Normally, I’d tell you to check out the band or artist I am interviewing, but in the case of Mudhoney, it’s more of a reminder to go back and listen to them again! Or better yet, check out one of their last couple albums, for those of you who haven’t – for as illustrious as their careers are, and as permanently anchored to “grunge” their legacy may be, they’re a killer rock band that continues to put out memorable, catchy, irreverent rock music, staying true to their fuzzed-out origins while maturing gracefully. “Next Time” off The Lucky Ones is one of the best post-Iggy Pop rock songs, if you need a new point of entry. Anyway, if you’ve read any of the dozen Nirvana biographies or that grunge oral-history, you know that Mark Arm is the coolest, punkest, least idiotic rock-star to come out of that era, and he was kind enough to speak with me in-between wine tastings, surf vacations and the occasional rock n’ roll show.
Mudhoney has been a band for decades, and achieved a pretty high level of success. Why do you think the band has stayed active for so long?
We never had music biz ambitions; we just never cared about any of that crap. Any “success” we have had is a bonus. We all really like each other and get a kick out what we do. By chance, we decided to split the publishing equally when we first started. After watching what some of our peers went through when a little bit of publishing money started to trickle in, I’m convinced this minimized a certain amount of conflict. Mainly though, we’re too dumb to quit.
At what point in the band’s existence do you feel like you reached the peak of what you intended for the band, and the rest has just been gravy? Was this a band you just wanted to do a 7″ single with, or did you have world tour aspirations from the start?
Steve and I had been in at least four bands together before Mudhoney. This was just the next band. We figured it would be great to document its existence with a 7″ single. Things just started happening really fast for us after that. We had our first practice with all four members on New Year’s Eve 1988. We recorded some songs, two of which became the first single, in April. We released a 12″ EP, went to Berlin and went on a tour to the East Coast and back in October. Then toured the West Coast and Texas with Sonic Youth in November. In March of 1989 we did a nine-week European tour. I know that Jonathan and Bruce (of Sub Pop Records) had a big hand in making all of that happen, but at the time the recording and tour opportunities just seemed to present themselves. We weren’t about to say no. This band had way more lucky breaks than any of our previous bands. I’m not sure what we intended for the band other than to write and play the kind of rock ‘n’ roll that we write and play.
Have your priorities in a live performance changed over the years? As an outsider who didn’t experience it all first-hand, it seems like Mudhoney may have been more of a wild spectacle earlier on, and slowly transitioned to a tight live group.
I don’t know if our priorities in a live performance have changed, but what we can do physically has. I’m not as limber as I was in my youth and injury recovery time has increased. Before Mudhoney started I hadn’t really played guitar for about three years and my skills were shaky at best. One of the key components of our live set was to divert attention from our clams by hitting the dirt and rolling around. We did that a lot.
As you know, we cut our teeth at hardcore shows in the early ’80s and of course stage-diving was a part of that. Seattle punk audiences at that time were primed, loose and generally friendly. I used to love going into the crowd with a guitar during Mudhoney shows because it was kind of unexpected at the time. European audiences were completely unfamiliar with stage-diving when we first went over there and it was pretty easy to freak them out. When we came through Nottingham for the second time the venue had set up a little platform in front of the stage and there was a polite queue of punters patiently waiting for their turn to give stage diving a go. Stage diving quickly became de riguer and by the early ’90s had become a lame ritual. It’s the last thing I want to do when we play. I can’t stand the thought of all of those greasy fingers on my precious body.
I figure a lot of Mudhoney fans just want to hear your earliest hits, and talk about the ‘grunge’ days… when this happens, are you bothered that people want to talk to you about a time in your life that happened many years ago, or are you just grateful they want to talk to you at all?
It doesn’t bother me when younger fans want to talk about what they perceive as the glory days. It’s pretty clear that they romanticize a time they were too young for. I’ve done the same to people who were in Detroit and Ann Arbor in late ’60s / early ’70s. What drives me nuts is when people my age wax on about events 20-30 years ago as if that was the highlight of their lives. For me, life has just gotten better over time, so I can’t relate to that at all. Also, getting the same questions in interviews can be incredibly mind-numbing, but that’s a minor quibble. I am very happy that some people still give a shit about us.
Do you even listen to modern radio rock and think to yourself, “Hmm, maybe the days of Stone Temple Pilots wasn’t that bad after all…”?
I do not listen to modern rock radio. There’s a lot of dreck out there. There always has been and there always will be.
Has there ever been a time at a show, performing or otherwise, that you truly feared for your own life?
Yeah, but not since Green River. Jeff got dragged into a hostile crowd when we opened for Samhain on Hell Night in Detroit. I jumped in after him, because he did the same for me at a Black Flag show we opened in Seattle, but that Detroit crowd was way scarier than any Seattle crowd. We were saved by the off-duty uniformed cop who was hired to provide security.
Skinheads fucked with us pretty heavily one time in Portland. I got clocked in the forehead by a bass tuning peg at the end of our set and went to the toilet to wash away the blood. A skinhead followed me in there, saw the blood on my face and said, “Oh good, they got you” and left. My guess is that he was a new recruit and his assignment was to beat up a hippie. Luckily for me he didn’t have the stomach for it.
Are there any Mudhoney songs that you’ve always personally really loved, that don’t often get brought up by fans? Like, some random b-side or comp track that you are really proud of?
I don’t know, I’ve always dug “Broken Hands”. We tried to whip that back into shape, but it just didn’t quite sound right. We recently revived “1995”. I don’t think we’ve played that since ’96 and it sounds great. I really like our version of Void’s “Dehumanized”, but I’d rather just listen to Void.
Do you feel like Mudhoney is in a unique position as a band – a group that is internationally famous and has existed for decades, but never truly broke up or came back as a re-packaged shell of its former self? Are there any other bands you can look at today as being a peer, in that their integrity is still intact decades later?
Melvins, Girl Trouble and Pearl Jam are all peers of ours who are still around, never broke up and kept their integrity. All of them are great and work on very different levels. Our position isn’t entirely unique, but it is pretty damn rare.
Smashing a guitar on stage – yay or nay?
