoegaze guitars I guess, although I have a hard time condemning an entire style of guitar playing because I have spent minimal time with the genre, but the lack of dynamics and muddiness of the tone on the records I have heard just never grabbed me. This is a hard question… most of my guitar playing is basically just a failed attempt at an established style so no matter where the idea begins it generally ends up back at amateur punk/cling-clang guitar.
Is that sort of “failed attempt” a crucial element to Yi?
I’d never thought about it really, but yeah I would say most of the things we do are failed attempts at something else that we just happen to still be happy with. I remember very clearly that the first few riffs I brought to work on with David being strong rip offs of The Breeders and Curtis Mayfield, and in my head thinking “wow this band is going to rule, we are going to have all these classic melodic pop songs that we can be proud of and I can finally play some of my music for my grandma”, but those ideas just kind of came out sideways and ended up in a very different place. I can’t really think of a song or release of ours that was a straight line from conception to completion, and although it can be frustrating when you are sitting on some monster hit only to have it ripped apart and have its body parts mailed to different corners of the country, I have enjoyed the creative process in this band way more than I have in any other band I’ve been a part of.
How do you listen to music? If you know some artist you like has a new record out, what do you do?
I illegally download MP3s of most releases before I decide if I want to own them. If I love it and it has a vinyl version I will buy it, but I also sometimes just buy a record unheard for the thrill of it.
Yi songs seem to avoid the standard verse/chorus/repeat/end rock song format. Is that something you set out to avoid, to not just write two-and-a-half minute rock songs, or just how it ended up?
Most of my favorite songs are verse/chorus/verse, and I’m frequently annoyed by bands with more zany song formatting/too many parts, but we still always seem to have a hard time playing that standard rock song formula and end up with songs that are more like journeys through various different and sometimes-unrelated parts. That was never really a conscious decision between the three of us, more like we just try to make an effort to follow whatever ideas we might have, to write songs that don’t bore us to play a bunch of times and are open enough structurally to be able to continue to evolve. Back to the failed attempts thing, a lot of times our songs end up being cobbled together parts of songs we’d been jamming on for months that we liked enough to keep playing but never seemed to go anywhere. Eventually the parts we like most from a song will rise up and merge with a part from a different song or a new idea and all these failed attempts will start to morph into one and make sense to us as a whole. And sometimes they have no business being in a song together and that might be the appeal. Hopefully we haven’t really come off as zany or scatter brained.
What happens next for Yi? You recently released your debut LP and completed an East Coast / Midwest tour. Back to writing new material?
Just going back to playing our usual house-party circuit around Oakland, and I think we’ll do a weekend of shows in Southern California around late summer but nothing too big. Every few weeks I’ll Google-map out a tour route for the Northwest so maybe that will actually happen sometime this year, although that drive is treacherous. We have been cataloging exciting new riffs for awhile now, and I have an idea for a Yes-style concept album. I can see us putting a lot of effort into this idea, and I can also see that it will likely just end up sounding like our other records. Whatever the outcome I’m sure we’ll have a good time.
What’s one non-Yi record every Yi fan should own?
Green Day’s Slappy EP 7″.
Afterhours Lowlife LP (Not Not Fun)
The first Afterhours 12″ I heard was cool Skinemax-style night-electro, a fun listen if not particularly original or envigorating. This follow-up album, Lowlife, takes a much more varied approach, and while variety isn’t necessarily what I look for in dance-oriented electronic music, Afterhours really makes it work. Just check the first couple tracks – the glitchy radio-dial shuffle of “Spit At The Mirror” quickly shifts toward a lightweight, early Burial-style dubstep jig, and it’s followed by “Sixty-Forty”, which is this really beautiful and simplistic trip-hop loop that’s just waiting for a cloying British vocalist to turn it into the next “Bittersweet Symphony”. And then that’s rounded out by “Lovesick”, which is straightforward, bouncy house not dissimilar to Rick Wilhite or Moodymann. Nothing explicitly ties these tracks together, but they’re all interesting and sturdy enough that I’ve been playing Lowlife repeatedly, happy to hop from one style to the next along with Mr. Afterhours. I’d be curious to see which if any of these directions Afterhours more directly pursues in the future, but for now I’m cool to just bounce around all these different styles with him.
Autistic Behavior Shattered Cattle LP (SRA)
While the rest of the world was lining up before sunrise to get their hands on Cake box-sets, live Alice Cooper 2×12″s and Johnny Cash 5xCD set (with autographed shot glass), there was only one Record Store Day release I needed to obtain – the mythical, long-awaited Autistic Behavior LP. Autistic Behavior were the only other good hardcore band to come out of Philadelphia pre-1985 (I’m referring to YDI of course, and I’d love to be corrected if I’m wrong), and besides a couple tracks off the 1983 compilation Get Off My Back and a killer YouTube clip shot around that same time, no further proof of their existence could be located. Until now! Shattered Cattle was recorded in 1981 and 1982, and while it’s not the full-speed-ahead thrasher I was expecting, it might actually be better than that, as there was apparently more going on musically with Autistic Behavior than I would’ve guessed. Sure, the fast, first-wave hardcore-punk vibe is in full effect for many of these tracks (I’d cite RF7, Necros, The Freeze and Career Suicide as musical touchstones), but they’ve also got these moodier, stranger tracks that build all sorts of uneasy tension without reverting to standard-model dirge structures. On some of these artier tracks, Autistic Behavior almost sounds like The Crucifucks had they been an SST group, which fits in perfectly between the expected youthful hardcore blasts. My opinion might be tainted by years of anticipation and hometown pride, but Shattered Cattle is a fine document of first-wave hardcore-punk, its unfortunate and longstanding lack-of-existence finally resolved.
