There’s a real New York hardcore renaissance going on, and it’s almost impossible to discuss it without mentioning Warthog (or Chain Wallet, depending on your personal point of view). They’re personally and spiritually intertwined with labels like Katorga Works, Iron Lung and Toxic State, and are perhaps the most ‘classic’-sounding hardcore group in the bunch, reveling in the ferocity of Headcleaners and early Poison Idea with subtle nods to No Comment, Nine Shocks Terror and Hoax to name but a few. It’s all in there, and they deliver it in short blasts on stage and short blasts on vinyl, sticking with 7″ singles for the foreseeable future. I caught up with vocalist Chris Hansell and here’s what he had to say.
When did Warthog officially begin? Was it after you left The Men, or was it happening concurrently?
The Men and I parted ways at the tail end of 2011, and Warthog began in the early months of 2012. Mike (Gorup), Ryan (Naideau) and I were outside of a show at Tommy’s Tavern and discussed the idea of starting a band with the sole purpose being so that we could name it Chain Wallet. I originally was playing bass and the three of us wrote the five songs that would later become our demo tape. We needed a bass player, as I wanted to just do vocals, and we all agreed that we’d ask our friend Mateo (of Dawn of Humans, Long Pigs, Black Boot) to join. He obliged and shortly after that we asked another friend, Sully (Subclinix, Earthpig) to play second guitar. Then we changed the name to Warthog and recorded the demo.
Why did you change the name? Chain Wallet is a great name, but I could see it not being taken seriously… although who cares about being taken seriously.
I loved the name, I think everyone else except Mateo loved the name, he wanted to change it, also The Ramones rule so I was fine with naming the band Warthog. I’ve met people on tour who refuse to call us Warthog and only use the name Chain Wallet; glad it’s still in people’s minds. We played our first show as Chain Wallet.
Warthog is coming into its third year of existence soon… does it still feel like a new band, or has it become a familiar, somewhat normal presence in your life?
Damn, that is a pretty long time, though it actually does feel new still, somehow.
It’s definitely a normal presence in my life, if anything I wish it were more of a presence than it is, but everyone is really busy with their lives outside of the band as well so it has to take a backseat once in a while. We’ve taken it fairly easy this summer since our West Coast tour; we will be getting back to it soon I’d hope.
Could Warthog ever become a full-time thing? Would you even want that?
It’s a nice thought but just not possible.
Are there any specific influences, or inspiration, that went into Warthog that was outside the general pantheon of classic raging hardcore? Anything that might not be obvious to a listener?
Not necessarily. I do think the five of us all share a mutual love for Poison Idea and Cleveland hardcore.
How much thought have you put into being a hardcore frontman? Have you spent time thinking about the way you hold the microphone, and your physicality while performing, or is it more of an unconscious thing, where you just shut your brain off and scream?
I don’t find myself thinking about that much. Of course when I used to watch VHS tapes of hardcore bands in the ’80s as a kid I would think to myself “Damn, Jerry A looks cool as hell”, but as far as performing I tend to just shut off and do whatever, I’ve never quite figured out how to scream correctly or anything, I usually blow my voice out each set.
From what I can tell, Warthog are deeply enmeshed in the New York hardcore scene… are there any common misconceptions you’ve heard about current-day NYHC from people who live elsewhere?
Everyone in Warthog aside from Sully grew up in New York essentially. Ryan and I are from Long Island, Mike is from Westchester, and Mateo is from Jersey City. Sully grew up in Boston but has lived in New York City for a decent amount of time. We’ve all gone to the same shows and been friends for years. I’ve personally not heard or paid much attention to ‘gossip’ or peoples opinions of New York City who are not from here, but I’m sure there are really funny misconceptions, would love to hear some.
I’ve heard people bemoaning current NY hardcore for fetishizing ‘ignorant’ hardcore troupes, with transgression being more important than substance. Is that just one or two bands being mistaken for the whole scene, or completely off-base, or accurate?
I believe that people are using their time very poorly thinking about these things in terms of punk and hardcore in NYC. I’m interested in good music, transgressive or not, and I think that for the most part, the bands that catch that sort of flack are the bands that are writing way better music than the ones who are concerned.