Nay! I intentionally broke one guitar, a baby-blue Hagstrom III I got for eighty dollars, and regretted it within seconds of watching it splinter apart. I never understood why Nirvana almost always ended their shows by destroying gear. It was such a waste. If you don’t want that guitar, give it to someone who does. That shit got really goofy during the grunge years. L7’s roadie used to remove the mics from the drum kit at the end of their set so they could smash it up without getting fined by the venue for destroying their mics. How fucking spontaneous, right?
At this point, pretty much every aspect of hardcore-punk (and to an extent, “grunge”) has been analyzed and rehashed to death, but is there anything you remember from the ’80s or early ’90s at shows that you wish would come back? Any short-lived scene trends or band styles that are due for a renaissance?
Oh, I don’t know. I guess the one thing I miss is how easy it was to offend people. Just cutting your hair short in 1980 was enough to make people in the general population want to beat you up. Then growing your hair out in 1983 was enough to make punkers want to beat you up. I suppose I’m a masochist at heart.
Which Mudhoney moment was more surreal – performing a cameo in the Chris Farley movie Black Sheep or performing on top of the Space Needle? Or perhaps Mudhoney has performed even stranger feats I’m unaware of…
Both of those were surreal, but the craziest moments for me are those that are rooted in my nerdy fanboy fantasies, like opening for The Stooges the first time they played Seattle and hanging out with them afterwards. I loved that band for so long and never imagined that they would reform, and then to get to play and hang out with them, especially with Ron Asheton. That was a mind-fuck, as was touring with and getting to know the remaining members of the MC5 in 2004. Also, getting to play with Feedtime, The Scientists and the A Minute To Pray A Second To Die line-up of The Flesh Eaters. All of these bands had been dead for a long time and were absolutely amazing.
At this point, where does the musical inspiration come from for a new Mudhoney song? Are you digging up old records and randomly getting inspired, or are you just so acutely aware of what should go into a Mudhoney song and just kind of working from that standpoint? It’s only natural for most guitar-rock bands to completely run out of ideas by album number three, let alone what you guys have put out there already.
We are thieves; we lift riffs, rip-off song structures and steal drum patterns. Sometimes we do it intentionally, sometimes we realize a song we’ve put together has parts that are nearly identical to someone else’s song. The key is to have impeccable taste, like we do, and steal from best. We are also limited by our abilities and our sonic personalities. Mudhoney is like a blender or filter. No matter how hard we try to copy something, it mutates into Mudhoney. That is the blessing and the curse of what happens when the four of us get together and make noise.
Do you think the name “Mudhoney” has contributed to the longevity of the band at all? It’s a pretty great band name. Do you think the band would still be going today if you decided to go with “Malfunkshun” or “Cat Butt” when you started? How much do band names matter?
Why? Are you thinking of changing the name of your band?
There are a lot of bands with retarded names: Guns N’ Roses, Alice In Chains, Dandy Warhols, Brian Jonestown Massacre, The Beatles, names that are really bad puns. What amazes me is that names which sound so awkward and clunky at first, eventually just roll off your tongue as as if they make perfect sense. The Grateful Dead is one of the best names out there, too bad the band never lived up to the heavy darkness the name implies.
I have no idea if the name Mudhoney contributed to our longevity, but I’ve never been ashamed of it. I’ve also never been ashamed of The Thrown Ups or Limp Richerds and both of those are crappy puns. I’ve never liked the name Mr. Epp & the Calculations, however.
You’ve been playing music with these guys for years… do you all hang out when you’re not actively doing band stuff? Or is a level of personal distance part of the reason Mudhoney has thrived as a band for so long? Do you know the other guys’ birthdays off the top of your head?
We hang out and see each other fairly regularly. We’re all a part of the same group of friends who have hung out together for decades. It’s a little tougher to hang out with Steve since he moved to Portland. Steve and Guy have birthdays in March. Dan and Matt have birthdays in August. I don’t know the exact days off the top of my head though. Matt’s birthday is the same day that Elvis died.
Do you think Mudhoney’s musical and lyrical wells will ever run dry? Are you working on new material now?
Coming up with music is usually pretty easy. I get stuck on lyrics pretty often though. I try to write stuff that I won’t be embarrassed to sing. That doesn’t always happen.
What’s your lyric writing style like? Are you one of those guys that’s always jotting down ideas, or are you scribbling stuff down last-minute in the studio?
Neither. I usually start writing lyrics when we’re working on songs and they’re almost always finished before we start recording. Back in Green River I would write down a bunch of words and try to cram them into the music the band came up with. I think it works better to write to, with and around the music.
Besides the obvious stuff, like “practice hard” and “be genuinely yourself”, do you have any advice for young folks looking to start a rock band? Anything you’ve picked up from your years of experience that you think is often overlooked?
I think the most important thing is to start a band with your friends. That way, when nothing happens with your band, you will at least have had the joy of playing with people you like. If you think your ability to play an instrument or sing will get you rich, allow you to screw a bunch of people and take tons of drugs, please do the rest of us a favor and go into finance.
The Abandos The Abandos 7″ (no label)
I’ll admit, the debut Abandos lathe-cut 8″ was cool, but I figured it’d be a while before I heard from them again. Not so – apparently The Abandos have cleaned the FNU Ronnies stink from their clothes and set their sights on being a functioning, active punk group, and that’s cool with me! This debut 7″ has at least two of the same cuts as the 8″ / demo (or at least two of them are eerily familiar), but seeing as there can’t be more than a couple dozen people in possession of that lathe, this is a far more accessible record, and certainly worth your time. The Abandos have an early American punk sound, cigarette firmly in mouth, with Klaus Flouride guitar riffing, wacked-out vocals ala The Weirdos (or maybe some sort of failed Devo imitation?) and just a basic negative-but-cool vibe, like they know their car is currently being ticketed but they don’t plan on paying it anyway. I dig the art too, like a youthful Savage Pencil raised on Marvel comic violence, and it all fits together as one nice chunk of jangly, paranoid punk rock.