Body Betrayal Soft Cage 12″ (Our Voltage)
Our Voltage has established itself as a hardcore / punk label that showcases queer voices, so this Body Betrayal 12″ was a pretty nice fit. They’re a pretty basic Witching Hour / Ebullition-style screamo band, but with thoughtful, incensed lyrics about their bodies and themselves, not just long inside-joke song titles with a couple meaningless phrases screamed throughout (I’m looking at you, The Now). I’m honestly fine with either approach, so long as it’s done well, and while Body Betrayal won’t cause any seasoned screamo fans to do a backflip in delight, they’re no slouches either, offering up a palatable selection of frantic grind-beats and blurry guitar riffs. I’ve enjoyed my time listening to and thinking about Soft Cage, although I generally revert to my personal screamo classics (or the occasional superhumanly-great contemporary band) if I want to hear this style of music, which is increasingly less and less, I must admit. But hey, good for Body Betrayal putting out an attractive one-sided 12″ with a screened image of their raging selves on the b-side, right?
Brain F≠ Empty Set LP (Grave Mistake)
Feels like a new Joint D≠ album just rolled through, so their siblings Brain F≠ aren’t far behind, in case you needed more inequality-signed hardcore. In the past, I’ve found both of these groups to be pretty solid-yet-unmemorable, and I’m not sure if I’ve just been playing Empty Set more than previous records (and I loved that last Joint D≠ a whole bunch too), but this one is more distinct and cooler than the rest. Not that much has changed: they’re still a fast-paced, driving punk band with equal parts garage and hardcore influence, with one vocalist who basically doesn’t stop talking and another who gruffly reinforces certain words. It works well, and I like the main singer’s matter-of-fact speaking tone, which sounds like it came off a Sin 34 record or some other snotty teenage band stolen from the pages of We Got Power. At times, I’m also reminded of White Lung, although Brain F≠ avoid the monotonous homogeny that comes with any five or six White Lung songs played in succession. Sure, deep down I wish this was a split LP with British avant-industrial noise-heads Emptyset, but there’s still time for a remix collaboration, right?
Burnt Skull Sewer Birth LP (12XU)
If there wasn’t already a Wolf Eyes side-project by the name of Burnt Skull (or one with an album titled Sewer Birth), it’s only fair that this Texas-based duo gets first dibs, as their menacing industrial noise-rock warrants it. Pretty heavy-duty stuff here, deeply indebted toward Filth-era Swans, but what good metal-tinged industrial guitar music isn’t? Each song offers one simple idea, beaten repeatedly into the ground until a gas line is hit, with black-metal vocals that sound more like the shrieks of a volcanic pit than a human throat. Sometimes it’s a dark-ambient pollution cloud, other times they rock like Hammerhead, but these tracks always fit within the Burnt Skull realm. In true Swans fashion, the vocalist(s) rhyme phrases like “of his mind” and “sodomize” with relative ease, which I probably shouldn’t have read (there’s nothing but bleak, violent death in the prose they’re spewing). Perhaps the most startling thing was that the promo photo revealed Burnt Skull as two neatly-dressed young men, one of whom bares shocking resemblance to the cheese-counter guy at my Whole Foods. It’s startling to think that someone who can differentiate seven different Gruyères with his tongue could create music this miserably acerbic, but that’s what makes the world interesting.
Casanovas In Heat Belvidere / Destiny St. 7″ (Katorga Works)
Buncha dudes hanging out playing pinball, probably drinking shoplifted Cokes, and one dude refusing to take his sunglasses off indoors, what’s not to like? I wasn’t sure what to expect musically (Kid Dynamite-style pop-punk? The Explosion-esque street-punk? Assück worship?), but I was pleasantly surprised – Casanovas In Heat aren’t just another genre plug-in, they’re an app all their own. Both “Belvidere” and “Destiny St.” remind me of the early ’90s pop-punk that was played by older folks (read: college age) who were into Hüsker Dü and Dinosaur Jr. and other more ‘mature’ influences, bands like Weston, Sleepasaurus and Hellbender and anything else on the poppier end of the Gern Blandsten catalog. So they’ve got that going on with a touch of mid-’80s moody new-wave guitar-rock too, like an obscure Mission Of Burma clone from 1986 who never quite got their due, or some dollar-bin Homestead Records band the record clerk guy swears by. The more I listen to this single, the more I love it, and I’m currently at the point where I kinda wish I was a member of the band – not only do they all hang out at the arcade together, they come across all emotional and complex but they still get to wear leather jackets and drink beer while goofing off, because that’s part of their vibe too. There’s no way I’ll learn the drums in time, but maybe I could pick up the bass parts?
Dark Blue Subterranean Man / Skinhead Wedding In Canberra 7″ (Katorga Works)
Dark Blue is John Sharkey’s new band, who you might recall as the guy who very seriously played dour synth-pop, very sarcastically played noise-punk, filled in for Nine Shocks Terror when necessary and beat up your friend outside Hollertronix in 2002. Now he’s an overbearing sports-dad, so naturally the next logical step is a plodding New Romantic Oi-influenced rock trio. Duh! The other two Dark Blue guys played with him in Puerto Rico Flowers as well, and are two of the most sincerely nice people I get to consider my friends, so while I can do my best to objectively describe Dark Blue to you, I’m already quite partial to them. Thankfully, they are cool, and pretty damn weird – it’s as if The Stranglers shaved their heads in 1985 on a dare and ended up writing these strange pop misses while waiting to grow it all back. “Subterranean Man” is a catchy pub-rock infused slow-dance, like Puerto Rico Flowers selling their synth to buy the first Hard Skin album, and “Skinhead Wedding In Canberra” is even more jovial, with its main riff lifted from Cockney Rejects’ “Flares & Slippers” and turned into something our retirement-age parents might enjoy. It’s as strange as it sounds, and while the melodies might be a little too public-domain-pop for some, I appreciate that Dark Blue are writing music with no visible audience to instantly gather around and support it. This is clearly a “what if…” experiment by three talented musicians and I look forward to watching it develop!