The Achtungs Full Of Hate 7″ (Total Punk)
Not a lot of peaceful optimism coming from the Total Punk camp, as recently evidenced by The Achtungs’ Full Of Hate. It’s not a militant, genocidal kind of hate, thankfully, so much as an “I wish my parents and neighbors and teachers and classmates were all dead” sort of philosophy that rings out of the title track, fairly mid-paced and with a rocking little lead that pops out of the chorus time and time again. I was thinking The Achtungs had kind of a Teengenerate vibe, until I got to the traditional garage-pop melody of “I Don’t Wanna Talk About It”, which of course The Achtungs slobber all over, but even under all that filth it’s still the sort of tune you can play for garage-rock purists without controversy. Both songs are in and out in under a couple minutes (rock music is always best when it finishes before your frozen burrito in the microwave), and while this record is about as thought provoking as any given Hägar the Horrible strip, it’s understandably Total Punk.
Oren Ambarchi Stacte Karaoke 12″ (Black Truffle)
Now here’s a great record! Oren Ambarchi is best known for his avant-garde improvisational guitar drone, popular with academic festivals and artistic institutions, but he’s always had this hilarious sense of humor that could topple the whole stuffy system, and I love him dearly for it. Check out any Menstruation Sisters record for a sonic spray of mace to the eyes, or this new 12″ EP of him wildly soloing over two outrageously rote pre-set rock tracks. “Milk A Cow With A Monkey Wrench” has Ambarchi unleashing his strings like a disturbed beehive over an unlicensed ZZ Top riff, just completely going at it while the guitar-pedal play-along track carries on unknowingly. Flip it over for “Park It Where The Sun Don’t Shine”, which sounds like a MIDI Soundgarden loop and features more of Ambarchi’s unfettered long-form noise-soloing. Stacte Karaoke is a triumph of both high- and low-brow, which is exactly where I want my life to exist at all times. I am honored that he has helped lead me there on countless occasions.
Bok Bok Your Charizmatic Self 2×12″ (Night Slugs)
The Night Slugs crew has served me well over the past few years, but I never heard Bok Bok until now – something about his annoying name (and his collaborations with the even more annoyingly-named “L-Vis 1990”) just kept me away, even though I guess names like “Jam City” and “Girl Unit” aren’t much better (although really, they are). Anyway, this double EP, while certainly serviceable to the modern barely-underground dance scene, doesn’t come close to the unique energy of Jam City or the slick savagery of Egyptrixx. Your Charizmatic Self opens with the obvious (and only) pop track here, “Melba’s Call”, featuring guest vocals from Kelela and basically waiting six months ahead of the radio-pop curve, the sort of thing you can expect to hear on Kanye’s next album. Very slick, and really good for what it is, but the rest of the EP follows in a less exciting, more reclusive instrumental fashion. Bok Bok leaves a lot of empty space in his tracks, as if he is muting everything but the basic framework of the rhythm, and while it’s a very 2014 sort of sound, it also gets kind of old unless someone really pushes it over the top. The music often sounds like someone took a hatchet to a pile of ’90s Too Short instrumentals, and while this sounds appealing to me as I type it, I worry that I’m more enthusiastic about the concept than Bok Bok’s actual music.
Broken English Club Jealous God 04 12″ & CD (Jealous God)
Jealous God is a cool new-ish label run by Regis and Silent Servant, issuing 12″ EPs that are accompanied by mix CDs. I missed the earlier ones (sadly my record budget is not infinite), but I’m glad I wrangled one of these Broken English Club EPs. It’s a pretty weird project – within these five tracks, they shift from experimental sound-effect weirdness that recalls This Heat and Volcano The Bear to driving EDM / cold-wave that would fit snugly between Cold Cave and Youth Code (though I have no idea if there’s any youth-crew hardcore pedigree associated with Broken English Club). There are tracks called “Birth Control” and “Casual Sex”, so you kinda get where the Broken English Club mindset is at – snugly between the sheets, with a UV light revealing all sorts of stains invisible in the daylight. The world is saturated with minimal-synth projects right now, but Broken English Club seem so self-assured and strange that they demand some level of authority in the scene, only one EP deep and already pretty captivating. Not sure how the mix CD ties into things, as it’s a nice flowing mix of early ’80s dark-wave / punk (Soft Cell, The Flesh Eaters, Killing Joke, Jah Wobble and Portion Control are all represented), although it is certainly a nice and personal touch to this 12″ release, even if they don’t have much to do with each other.
Chain & The Gang Minimum Rock N’ Roll LP (Radical Elite)
This is Chain & The Gang’s fourth album, which both surprises me and makes me feel old. I’d think it might make bandleader Ian Svenonius feel old too, except he is clearly feeling more alive and vibrant than ever on Minimum Rock N’ Roll. The title is good for a subtle chuckle, and there’s plenty more of his intelligent wordplay and bizarre witticism here, which is kind of amazing when you think at just how many damn songs he’s written. And I’ll cop to having not heard Chain & The Gang before (although my Nation Of Ulysses records still get pulled out at least a couple times a year), but they are the perfect backdrop for his outraged narrations, using the least amount of ingredients necessary to create a savory stew of funk, rock and proto-punk. Priests’ vocalist Katie Alice Greer sings on most of it too, adding a different emotional frequency to Svenonius’ trademarked yowl, and it just might be one of the most enjoyably understated rock records I hear this year.
DJ Punisher LACR003 12″ (L.A. Club Resource)
Nope, this DJ Punisher isn’t the drunk guy who comes up to the booth with a $5 bill requesting Drake songs all night, it’s the moniker of Delroy Edwards, an early L.I.E.S. adopter who I’ve been meaning to check out. I’ve really gotta make that a priority, as this DJ Punisher 12″ is absolutely killer, just the sort of sneering, blown-out techno / noise-fuckery I am constantly searching for. No track titles for any of the five (or is it four?) tracks here, so I’ll help DJ Punisher out – this first track should be called “Matrix Rave Scene Through Emptyset’s Rig (M Ax Noi Mach Remix)”, a truly sweltering, airless bass-blast that very well might cause a vanilla audience to raise their hands in the air, even as the Vatican Shadow fans stroke their hairless chins just outside the dance-floor. It devolves into some sadistic hardware torture, as DJ Punisher chokes the life out of his synths, not unlike Bloodyminded, or the last track on that first Miles EP – the only thing it needs is an angry white guy in a black t-shirt screaming bad poetry and you’ve got a fine power-electronics cut. The beatless sadism continues, at least until the unexpected final track, which is a cute little Atari-dub, prancing along as if to ignore the violence that preceded it. Really love this EP, and hope this is only the beginning of an illustrious DJ Punisher career.
Drunk Elk Oceanus Procellarum LP (Wormwood Grasshopper)
Don’t let that title scare you – Drunk Elk haven’t gotten all Latin on us, at least not quite yet, as this limited vinyl run of a 2013 cassette is as modest n’ moody as anything they’ve done before. If you’re unfamiliar, try to imagine Siltbreeze’s fetishes for Columbus, OH and New Zealand in the ’90s, but tear away any lo-fi noise or avant-wanderings – Drunk Elk are prepared to play at any local bar without disturbing the patrons. Some songs wander into the Desperate Bicycles school of working-class art-rock, but with minimal (or absolutely no) percussion, just a pointy bass-line and an open-handed guitar jangle as the singer sneers his prose without ever raising his voice past a muted yell. Drunk Elk frequently give off an air of what Mad Nanna would sound like if they ever approached the idea of formal songwriting, even at a basic level like this. And for as simple as it is, some of these delicate little tunes dig out real estate in my memory bank, like a cute little one-bedroom ranch next to so many high-rise condos filled with industrial techno. There are 150 copies of Oceanus Procellarum pressed, and I’d imagine they are all headed to good homes, at least eventually.
External Menace Coalition Blues LP & 7″ (Loud Punk)
Gotta admit, I wasn’t overly impressed with the generic look of this External Menace album. Then I threw it on, and by the fourth track I was wondering how in the hell no one ever told me about this band before! They were a UK punk band from 1982 through 1985, and it continues to amazes me how many hundreds of great UK ’82 groups there were. I’m completely new to these guys, but External Menace seem particularly special – they are just slightly more musically advanced than your average Chron Gen or Partisans, and on certain songs, they invoke the exact sonic template of Back With A Bang-era Skrewdriver. The resemblance to Ian Stuart’s frothy bark is uncanny at times, and there’s no “I only like the early stuff” guilt at hand to dampen the mood. The songs are simple, but the bassist will still throw in all sorts of melodic fills and the guitarist isn’t afraid to copy a Black Oak Arkansas solo every once in a while, among classic-sounding Oi-punk screamers like “Don’t Conform” and “Youth Of Today”. Really top notch stuff, to the point where I can easily overlook their thanks list containing “ALL OUR FACEBOOK FRIENDZ” and just wish it hadn’t taken me this long to get hip to External Menace.
Farang Farang 12″ (no label)
The neon art and DJ sleeve had me expecting some sort of 100% Silk-styled electronic music, but the only dancing you’ll do to Farang is pogoing onto your friend’s shoulders, side-to-side pit-slamming and the occasional stage-dive. They’ve got a pretty grindy, crusty pedigree (members of The Endless Blockade, School Jerks and Kremlin, or so I’m told), but this is whiplash, mathy hardcore-punk, cut from the same cloth as Double Negative and Brain F≠. Every song is structured differently from the last, and there is no shortage of notes (if you told me it was Mick Barr from Orthrelm on guitar and Matt Freeman from Rancid on bass, I might be convinced). Everyone’s just totally going at it, with more technical skill than I usually look for in my hardcore, but the intensity never lets up, so I’m cool with it. Not sure why they went with the one-sided 12″ format for this release, or the sleeve design, but maybe that’s just because I’m used to hardcore bands approaching their records with such severe uniformity these days that anything slightly strange is particularly pronounced. That’s good for Farang, because they aren’t “expanding” hardcore, they are just spinning it their own way.
Frau Frau LP (Dead Beat)
Apparently this Frau album is their 2013 tape pressed to vinyl, so I’m sorry to disappoint those already familiar that this is nothing new. I hadn’t heard that tape though, shame on me, but it makes the arrival of this LP pressing that much sweeter, as this London-based hardcore-punk outfit (with at least one Good Throb member, as is the case with all good London punk bands) is great! The songs are of the bash n’ smash variety, never really too fast, just sort of banging their way down the steps to your cellar door, with the feel of a “first band” for at least some of the members (or at least on their respective instruments). Vocalist Ash Holland frequently screams beyond the top of her lungs to the point that only dogs can hear, and as her vocals seem to have been recorded through a rusty sardine tin, they affect the music much in the way that a thick stream of lighter fluid affects a campfire, burning the hair off anyone seated too closely. This is highly non-commercial punk rock, simplistic and fired up, and I’m glad I am able to file it comfortably in my Expedit instead of on my sad little cassette shelf.
Further Reductions Woodwork LP (Cititrax)
Even though I’ve been doing it for a couple years now, it still feels foolish to pay over $20 for a new domestic LP, but in cases like this Further Reductions record, the continued enjoyment of its content makes up for the momentary financial loss. Further Reductions are a Brooklyn duo, and together they’ve created a very sensual form of dub techno, like a dirty Detroit club remodeled into an upscale Manhattan parfumerie. There are aesthetic similarities to labelmates Innergaze in the way the music sort of glides by in a VHS blur, like some sort of sexy cable-access mirage, and there are strong musical similarities to the depth-charge dub qualities of the Echospace label as well. At various times throughout Woodwork, I’ll be reminded of anything from some dollar-store calypso record to “Tubular Bells” or Donato Dozzy, all held together by a sauntering and unhurried 4/4 beat. The wordless, reverbed-into-the-abyss vocals usually make me suspect that the artist ran out of better ideas, seeing as how easy and generally not-bad this sort of vocal approach sounds with electronic music, but it actually adds to music of Further Reductions, rather than simply existing alongside. They definitely nail their own distinct mood, which is something dub-techno rarely strives to do, and it makes for a satisfying listen, so long as you’ve got a comfortable loveseat and mood lighting.
Kyle Hall Girl U So Strong / Take Me Away 12″ (Hyperdub)
I love pretty much all Kyle Hall records, but I feel like his work for the Hyperdub label has been particularly interesting, as he seems particularly free when working for them, unafraid to turn a banger on its side and give it a good smack. “Girl U So Strong” was featured as the second track on Hyperdub’s recent anniversary collection, and rightfully so – this cut is a great example of where Hyperdub has gone and where it might go. There are like four different sets of hi-hats, all misfiring all over each other as a beautiful synth blooms, enhanced with 8-bit nonsense, two stellar vocal samples on repeat and just a touch of G-funk groove. “Take Me Away” on the flip almost feels like an Actress remix of the a-side, as random tone-loops and laser beams shuffle across the screen, to the point where I can’t tell if I’m playing Atari 2600 or a prototype of Playstation 5. Hall wouldn’t just let the track float without a groove, though, and he somehow ties it all together as loosely as possible, just enough glue to keep “Take Me Away” in tact. Really wonderful stuff, and seeing as I’m still spinning Hall’s debut album on the regular, I’m ready for more whenever he is.