DJ Richard Nailed To The Floor 12″ (White Material)
L.I.E.S. may have busted down the doors for ex-hardcore kids to openly locate their dancefloor footing, but the White Material gang is quickly coming to prominence with only a handful of records and mixes to their credit. With Galcher Lustwerk batting clean-up and the cheekily-named “DJ Richard” on board, I can see why White Material is becoming the hot new “sold out, buy it on Discogs for four times the price” dance label. This 12″ certainly rules – these tracks have the headstrong, straight-forward banging style of Levon Vincent but are speckled with the quirks of the Hessle Audio stable. It’s a great combination, the sort of streetwise, mid-fi techno bounce with an odd vocal call-and-response or smashed bottle sound-effect livening up the mood, and there’s no lingering sense of “this guy used to be in a noise band last year” that sometimes dampens my enthusiasm for Brooklyn-based techno. There are four tracks here, not a dud in the bunch, and I’m hoping DJ Richard becomes familiar enough with me and my life that we drop the formalities and I can just start calling him Dick.
Eaters Eaters LP (Dull Tools)
Nothing useless about these Eaters, that’s for sure – here’s a band I knew nothing about that only needed one start-to-finish album spin to render me completely charmed. I have no idea if this is a band or a solo project or what (only an additional vocalist is credited on the sleeve, no actual band members), but it feels like a band to me, as this album come fully formed and ready to roll. They’re a hard group to describe, but allow me to try – Eaters frequently remind me of Trans Am’s Future World in the way they mix driving kraut-rock templates with pristine new-age synths, and the tracks on Eaters range from spiritual-ambient synth-drift to ’70s chase-scene rock, like something the Beastie Boys would’ve sampled in the early ’90s. I’m reminded of Gary Numan one moment, Klaus Schulze the next, and I keep thinking of Howard Hello, that oddball Tarentel side-project, who were also experts at letting these delicate little arpeggios spiral out with little or no vocal accompaniment. And then there’s the one track that reminds me of that killer Ghost Exits 12″ that came and went in the wake of The Rapture’s peak. Eaters invokes all of these random references, but it doesn’t submit to them – I’m sure anyone else with an ear for music would find a dozen other similarities that have passed me by, which is a nice way to be. Get into their groove, why don’t you?
Feral Future Haematic LP (Western Medical)
Lots of bloodstains on the cover of Haematic, and it’s not just a genre trapping here – it often feels like these songs slashed up Feral Future as they were delivered. They’re an Austin-based punk band, and they move around in the genre a bit, from simplistic, noisy jams to semi-tuneful introspection and fiery garage rock. I like them best when they’re in between anthemic garage rock (“XOKO” is the clear hit) and the bizarre noise that follows “Funeral”, as if they just left the tape running and the listener becomes an unsuspecting voyeur into their recording session. The singer has a pretty great voice when she feels like singing, reminding me a bit of Icon Gallery in that respect, although there’s no trace of metal in the music – this stuff seems like it’s borne of Hot Snakes, Bikini Kill and Murder City Devils, not Iron Maiden (although that would be cool too). Nicely done all around, with an intensity that many bands can never muster through a studio recording. Feral Future have rage to spare, so remind me to stay on their good side, okay?
Gluebag Confused LP (Framework)
There’s a nice level of thought and care that goes into every Framework release I’ve seen – from the quality of the vinyl to the layout / inner-sleeve / polybag, I get the impression that this is a label that’s proud of what they do. It adds a nice layer of respectability to the raging hardcore-punk they’ve released, and it’s evident in this Gluebag LP too, but after listening to Confused a few times, I guess I’m feeling a little confused myself. That’s because it strikes me as a pretty mediocre record, musically speaking – Gluebag play a fairly rote version of energetic (yet mid-tempo) garage-rock. I’m reminded of the first couple Black Lips records, mid-’80s Redd Kross and a just a touch of Nirvana’s Bleach, and while there is absolutely nothing wrong with that sort of musical cocktail, Gluebag doesn’t put their own stamp on it, or really do anything special with it. The lo-fi recording doesn’t really help or hurt them (the rawness is appropriate, but the drummer must be bummed you can only hear his snare drum), and I don’t know, I just don’t get why Framework invested their time and effort in this one. Save those resealable poly-bags and stickers for something as exciting as Brain Killer, you know?
Goosebumps Scared To See A Doctor 7″ (Katorga Works)
Ah, so it’s a modern punk group with references to Fang and Flipper on the press release, and they go with the theme of distrusting and avoiding medical professionals for the title – it’s such a great concept, why didn’t I think of that? Wait a minute… anyway, the first Goosebumps 7″ was filled with sloppy hardcore thrash and must’ve been produced for free (the recording stunk). It was okay, but the record itself was certainly overshadowed by the “look at how crazy I am” live set I witnessed. Apparently they’ve kept at it, though, and Scared To See A Doctor is a strong improvement, even if the little kids with boners and hypodermic needles on the cover shows that Goosebumps are still desperate for any attention they can get. But let’s talk about the music – Goosebumps have moved toward a rowdy mid-paced hardcore-punk thing, not unlike Slices or Condominium, but with slight Toxic State leanings, like you can tell these guys pal around with Dawn Of Humans and prefer their art in the form of monsters-with-dicks drawings and bodily harm. The recording here is a huge step in the right direction too, with a good bit of low end holding down the chunky static of the vocals and guitar. Pretty good overall, although if you’re cynical enough that you find the ironic Looney Tunes and pissing Calvin parodies to be bothersome, you may need to break a light-bulb over your head and then jump backwards into the pit (just like any true Goosebumps fan) in order to truly get it.
Heroin In Tahiti Peplum 7″ (Yerevan Tapes)
Further proving that all the good band names are already taken, here’s Heroin In Tahiti! Head-scratching moniker aside, they’re pretty cool, carving out their own little corner of the dark post-industrial goth realm that so many underground artists are inhabiting these days. I like the way they combine computer- or hardware-based loops with live guitar (or so it would appear), as these melodic, composed tracks kick up a mysterious dust as they ride past. For a comparative description, I’d say something like Eyeless In Gaza remixed by Silent Servant under the watchful eyes of Ennio Morricone while Raime slowly arrive on horseback, even if in reality it’s closer to some limited Posh Isolation side-project-group cassette I haven’t heard yet. The fact that it was recorded in Rome makes it even more appealing and exotic to an American like me, who can only presume small boys were chasing chickens down ancient alleys and black market poker games were played in unventilated basements while Heroin In Tahiti set up their equipment in a tiny apartment above. Even if that’s not even remotely the case, just let a guy dream, okay?