Hodge Amor Fati / Renegades 12″ (Dnuos Ytivil)
Bristol’s Livity Sound posse is pumping out EPs, mixes, remixes and collaborations quicker than my bank account allows me to keep up, so I end up just randomly grabbing EPs here and there. The majority of this stuff is all really good, so it works out fine, particularly with that Gorgon Sound 2×12″ from last year and this new Hodge EP on the backwards Livity Sound label (does the label name make sense now?). These two tracks are all geared up for contemporary club usage, but that doesn’t mean they make any concessions to the mainstream – it’s just that Hodge knows what it takes to send a group of bodies into motion. “Amor Fati” has a heavy sort of UK garage feel, like it’s amped up to withstand dubstep warfare but much too slick to ever get involved in that mess, and there’s this millisecond-long vocal sound that he sets on auto-fire, careening between the space between the kicks and the claps. “Renegades” feels like one of those great Shackleton EPs on Honest Jon’s, the way the beat refuses to adhere to standard timing and the keys dance around like a flame on a windy day. Top-notch production seals the deal – it feels like only the most crucial of frequencies are involved in these tracks, taking the simplest and most direct route to sonically uppercut your chin. A perfect addition to your “I gotta grab at least four records to save on international shipping” shopping cart routine.
Inutili / Wand split 7″ (Goodbye Boozy / Aagoo)
Yikes! This record stinks. Did Aagoo really release this, or did someone forge their name on here in order to discredit them? Inutili are the main culprit for the stench – they’re one of those bands that are still thrilled you can print your band name on panties, and their song is like the laziest, least thoughtful Pavement-ish clunker you’ve never wanted to hear. P U! Flip it over and you’ve got poor Wand, trapped by their disgusting neighbor and forced to offer up a track of their own that probably no one will ever willingly make it to hear, like having to have a gallery showing of your paintings in the flooded basement of a Kohl’s with eight hours advance notice. Anyway, Wand sound like a mix of King Tuff and Happy Birthday, splitting the difference between stadium-metal and syrupy pop-punk, complete with dead-ringer King Tuff vocals. It’s pretty decent, so I’ll try to remember the name “Wand” (although let’s face it, I’ve probably already forgotten it) the next time they come around. It might not be fair, but if they OK’d a split 7″ with Inutili, they are partially responsible for this travesty too, you know?
Low Life Dogging LP (Disinfect / R.I.P Society)
I loved Low Life’s debut EP, as it was a formidable blast of Riot City punk via early ’80s Californian hardcore delinquency, a refreshing combo that seems too obvious to be as rare as it is. I was excited when Dogging arrived at my house, even though I had to keep the pornographic cover out of sight – wouldn’t want a friend or relative to stop by and see this piece of casual filth laying around, you know? Anyway, it was apparently recorded haphazardly over a couple years ago, and none of it sounds like their first EP, that’s for sure – here, Low Life have moved toward moodier and more melodic realms, firmly fitting into the “goth-punk” genre that has so quickly filled up. The riffs are still pretty straight-forward, but all guitar effects are set to Joy Division / Echo & The Bunnymen levels, resulting in the perfect local band to open for Modern English on their Mesh & Lace tour. I suppose the grainy recording is still fairly punk, and some of the songs get revved up to Constant Mongrel speeds, but Low Life have moved on from the youthful aggression of punk rock into a proudly drugged-out disarray of post-punk goth. Interestingly, there’s a touching dedication to Brendon Annesley within the liner notes, all while the track “Speed Ball” seems to glorify hard drug use, but life is full of those inner conflicts, even low-life ones.
Lumpy And The Dumpers Gnats In The Pissa 7″ (Total Punk)
Part of the enduring beauty of punk is that you never really know where or how it’s going to evolve – ten years ago, would you have believed that one of the hottest underground punk bands of 2014 is a band called Lumpy And The Dumpers? Not even a band called “Homostupids” prepared us for that. Anyway, one great music video and memorable song later, they’ve got a Total Punk single, and it’s a wonderfully disgusting ripper, the sort of music you never, ever tell your mom that you made, even if she is cool. On a blind taste test, one could easily place “Gnats In The Pissa” alongside The Mad’s “I Hate Music” or Mentally Ill’s “Gacy’s Place” as hallmark horror-punk, thanks to its chugging little mutant riff and the vocalist’s over-the-top caterwauling. Same goes for “Ghoul Breath” on the flip, which reminds me of Gag in the way it takes a basic Bone Awl / Hoax riff and devolves it to a new level of indecency. Long may Lumpy and his fine Dumpers indiscriminately toss their slime!
Galcher Lustwerk Nu Day EP 12″ (Tsuba)
I can respect people that release music by their legal names, but I can’t understand it – why release records as John Roberts or Kyle Hall when you can come up with something like Galcher Lustwerk? Have fun and give yourself some cool-ass name like that! Anyway, this is a guy who certainly lives up to his French-pronounced moniker – Mr. Lustwerk is smooth as hell, utterly chill and wildly talented. In a world of Lance Stephensons, he’s LeBron James, you know? Anyway, this new EP is an excellent way to enter his world (in case you aren’t into hour-long MP3 mixes), showcasing his pristine, down-tempo house music. It opens with the shimmery and gorgeous groove duo of “Fate” and “Nu Day”, sounding like Omar S if he was sponsored by BMW instead of Scion, or a particularly focused and sample-free Theo Parrish. Flip it over for “216”, featuring Galcher’s laid-back rapping (and tweeting birds samples) over another sensuous, slow groove, like something Tin Man would play on his wedding anniversary. “Chillin In The Booth” wraps it up, and is descriptive not only of this track but the entire Nu Day, as this EP is so damn comfortable, like a leather couch that looks cool but is a thousand times more comfortable than you could’ve imagined. Some dance music will shock you into a frenzy, but Galcher Lustwerk is far too cool to ever break a sweat. Hope I don’t have to wait too long for more!
Manbeast Sore 7″ (Discontent / Vwyrd Wurd)
If you’re gonna call your band Manbeast, you better be raging, and this Lehigh Valley group clearly have not taken the moniker lightly, blazing through 14 songs of hardcore-grind. At times I’m reminded of a more metallic Crossed Out (the vocals are particularly Crossed Out-y), but more than anything I hear Forced Expression in these quick, explosive hardcore blasts. An occasional mosh part will break through the thrash, but it’s never around long enough for those big dolts with the karate moves to take over. Manbeast certainly don’t reinvent the genre in any of its categories (speed, originality, heaviness), but they are the sort of band any decent scene needs, one that reminds the kids in emo and pop-punk bands that there is a wiser path to follow. Gotta say though, they use the exact same photo for their a-side center sticker as the iconic Dead Kennedys Holiday In Cambodia art, and it doesn’t seem like a parody or intentional piss-take, so I have to assume it’s just kind of lazy. So long as Manbeast start finding original war atrocity photography to garnish their records, I’ll commit to singing their praise.
M.O.B. M.O.B. LP (R.I.P Society)
Not Mission Of Burma or the various other M.O.B.s that litter the halls of Discogs, this one is the work of one guy from Oily Boys and one from Whores, two of Australia’s uglier hardcore-punk groups. I guess even these folks have free time to spend alone in their bedrooms, and while you’d think they’d just want to quietly watch a movie, they’ve spent their time recording muddy electro-not-electro music, which is collected here. I’m reminded of the earliest San Fran art-punk synth stuff while listening to M.O.B., like that Live At Target comp or the earliest, patchiest Minimal Man records… these tracks are simplistic, claustrophobic and occasionally quite tense, sometimes accompanied by sneering vocals. I’d be tempted to start singing over some of these songs myself, in my best Gary Numan Ian Curtis humanoid voice, but then some other guy starts yowling, and I realize how much M.O.B. sounds like Plaster Hounds-era Chromatics, which is kinda cool. M.O.B. won’t blow your mind if you’ve heard records like it before, but I can always go for stuff like this – there’s something about lonely men and a corner full of unsanitized electronics that I find endlessly appealing.
Mordecai Neil’s Generator LP (Richie)
Mordecai are back with another Richie Records LP, transmitting from their distant home state of Montana (distant to pretty much everyone besides those who live there). Drop the needle anywhere on this one, and if you enjoy the thirty seconds that follow, you’ll like the whole thing, and if not, you won’t – this is a record that does one thing, and it does it over and over again. That one thing is mid-paced, congenial, shambolic, two-chord indie-rock, steadfast in both tempo and demeanor. After seeing them live, the record made more sense – these guys get drunker than The Wretched Ones or Nashville Pussy, but instead of trashing the place, they just stand there with rosy cheeks and half-awake smiles, rocking at their leisure and perfectly content no matter who is watching. The vocalist has some great lines here and there (the ones you can audibly decipher), which adds a nice touch of forethought to what seems to be an entirely casual affair. I guess their tour is over now, so hold your nose over the rim of a bottle of six-dollar tequila while spinning Neil’s Generator for a realistic Mordecai sensory experience.
Muura Untitled LP (Wormwood Grasshopper)
Wormwood Grasshopper is a great Tasmanian label dedicated to sounds no one else in their right mind would pay to press to vinyl, and I thank them for it. Even next to labelmates like Mad Nanna and Hammering The Cramps, Muura seems to supremely not care about anything, offering an album of dank, repetitive synth-drift and basement static. If I had to come up with a new genre tag for this album, it’d be “absent music” – sitting here listening to this untitled LP (they couldn’t even be bothered to do that!), it feels like none of this was meant to be heard by the ears of strangers, like somewhere down the hall someone’s DVD player is stuck on the “settings” screen while they stumble downstairs to check on their laundry. It makes The Caretaker seem like Andrew WK, the way Muura refuses to allow anything to unfold – it’s all one big cul-de-sac, and we’re all stuck in it. It’s funny, because I’ve felt deeply ripped-off by Hototogisu albums that sound almost exactly like this, just with guitars instead of a Casio, but I find this equally (perhaps even more so) pointless record to be deeply satisfying. Just one of those things, I guess.
Nearly Dead Nearly Dead LP (Geriatric)
Ugh, here’s a record I hope to never think of again – Nearly Dead’s debut LP. They are essentially a direct Brainbombs tribute band, as the insert’s “listen to Brainbombs” declaration confirms. If you’ve heard Brainbombs’ album Obey (and the fact that you are reading this now means you most likely have), you know exactly what Nearly Dead sounds like from a musical standpoint: hard-rock riffs set on a loop cycle, trumpet bellowing extended notes over top, zero drum fills, maniacal spoken vocals. Nearly Dead’s riffs aren’t as Stooges-based as Brainbombs, but I am already thinking harder about their music than they probably have. The singer does his best Don LaFontaine voice to recite lyrics about the misery of old people in hospitals, often from the perspective of the elderly, and it really drives home how foolish the Brainbombs would sound if their singer had an American (or I guess in this case, Canadian) accent. Songs about incontinence and colostomy bags are prevalent, and it just ends up being this really pointless, embarrassing tribute to a band who needs no tribute, just with different lyrics. Who is going to like this record?
Michael O. Face The Facts 7″ (Fruits & Flowers)
Michael Olivares is Michael O. for short, perhaps best known for his work singing for San Francisco’s darling indie-pop group The Mantles. Like many lead singers before him, he’s stepped out on his own, documenting three tidy little pop tracks on this limited 7″. “Face The Facts” is nice and breezy, like what Kurt Vile’s hair must smell like after napping in a meadow. It’s followed by “Fear Of Balance”, where Olivares’ vocals are mixed so loudly that I can almost feel his lips pressing up against the inside of my speakers. Unlike the two a-side cuts, “Speedy’s Coming” feels like a full band, complete with drums and keys and surely some sort of psychedelic spiritual advisor overseeing the recording process. The vocals could easily get all high-pitched, nerdy and cute, but Olivares maintains his cool the whole time, like he recorded his vocals while staring at a picture of Lou Reed, and if he did, that process has certainly worked here. It all makes for a nice insurance plan – if The Mantles kick the bucket, Michael O. is ready to die another day.