Hysterics Can’t I Live? 7″ (M’lady’s)
For all the many varieties of great hardcore drumbeats that exist (from blast-beats to d-beats and everything in between), there’s something about the 1-2 1-2 oom-pah beat of the first four Dischord singles that is almost godlike. You can pogo, slam, and mosh to it, and if your pit skills are advanced, you can skank to it. Hysterics are one of America’s great current-day hardcore groups, and they use this beat to proper effect over and over again on Can’t I Live?, just one after another until you’re starting these six tracks over again. And while they sound like the respective demos of SOA and Youth Brigade, they’re no historical re-enactment – Hysterics are ranting and screaming about the actual problems they face in life, and they’ll toss in a freaky guitar riff or hard-style breakdown as if it’s the only way to do it. And for all the dudes wandering around out there with the Black Flag logo tattooed on a visible body part, I’d love to see one of them write something as bars-worthy as “Please Sir”, a future hardcore mix-tape necessity. Outstanding!
The Insults Population Zero 7″ (Last Laugh)
There have probably been a hundred different punk bands to call themselves The Insults, but this is the one that’ll cost you – at least until Last Laugh stepped in with this affordable and trim reissue. I am honestly running out of things to say about these Last Laugh punk reissues – they are all quite true to the original, in regard to artwork and sound, and they’re all good at worst and fantastic at best. There’s a reason a single like Population Zero is wildly collectible, and scarcity is only part of the equation… a song like “Population Zero” is wonderfully uninhibited punk rock fun, the sort of silly and zonked-out tune that just transports us all back to 1979 when people still discussed The Ramones in hushed tones and punk was a fresh concept. Same goes for “Zombie Lover”, another blip of punchy drums, marble-mouth vocals and single-stringed guitars that get rowdy in spite of the odds stacked against The Insults. It’s all here in this 7″, along with further proof that Last Laugh’s record collection is mightier than the rest of us.
La Peste Better Off Dead 7″ (Wharf Cat)
My initial thought upon opening the cardboard mailer and gazing up the classic red “La Peste” logo on a black background was… “huh?” La Peste’s punk-rock classic was released in 1978, compiled on LP by Matador in 1996, booted in 2001, reissued in 2006, and compiled in both CD and LP format in 2006 (with different track listings, I believe). Clearly, the world can’t be very short on access to these songs in physical format, and while I know every word to “Better Off Dead” by heart (even the sketchy ones), I guess I don’t fully understand why I’m holding it here in my hands again? That said, Wharf Cat clearly spared no expense – the cover is tip-on thick (in keeping with the original), and it comes with a band photo as well as a nicely-designed insert. So, those who aren’t already hip to La Peste might stumble upon it again, but still I ask, why? I would’ve preferred a La Peste coffee-table book with old pictures and an oral history, a live La Peste DVD or even just a quality La Peste Instagram account, anything besides another reissue of the same thing. On one hand, it’s great to know the La Peste love isn’t dwindling, but on the other hand, it’s records like this and that recent 5,000 copy repressing of Die Kreuzen’s Cows And Beer that makes me wish record labels and record consumers both put a little more time worrying about the present than re-packaging the past.
Microwaves Regurgitant Phenomena LP (New Atlantis)
The early ’00s was Microwaves’ heyday, and I’ll be damned if they aren’t still stuck there. This screened-jacket LP comes with a CD-r of the album instead of a download card, for crying out loud! Is there a more early ’00s move than that? Anyway, I’ve always been a Microwaves fan, and there’s nothing to change my mind here: more giant gooey swabs of synthesized bass, off-kilter time changes, long plodding grooves, open-ended and obnoxious improvisation, unexpected death-metal riffing, Skin Graft-style noise-rock vibes and a general sour taste that permeates the whole thing, as if every riff and beat were dipped in the lip-puckering sugar-grime left over in an empty Sour Patch Kids bag. If anything, they continue to get more metallic and heavier here, like they could almost fit onto a Southern Lord showcase if they were willing to grow their hair out and they promised not to make fun of the other bands while hanging backstage. And yet there’s a looseness to the way Microwaves play these songs, I don’t want to say sloppiness, that has the feel of a band that’s more likely to open for Arab On Radar than Harvey Milk. If you’re into the darker side of early ’00s noisy math-rock, you probably have been listening to Microwaves dutifully for years now, but if by some chance you haven’t, I can’t think of a good reason why you shouldn’t start now.
Night Birds Born To Die In Suburbia LP (Grave Mistake)
On a recent long car ride, I decided to revisit a staple of my early teenage years, the first Punk-O-Rama compilation. And you know what, it still pretty much holds up! It came out before the Epi-Fat sound was completely locked into place, back when you could throw Pennywise between Gas Huffer and The Offspring and the vibe wasn’t ruined. I say this because I’ll be damned if this new Night Birds album isn’t giving me some strong Punk-O-Rama vibes… I realize that it’s a bit of a sonic stretch, but also, not really? Night Birds are the depressed teenage angst of Agent Orange and Adolescents with the physical chops and glossy-sheen of NOFX circa Punk In Drublic, and I mean that positively. The men of Night Birds are probably in their late 20s / early 30s by now, which makes Born To Die In Suburbia slightly Peter Pan-ish in a Blink 182 way, as this feels like music that is directly indebted to being 18 years-old, hating your parents and not having enough money to replace the rusty bearings on your only skateboard. Night Birds are certainly experts at this sort of thing, super-fast melodic punk with surfy leads and air-tight drumming, and it’s been fun to listen to, even if I usually reach for an older classic when I want this sort of sound. Glad someone is carrying the torch for suburban teenage blues, even if it’s dudes my age doing it!