Obnox Louder Space LP (12XU)
For many of the bands to come out of that lo-fi punk/garage explosion a few years back, the boombox recording quality was more of a crutch than anything else… the sort of mask you can hide your lack of ideas behind. If there was ever an example of the opposite, though, it’s gotta be this Obnox LP, studio recorded and absolutely fantastic. For one thing, Lamont Thomas (sole proprietor of the Obnox name) has a fantastic voice, somewhere between Josh Homme and David Liebe Hart – just totally pitch-perfect and wacky and cool as hell. The songs on here are thick with heavy blues fuzz, and they stick to the ribs, not just because of Thomas’ killer vocals but because of the riffs, which manage to be both obvious and fresh. In the course of a few tracks, I’m reminded of Dinosaur Jr., Bad Brains, The White Stripes and Moodymann (there’s this one kinda-rap track that sounds like a classic Moodymann loop), which is a nice little diverse sampling of all the good that comes out of Louder Space. Let’s all buy this record to ensure that this isn’t the last time Obnox raids a proper studio!
Pagan Rituals Pagan Rituals 7″ (Hungry Eye / Mad At The World)
Surprised no one chose a cool name like Pagan Rituals for their band before, and with a cool old-style pocket-sleeve featuring Pettibon-ish artwork, I was all prepared to become a Pagan Rituals fan. Sadly, this excitement wore off when I heard their music. They don’t suck, but it’s just kinda generic slow-moving post-hardcore. I’m picking up random bits of Drive Like Jehu and Murder City Devils and that scene of driving, angular riff rock, crossed with the cadre of bad mid-’00s noise-rock groups like Pigeon Religion or Francis Harold & The Holograms. It’s not a very attractive mix, particularly as Pagan Rituals never get tight enough or creepy enough to really pull off either end of that spectrum. And get this – the record is a jumbled mess, as the a-side center sticker lists “Dark Places” but actually features “Pagan Rituals” and “Dark Places”, and the b-side sticker lists “Hallowed Ground” and “Pagan Rituals” but only features “Hallowed Ground”. This is what test pressings are for, people! Let this be proof that I actually pay attention to the records I get in, even ones that I don’t particularly care for. It’s one thing for your songs to not match up with my personal taste, but to completely mess up the track listing and record order is inexcusable. Vinyl records deserve better than that!
Ray Creature Ray Creature LP (Sister Cylinder)
It’s rare but nice when some random artist shows up with a fully-formed debut, hard to categorize and ready to take over the world, and that’s what Ray Creature has done with this self-titled album (pressed on appropriately rock-solid 180 gram vinyl). Ray Creature are a duo, and they pair a world-weary crooner with electro new-wave pop songs, with quite pleasant results. Imagine a non-spazzy John Maus, Daughn Gibson without the country flair, a less-sophisticated Matthew Dear or Nick Cave fronting Soft Cell and you’re pretty close to Ray Creature’s vibe. It’s not a combo you can half-ass, and Ray Creature really goes for it, with a carnival-barker swagger and busy, often explosive synth-pop backing him up. I haven’t spotted any specific hit just yet, no song that I’d consider “the one”, but all of Ray Creature is pretty great, particularly when you consider that this group resides in Bloomington, Indiana, far away from wherever the fans of this sort of music reside (Las Vegas? The South of France?). If they mix the vocals a little higher on the next album and go for broke on a couple pop anthems, you won’t just be hearing about Ray Creature from me, I can assure you!
Romans Romans 1 12″ (Global A)
Global A Records is owned and operated by Tin Man, and with only seven releases in the course of a decade, I tend to perk up when the label is thrust back into action. Romans is Tin Man’s collaboration with L.I.E.S. recording artist Gunnar Haslam, which sounds like a tasty pairing. Turns out it is, and it isn’t – Romans 1 sounds like a lonelier, less active version of Tin Man’s recent Acid Test offerings. Tin Man’s pristine new-age acid-synth is in full effect here, bubbling up to the surface of almost all of these tracks, with his trademark “sad romantic astronaut” vibe all over Romans. It’s quite lovely, that’s for sure, but as Tin Man has offered us practically hours of this type of material in the past couple years, I was hoping for some sort of unexpected diversion, particularly as he has proven himself capable with drone, acid-house, minimal techno, synth-wave, et al. But nope, it’s more neoprene-coated tech-house; mid-tempo, wistful and never too heavy, with just enough of a groove that you can thump your heel against the floor as you stare at your only photograph of your spouse, currently a million miles away and awaiting your safe return back on Earth.
Treehouse Interzone LP (Vacant Valley)
It cost over $23 to ship this LP from Australia to my home, and it makes me feel bad that Vacant Valley spent their hard-earned money to send me this, only for me to hear it and not dig it. I guess that’s the gamble we all take, though? Anyway, I was psyched to dig Treehouse, but it wasn’t meant to be. They play a ramshackle, noisy sort of punk-influenced indie-rock, like something Ecstatic Peace would’ve released in 1995 that only Bryon Coley ever got excited about. Maybe a touch of Kitchen’s Floor’s youthful hopelessness can be found here, as well as the songwriting style of Places We Slept, with vocals that seem to be more of an after-thought (although thanks to the lyric sheet, I was able to determine that some of the lyrics are kind of touching). This style of vaguely pop, vaguely artsy, non-commercial indie-rock was never really my bag, so I’m not the person to ask about Treehouse anyway – there’s probably someone at WFMU who is an encyclopedia of this stuff, so go find and quiz them if you want the truth about Treehouse.
Ma Turner ZOZ LP (Sophomore Lounge)
I’ve enjoyed the work of Michael “Ma” Turner through his work with Warmer Milks, and his follow-up group Cross were cool too, and now here he is, all alone, just a pile of electrical music equipment and a whole lot of free time. Apparently ZOZ was culled from a six-hour, twelve-cassette box set (yikes), and it’s times like this that I appreciate the fact that a thirty-minute LP is the standard album format, not a twelve-cassette box set. This is pretty cool, though – ZOZ opens with a repetitive acoustic hymnal that slowly morphs into a hazy murmur of itself, as if Turner applied Alan Lucier’s I Am Sitting In A Room approach to his avant-rock. Before the a-side is over, it cycles back to more acoustic guitar work, although I get the feeling that Turner is never far from floating away into outer space at any moment’s notice. I tend to appreciate the indecipherable low-volume nonsense tracks more than the tweaked singer-songwriter stuff (I’m still recovering from the early ’00s New Weird America CD-r avalanche), but the whole thing has a nice, brisk flow and Turner’s idiosyncrasies, of which there are plenty, are all given a fair turn. If anything, ZOZ reminds me how great the strange (but not as strange as this) Warmer Milks group have been, and how I need to throw on those records more often, which isn’t a bad result.