Ninos Du Brasil Novos Mistérios LP (Hospital Productions)
Now that Hospital’s distribution has moved from a moldy cardboard box in the back of a basement noise gig to the regal conglomerates of Boomkat and Forced Exposure, there has been a surge in more traditional vinyl-album releases. I guess why not, and it’s been cool to see the various friends and acquaintances Hospital has collaborated with represented in this format, such as the strange birds known as Ninos Du Brasil. They’re responsible for this fairly straight-up dance release, or perhaps more accurately, there is no noise here – Ninos Du Brasil are an electronic dance act at their core. And they’re interesting, at least – the music consistently calls to mind the alien percussion of Shackleton, the rapid-fire bells and congas of Cut Hands, and the South American minimal techno of Luciano and Villalobos (particularly when either of those two mix soccer chants onto rigid, glitchy beats). A track like “Sepultura” is essentially just tribal drums blasted at full intensity, highly reminiscent of the aforementioned artists but also cool enough that the similarities don’t really matter all that much. Novos Mistérios ain’t no industrial techno, that’s for sure, and is more in line with what I envisioned a project named Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement to sound like before I actually heard it. Just understand that if your family is eating Szechuan take-out while you’re playing Ninos Du Brasil, a chopstick-on-table jam session cannot be avoided.
No Babies Yo No So Como Tú 7″ (Gilgongo / Upset The Rhythm)
I always thought of Gilgongo as a regional Troubleman Unlimited Jr. sort of label, as far as their general aesthetic and musical taste, and it’s pleasantly surprising to see that they basically haven’t changed at all through their tenure. No Babies are prime Troubleman no-wave, that’s for sure – I’m reminded of Die Monitor Bats, Sleetmute Nightmute and maybe a little Fat Worm Of Error as soon as I let this EP rip. A bleating saxophone (or actually, two of them), blast beats, noise guitar, bratty vocals, this is the sound of the underground circa 2002, and it’s kinda cool to see that No Babies are keeping that flame alive. That said, they don’t seem to really add anything to the equation, and we aren’t quite far enough out where a nostalgic return makes much sense, so No Babies are more like a band I’m happy to know exists but don’t really need to frequently listen to. Hope they are disrupting generic hardcore shows and freaking some people out, but it mostly just makes me drift back to a time when PayPal was a bold new wilderness and Bottlenekk was sold out of anything you’d actually want.
Old Mate I Think Of You / Throwin’ Down 7″ (Major Crimes)
Great cover shot of a scruffly schoolkid shaving one of the Kraftwerk showroom dummies’ throats, and that sort of playful seriousness fits these two songs nicely. “I Think Of You” is like an easy-listening version of King Dude, bellowing vocals treading over a sad little soft-rocker, with either melodica or synthesized saxophone getting lively while the vocals are absent. Not too far from the M*A*S*H theme, which I usually don’t mind. “Throwin’ Down” doesn’t seem to involve fisticuffs, so much as tossing a bouquet of roses on your lover’s unmarked grave out in the desert. And then a cottontail rabbit pokes its head out of a cactus and starts singing this song at you, as if Quentin Tarrantino directed an Eddy Current song. I enjoyed this single, not just because there isn’t some obvious sub-genre that Old Mate fit into, but because they manage to inject a playful wit in two ostensibly morbidly sad songs. All this, and I didn’t even mention the flute solo…
Omar S Romancing The Stone 2×12″ (FXHE)
For a while there, I was dutifully buying up every new Omar S 12″ that dropped, and while I never stopped loving him, I kinda felt like I owned enough, you know? I don’t think anyone needs twenty different records by the same artist – don’t you feel kind of bad when your one friend shows you his full box of Sex Pistols import singles, like you just feel sorry for them? Anyway, I knew I wasn’t gonna stay away from Mr. S forever, and this new double 12″ is a pretty nice way to step back into his world. Four tracks here, and they’re all pretty straightforward by Omar S standards, with builds and progressions that feel far more thought-out than many Omar S cuts; “Leave” in particular feels like it was crafted over the course of days or weeks, not hours. My favorite is probably “Frogs” though, if not just for the title, but because the dollar-store guitar riff and funky bass are a perfect match, which Omar S unrelentingly shapes like clay on his wheel before melting it with acid. There are probably still like five other Omar S releases I’d recommend before this one, but that’s just because this guy is a legendary American hero with hours of classic material under his belt – if you ever stumble upon Romancing The Stone in a record shop and leave without it, you better have an outstanding excuse.
Ono Diegesis LP (Moniker)
Ono existed in the early ’80s, released a wild Thermidor album and disappeared for like twenty years, and now they’re back with their second “comeback” album, just as tweaked and grotesque as ever. I’m sure at least some members of this group have children in high school or college, and that certainly makes the idea of this band cooler and crazier (there’s no mellowing with old age here) – probably more than half of all the weird solo-noise artists from the early ’00s probably all have retired to office cubicles by now, whereas Ono would never accept such a fate. On Diegesis, you get syrupy funk, scatterbrained musings, shuffled grooves and a whole lot of nonsense. It’s almost as if you’re crammed on an overnight flight between George Clinton and James Chance, and their sleep apnea is distracting the Pixar film you’re trying to watch. I could also see Ono being a great gateway drug to weirder, cooler stuff for your teenage cousin who plays in marching band and loves Frank Zappa, the sort of thing that’ll get them away from re-packaged Captain Beefheart Record Store Day editions and towards The Godz albums and live Doo-Dooettes bootlegs. I’m not even sure I really dig Diegesis or want to listen to it ever again, but it’s really damn great that this all exists, you know? It’s just good for the world.
Pang Young Professionals 7″ (Grazer)
It’s been a few years now that I’ve been unable to read or hear the title “Young Professionals” without instantly humming Black Time’s song of the same name in my head, but that seems to have changed upon the arrival of this fantastic new Pang EP. They’re a San Fran band (or so I believe), and I guess they are in the process of breaking up or already have, which is a true travesty as this is gonna be one of my top singles of the year, no doubt. Pang are a power-poppy punk group, and they just have it completely in order – taut, Wire-y rhythms, the giddy bounce of Girls At Our Best, the slick pop of Tours, it’s all here in these five songs. I can’t think of the last melodic, poppy punk (but not pop-punk) group to do a five song EP, let alone one where each song is absolutely killer! It has the feel of some Rough Trade-distributed single in 1981 from a group that either immediately broke up or went on to large-scale commercial success… if they cleaned up “So It Goes” a little, it could be the new iPod commercial song, but for now it sounds like it came off the Messthetics CD-r that changed your life. Can’t rave enough about this one!
Powell Club Music 12″ (Diagonal)
Often I’ll hear a record I really like, and comment in the review that I’ve gotta go find their other records. Sometimes I do, sometimes I forget, but in the case of Powell, I was hardly halfway through this three-track Powell EP before I dialed up the internet to secure the rest of his modest discography. Seriously, I was blown away! This guy runs the Diagonal label, who has put out some cool and perplexing electronic music (namely Streetwalker and Russell Haswell), but it’s his own project that takes the cake. It’s really what I’ve been looking for – something that touches upon Hessle Audio-style adventurous dubstep, Perlon-quality playful house, Emptyset-level noise explosions and a great big pile of whatever else on top. If someone previously invented no-wave techno, someone please tell me, because I think Powell is first to do it – the beats are 4/4, but the tracks operate in a non-linear fashion, free to chase the tail of some crazy synth bleat or crumble into a noisy pile of rubble, with guitars and saxophones misfiring all over the last track (presumably courtesy of the track’s guest, the aforementioned Russell Haswell). Club Music strongly reminds me of that great Von Südenfed album, particularly when Powell sneaks in those loutish vocal samples, but Powell tweaks the Von Südenfed formula with the knowledge of a dance-floor dictator, resulting in this gloriously strange music that I can’t help but be overly enthusiastic about. Highest possible recommendation from the mountain on high A+ would do business with again!
Predator The Complete Earth LP (Scavenger Of Death / State Laughter)
Scavenger Of Death has been killing it lately, or maybe it’s more that Southeast hardcore is alive and well? I feel like I should hear a little more chatter about bands like Manic and the fantastic Rapturous Grief, and now Predator too, another new-to-me hardcore punk band that totally rips. Maybe there’s just nothing interesting about these bands besides their top-notch hardcore abilities? Whatever, who cares, let’s just sit and enjoy The Complete Earth, one of the more classic punk sounding records to come out on Scavenger Of Death. I’m reminded of Red Cross (and Clorox Girls too, naturally), The Love Triangle, Zero Boys and Le Shok, but any sort of looseness is reigned in, which gives the songs a level of seriousness that contrasts nicely with the vibe of a band writing songs like “Skate Slime” and “Peter Popoff”. Very We Got Power-ish, like 1982 or something, where all sorts of foreign influences like surf and goth were seeping into hardcore-punk’s bloodstream even though the music remained fiercely ‘core. That said, there’s something about Predator’s style that avoids easy classification, which might speak to their skills as punk songwriters. I’ve already thought too hard about a record this simply good, so let’s blast The Complete Earth during a food fight at Wendy’s and worry about the consequences later.
Red Red Krovvy Red Red Krovvy 7″ (R.I.P Society)
Ah swell, here’s some slop-tastic punk rock from the well-respected R.I.P Society label. I’ve been in the mood for this, and Red Red Krovvy are pretty cool! Nothing smart about it, that’s for sure – these songs are played as fast as the drummer can handle (which isn’t very), with clanging guitars, constant hi-hat fuzz and impolite vocals. I’m reminded of The Kill-A-Watts, were they completely punk and not remotely garage-oriented, the earliest FYP recordings (or in particular, the FYP tracks off Pigs Suck where the vocals are all chipmunky), or for a more recent comparison, the angry amateurism of Bad Daddies. Red Red Krovvy are an Australian group, but I can’t help but picture them playing a wild drunken East Bay party circa 1996 after getting banned from Gilman for vandalizing the bathroom. If I could transport myself to a Rice show in that era, I’d see if I couldn’t squeeze Red Red Krovvy into the time machine with me – we’d figure out who they’d borrow gear from once we got to the gig.
Secret Boyfriend This Is Always Where You’ve Lived LP (Blackest Ever Black)
Initially I figured that Blackest Ever Black was just going to put out records as bleak and hopeless as Raime for all of its existence, but that notion was quickly put to bed in light of the varied output that followed. Like Secret Boyfriend, for instance – this isn’t what I think of when I think Blackest Ever Black… Bluest Ever Blue, maybe, as this is some serious sad-sap music. Ryan Martin (of the Hot Releases label) has released a handful of meek little tapes under the Secret Boyfriend moniker since like 2008, which must’ve been the first year all his friends forgot his birthday – this music reeks of a guy who has given up on Friday nights and bike rides, content to sit in his tiny bedroom and piece together these meager songs that he never really expected anyone to hear. He might stumble across a minor-key melody on his Casio, or pick up the guitar and casually shift between Jandek and Elliot Smith impersonations, depending on his mood at the time. This Is Always Where You’ve Lived is a diverse-yet-tidy collection of the Secret Boyfriend sound, and if you’ve ever just wanted to feel down on yourself, Secret Boyfriend makes the proposition sound incredibly alluring. Sometimes there’s no good reason to get out of bed, and Secret Boyfriend is happy to lay there with you, at least until your laptop’s battery dies.