Unholy Two Talk About Hardcore LP (12XU)
The Unholy Two are one of the surviving noise-rock bands from the mid-’00s, and they remain faithful to their spastic, squealing approach with Talk About Hardcore. I was actually surprised at how unchanged and undeveloped The Unholy Two have remained through the past few years, which is both nice (mindless trendoids they are not) and disappointing (not a whole lot of this record has stuck with me). Two wailing guitars, which stumble through a simplistic one-string riff, fire off noisy bursts of static into the atmosphere, or both, as the drums follow a predetermined route (either slow-motion drudgery or fast-paced screamo-breakdown flailing). I’m reminded of one of those wild New Flesh live recordings, the least focused Puffy Areolas moments or a less-metallic Drunkdriver as I listen, all of whom I bet The Unholy Two have shared a stage with at some point. All in all, it’s an okay record – nothing particularly lousy or great about it, just another sonic sting of guitars, drums and tortured screams. I do wish they’d elaborate on the whole wrestling fascination, though – they’ve got Great Muta on the cover and a classic WWF roster on the back, complete with song titles like “Muta Scale” and “Survivor Series”, but without a lyric sheet, it all seems very face-value, like a band that is really into basketball using a picture of Michael Jordan for the cover and calling their songs “Bounce Pass” and “Slam Dunk”. Pro-wrestling deserves a substantive, nuanced noise-rock observation, and I continue to await that depth from The Unholy Two.
Vladislav Delay Ripatti 03 12″ (Ripatti)
Vladislav Delay (and the man behind the mask, Sasu Ripatti) is an endless source of entertainment for me, not just because all of his music is pretty great, but because each track is a new mystery, its own weird little essay just waiting to be dissected (or mindlessly enjoyed). Take this new EP on his Ripatti label, for instance – I was listening to that new DJ Rashad EP We On 1 right before I put this on, and it felt like this could’ve just been a continuation of DJ Rashad’s relentless footwork. It sounds like Ripatti is rewinding some studio tape, which of course becomes part of the rhythm, chopped like a kung-fu DJ Rashad, complete with garbled and pitch-shifted vocal nuggets to indicate the passage of time. Eventually the track catches its breath, and then ends on a dizzying flurry of hi-hat snips and rapid-fire percussion snaps. It would drive any normal person directly out of the room, but I’m sitting here inching closer to my stereo in hopes that I might unlock the secret as to why Vladislav Delay is so damn crazy. “#22” is on the flip (how many of these numbered tracks does he have sitting around?), and it also employs an incessant footwork momentum via high-powered Finnish electronic maximalism. Not as listener-friendly as the Heisenberg EP on Ripatti, but just as bloodshot and intense.
Vow Cypress / The Light 7″ (Our Voltage)
Here’s an eye-catching 7″ single for you – the inner sleeve is made of textured brown paper, and the vinyl is so neon green it’ll burn your retinas if you stare too long. Based on the Our Voltage name, I was ready for some keyboard-driven screamo group to come tussle my hair and spit in my face, but not so – Vow are a studious, almost proggy indie-rock group deep into analog keyboards and chiming guitars. The lyrics to “Cypress” are “based on writings by William Shakespeare, Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath”, which seems to mesh well with the bookworm vocals and banjo accompaniment. “The Light” is similar but has more of a singer-songwriter feel. It probably sounds like one of those extravagantly-named indie-rock festival headliners I’ve never actually listened to, like Florence And The Machine and Of Monsters And Men or The Hand And The Heart, or maybe it doesn’t! You can tell by the way I am flaunting my casual ignorance that Vow’s music isn’t really my bag, but they don’t suck – just not a whole lot in either of these two songs to get my motor running. But maybe if you have a younger cousin who spends his or her time inventing iPad apps to document organic gardening, they’d be all about Vow. So go tell them, via whatever new technology has replaced text messaging. Is it Kik?
The Wrong Man Keep Face 7″ (Swashbuckling Hobo)
What’s happening when Swashbuckling Hobo is releasing the cool Australian punk records? This EP by The Wrong Man might brazenly borrow from revered rock acts like The Stooges and The Urinals, but the end result is awfully enjoyable nonetheless. It sounds like the guitarist only has two strings, so he makes up for it by strumming them three times as much, just rifling through his simple riffs as some other guy does a pretty spot-on Iggy Pop impression, somewhere between his early solo material and the drunken mischief of Raw Power. The drummer is either only playing a snare drum or just had one microphone to record his material, and it adds to the rigid, stressed-out feel of these five tunes. The more I listen, the more I’m intrigued by The Wrong Man’s nervous riffing and drunken vocals, an unlikely emotional combination that works to their advantage. Is it too early to admit that I’ve fallen for The Wrong Man? Only time will tell.
Yi Crying LP (no label)
After two tasty self-released 7″ singles, Yi step up to the full-length format, in their own homemade way of course. From the hand-written and hand-painted covers and center stickers, it’s clear this labor-intensive design was done with care and love, and the music has that same warm (and weird) feeling. In listening to Crying, I’m reminded of the first couple Eat Skull albums, as both bands have a knack for traversing all sorts of underground punk-related sonics (New Zealand pop, crusty punk, UK post-punk, heavy metal, Rancid) while still retaining a strong identity of their own. This LP blows by fast, but on the first side alone I am treated with a magnificently intricate bass-line befitting of Don Caballero, a Slayer-styled metal riff and a raucous punk skank reminiscent of Filth. Sounds like a recipe for disaster, but Yi clearly put a lot of time and effort into these songs, picking and choosing exactly where each part goes, and when, and for how long, so none of Crying has me scratching my head in a bad way. It’s just as fun to try and figure out Yi as it is to simply let them do their thing, and I’ve been doing plenty of both as I keep flipping this one over and over.