Section Urbane The Final Program 7″ (540)
Some may have doubted them, but 540 continue to reissue the entirety of the Savage/Shake vinyl catalog, a noble effort if there ever was one in the world of obscure punk reissues. This one even matches the original’s purple dust sleeve and one-sided, unfolded cover, and it’s nearly authentic enough to transport me to 1983 Australia, where no one in hell gave two craps about Section Urbane (and their earlier incarnation as Just Urbain). Anyway, this Section Urbane single is one of my favorite Savage/Shakes, as the music just kinda plods around like Mad Virgins (or for an updated reference, The Sleaze) and the singer has this amazing disaffected vocal style, as if he’s under pressure to actually sing, but also not allowed to sing at a volume that might bother the neighbors upstairs. These barely count as riffs, but the singer turns it all into a fevered dish of punk indifference… it’s really quite magical! I’m no flag-waver for the punk single reissue market, but man, if you’re looking for a cool piece of playable punk history, allow me to steer you toward this one.
Sex Scheme Sex Scheme 7″ (Puppet Combo)
If you’re like me at all, you were saddened but unsurprised by the news that Mountain Cult called it quits. How could any band that distraught and unstable stick around for longer than a year anyway? Well, the guitarist / Cult leader started this new band, Sex Scheme, and it’s an entirely awful mess of its own, much to my delight. Probably the most dramatic difference from Mountain Cult is that the drummer and bassist can play their instruments, but this guitarist singer guy… man. He is completely on his own trip, like if you got the Milk Music singer completely black-out wasted (I’m talking three Phrosties deep) and shoved a microphone inside his mouth as he endlessly babbles, fighting with his roommates and trying to hail a cab. He is almost completely unintelligible, and not because the music is noisy or overpowering, but because he seems unable to string together more than a couple of prepositional phrases with his lips and tongue. And all this while he plucks at his strings, spending more time getting random scrapes and Sonic Youth twang out of it than actual notes. The other two dudes plod away in classic Stooges fashion, and this single has quickly become a personal favorite. But you don’t have to take my word for it: adventurous folks can type “sex scheme milf farm” into YouTube’s search box for an equally sublime “live in the studio” Sex Scheme video. Just don’t blame me if you click a “Related” link by accident!
Sissy Spacek Incomprehensible Dehumanization 7″ (Gilgongo)
So earlier I was saying how Gilgongo struck me as Troubleman Junior, and look – a Sissy Spacek 7″! If this isn’t one of the defining art-school noise-grind bands of the early ’00s, I don’t know who is. And just like Gilgongo staying true to form, Sissy Spacek haven’t changed one iota, and I thank them for that. The idea of live improv grindcore recordings cut up and edited into a wild sloppy mess is a great one, and that’s exactly what this is. I own like five Sissy Spacek 7″s and they’re all pretty much exactly like this (this could be a re-release of an earlier 7″ that I already own and I’d have no idea), but I don’t care about artistic deviation or creativity with this sort of project, I just want to hear the same minced-up blast-beats and white-noise cascading through my stereo for like five minutes or so. If there is still an active market for Sissy Spacek 7″s, it’ll blow my mind (the majority of this pressing has to remain in a Gilgongo-related closet until they eventually throw them away before a move, right?), but if there actually are people still buying harsh grind-based noise singles (particularly at today’s unfortunately high costs for a mail-order 7″), consider my heart warmed.
Talker Cut The Weight 12″ (D/N)
The phrase “industrial techno” can conjure a lot of things, from underground raves held inside abandoned factories to Throbbing Gristle remixes. As for Talker, the emphasis is on classic hard-hitting mid-’80s industrial music, with just enough of a club-ready pulse to maintain the “techno” tag. “Cut The Weight” is the title cut, and rightly so – it’s based on a metal-on-metal klang that’s straight out of Test Dept’s playbook. It almost feels like an accidental cover of Type O Negative’s “Der Untermensch” until a Rrose-esque rhythm bubbles up to the top. “Carrier” opens with nuclear-armed bass bombs, similarly paced to “Cut The Weight”, and eventually is subsumed by a Vatican Shadow-y locomotive pace before the beat disintegrates entirely. The 12″ ends with “Black Snake”, which negates the club entirely for a slow boil of metallic clatter and monastic hum; a bleak finale indeed. It’s all very of-the-moment, just bordering on passé if you’ve got an eye for techno trends, but Talker just nails it completely (and I admittedly really love the style) to the point where I wish there were five more Talker records for me to buy, import shipping costs and Euros-to-dollars conversion rates be damned. Talker is speaking my language!
Vexx Vexx 12″ (Grazer)
Who woulda thought that Olympia, WA would have one of the most interesting and raging hardcore scenes going in 2014? Not me! But here we are, and Vexx are certainly responsible, as this debut 12″ EP is a real rager. There’s lots of real ragers out there now, though, and I think it’s Vexx’s distinctive sound and voice that shifts my opinion from “good” to “fantastic”. They’re not too far off from Brain F≠, at least on paper: flailing, garage-inspired hardcore-punk with spoken-sung vocals and hectic tempos. It’s through the vocal approach of singer Mary Jane (no last name given, as if I was gonna Google her or something) that Vexx stand out, as she comes across like a possessed maniac who is living out her lyrics as she shouts them, not just reading her lines from a notebook. And when she wants to (like on “Clairvoyant”), she can really sing! In addition, the guitars are always finding ways to avoid being generic without being self-consciously weird or showy, which is no small feat when it comes to playing within the confines of punk rock. They’ll throw in a track like “Strength”, which is a slow jam more apropos of Major Stars or something (and is that a Moss Icon bassline?), and Vexx totally make it their own, and make themselves a whole lot more interesting in the process. Really hoping these folks come east for a tour, and bring shirts to sell – I’m not the type of guy who usually wears words on his shirts but I wouldn’t mind repping Vexx, even if I just wear it to bed.
Violent Outburst Survival Signs EP 7″ (Tension Head / Agitate)
The quality classic-reproduction era of hardcore continues, and if you thought we ran out of Violent-noun band names, think again! They certainly nail the artwork – from the incongruous font choices on the back, it looks like this should be some unearthed Deep Wound or Chemotherapy 7″ no one knew about. And I’ll give them points for not using an Olde English font anywhere on this thing! They nail the music too, which at this point is a pretty standard form of Boston Strangler-via-86 Mentality hardcore – you know the vocal style I’m talking about, and if I gave you a few tries, you could probably guess the riffs, too. Four songs here, no dirges, no melodies, no stinkers, just straight-forward clenched-fist hardcore, appealing to both skinheads and the naturally balding alike. Better than Violent Society and Violent Apathy, on par with Violent Children, Violent Ramp and Violent Minds, and undoubtedly lesser than Violent Femmes and Violent J.
Wake Up Forever Home 7″ (Decades)
Didn’t expect to fall in love with this random 7″ single by some band I never heard of before, but that’s often when love strikes, isn’t it? I know nothing about Wake Up besides that this is their debut 7″ on a small label out of West Palm Beach, Florida, of all places, and it’s supremely decadent pop-rock with just the right lingering indie-rock aftertaste. They open with “Forever Home”, which feels like some lost Oasis / Foo Fighters jam session that Stephen Malkmus wandered into on a particularly joyous evening, like he just got back from his best friend’s wedding and wanted to lay down some sincerely delighted vocals. The other two songs hit the same way, taking the poppiest Merge Records moments amped up with mainstream aspirations and a vocalist who does the whole indie-slacker style while remaining pitch-perfect, not succumbing to that whole “I’ll sing off-key on purpose” thing that works for so few. I guess there’s nothing really special about this EP, at least not in re-reading my own review of it, but then why does it make me feel so damn good?
Watery Love Sick People 7″ (In The Red)
Released alongside their debut LP, this colored vinyl 7″ single of two cover songs feels kinda like a victory lap for Watery Love, and rightfully so! They’ve earned it. It’s also really good, as Watery Love have always had a knack for choosing diverse-yet-appropriate cover songs. Breakdown’s “Sick People” might be their most apt choice yet – I never realized how Watery Love-esque the lyrics were until Richie Charles started spouting them off over this mean-mugged riff, bridging 1987 Manhattan and 2014 Fishtown both mentally and spiritually. Watery Love tackle “I Don’t Care” by a band called The Ramones on the flip, and it’s another riff ripe for the picking, surprisingly menacing and depressed for The Ramones but a perfect fit for Watery Love. The Pirates Press-style splatter vinyl is the only thing that seems out of place here, as flashy and gimmicky vinyl seems to go against the straight-forward, no-frills ethics that Watery Love have carried with them since day one. But I’m pretty sure they weren’t in charge of that anyway, and if I think any harder about something as inconsequential as that, I’ll have to listen to “I Don’t Care” one more time to get my head back on straight.
Westov Temple Messiah Drugs 12″ (Great Circles)
Westov Temple are another killer post-techno act that dances upon the intersection of noise, techno and electronics, and I’m proud to say they reside here in Philadelphia (am I supposed to read the name as “West Of Temple”, as in Temple University?). Just like that killer Dan Trevitt EP, this is a fine slab of semi-danceable electronics that comes unsleeved, only stamped. I guess grooves like this speak for themselves, like the beatless, jittery opener to the chooglin’ creeper that wraps it up. I’m reminded of the cold metallic sting of Terrence Dixon on “Messiah Drugs” and the tech-psych of Morphosis on “Geiger Memorial” (with a Pop Ambient touch) – there’s just a whole lot to enjoy here. The last track is probably my favorite, as it slumps around on its loop like Wolfgang Voigt’s Kafkatrax series, but also feels like something off one of those recent Miles Whittaker solo records. Really intriguing stuff, thanks to the variety of ideas on display, and it’s particularly delightful that they all seem fully-formed – this isn’t just some guy dabbling, he’s executing. Let’s keep these Great Circles coming!
White Murder White Murder LP (Razorcake / Recess)
White Murder have kindly sent me all three of their self-released 7″s throughout the years, so clearly all my reviews (and maybe just a tiny little bit of their own hard work) have culminated with the first record they didn’t press and finance themselves, on the respectable Razorcake and Recess labels. In case you forgot, they’re an LA-based quintet with two lead vocalists who play a pretty standard style of driving, moody punk rock. They sounded rougher in the past, as on their self-titled album, White Murder investigate some of the poppier, easier-digestible forms of punk-ish rock, coming across less like The Germs and more like their producer Joan Jett. They slow it down on multiple tracks, fixate on catchy choruses sung by both Hannah Blumenfeld and Mary Animal (although I still can’t tell either voice apart – they’re kind of like twins that are only distinctly recognizable to family members and close friends), and generally just bop along with a good-natured groove that belies their no-joke lyrics. Closing with an acoustic number, White Murder displays the many ways in which the group can rock, with the impression that their time spent in mosh pits and grimy basement clubs might be ticking as the alt-rock radio stations and tattoo convention musical showcases start fighting for their time.
Bashxx1 compilation 12″ (Bangers & Ash)
Normally a record as convoluted as this one (it features two remixes of “Certain Creatures” by Sparkle featuring Ike Yard, plus one remix of a Bulldozer Rituals track) is the sort of thing I’d politely ignore, but I need all the Kerridge I can get (he’s one of the remixers) and I had meant to check out more Jahiliyya Fields (another remixer), so there you go. It’s definitely a strange record whose point I don’t full grasp, but I guess once you dig into its meaty, rugged grooves, its necessity becomes clear. The 12″ opens with Samuel Kerridge’s huge “Certain Creatures” remix, which pretty much establishes doom-metal-techno as a new genre. It’s just an engulfing glacier of bass and darkness, with violent machines restarting their modems and what sounds like Tin Man’s ghost on vocals… if Air Conditioning grew up with Andy Stott as their only musical reference point, they might’ve sounded like this. That track made Bashxx1 worth the price of admission alone, but Clay Wilson fires up the flip with an Ostgut-worthy tough-techno banger, and Jahiliyya Fields (I verified it’s not the dude’s real name, sadly) splits the difference between the two, slowly boiling a pot of ominous spoken vocals and wriggly sine waves. A great EP all around, but man, I am just dying for more Kerridge, as he seems to have really hit his stride in creating doomy molten techno unlike anything else.