Do you have any plans for an album, or are you just taking it as it goes at the moment?
We’re going to be writing a bunch this fall and do another 7″. The demo is being released as a 7″ which should be out really soon as well. The plan is to never do an LP, just 45s. I feel like punk and hardcore bands usually bomb when they finally do an LP, so we’re going to avoid that. That’s not to say there aren’t great contemporary punk and hardcore LPs, I just don’t think we’ll take that chance.
Why do you think that is? Why do you think so many bands with great hardcore singles stumble on their LPs? Do they just over-think it?
I think it has something to do with bands feeling pressured to write a big batch of songs for the sole purpose of doing a 12″. That format, to me, is clearly more aesthetically pleasing than a 7″ so I completely understand why. Though when bands do these LPs, there tends to be more filler involved, whereas on a good 7″ you get usually between 2-5 really great songs, no filler. It also may have something to do with the fact that some bands are more interesting in short bursts. There have been some great LPs put out in recent times though, can’t deny that.
With the cost of 7″s increasing pretty dramatically over the past few years, and the drastic shift to digital listening, do you think 7″s are becoming obsolete? I love them and would hate to see this happen. So few record stores even seem to carry 7″s anymore.
I’ve noticed that record stores are carrying less and less 7″s, though I don’t know that they’ll ever become totally obsolete – the costs have gone up so much that some 7″s can cost up to eight bucks now though, and that fucking sucks. The first Warthog record had a high wholesale price and it was a bummer, no one’s fault really, but we would have loved to be able to charge four to five bucks for a 7″ as opposed to six or seven. I love the format though and I hope it doesn’t fade any time soon.
Would you rather play at a slick club with a nice sound system, or a groady basement with an inaudible PA? Is there any preference there, or is a show just a show?
I love playing smaller shows, I prefer them to be honest, and it’s always nice when those smaller shows are equipped with a decent PA. Though I also think it is nice to play on a stage where everyone has room to breathe once in a while.
Is there room for experimentation in hardcore? Are there any stylistic elements that should never be introduced into the hardcore-punk aesthetic, or is anything game to be mixed? Not necessarily for Warthog, but generally speaking.
Personally speaking, I’m always keen on experimentation in punk and hardcore, it makes things way more interesting so long as you’re not being corny about it.
Supposing New York falls into the Atlantic (not entirely improbable) – where as a band does Warthog relocate? If you couldn’t live in New York, what other city or town do you think would suit your needs best?
Man, I have no idea. My opinions of different places rely on if there are good people that I like living there. So if were to go on that some place like Los Angeles or Austin would be nice maybe? I don’t know. I’ve been on tour so many times and seen so many U.S. cities and I’ve tried to compare anywhere to living here and it just doesn’t work, I’ve been here my whole life and have tried to picture myself living elsewhere countless times but I just don’t think I could. Would be interesting to see where I end up if I am forced out one day.
It’s pretty expensive, relatively speaking, to be a band in New York. Are you feeling that too, just from practice space and travel costs and whatever else, or is it actually not so bad?
I think we all feel it. I am blessed with a really great apartment situation thanks to my friend Jess (from Survival/Anasazi) where I live with some of my best buds and my rent is fairly cheap, but I still struggle to pay it each month. One of us does have a van and if need be we can get our gear around without paying for a taxi, and we get to use our drummers other band’s practice space so we lucked out with that. Living in New York is always going to be a financial struggle for me but as I said before I can’t picture myself living anywhere else.
What would be a worse outcome, in your opinion, for a Warthog show: the crowd stands with their hands in their pockets and politely claps, or a fight breaks out in the pit and your set is cut short?
As long as our banner doesn’t fall down, it’s a good Warthog show.
Bardo Pond Without A Doubt / Heaven II 7″ (Drawing Room)
My feelings about Bardo Pond match my feelings about firefighters: I rarely think about them, yet in the back of my mind somewhere, it’s reassuring to know they’re there. Bardo Pond are a Philadelphia institution over two decades strong, and this new 7″ is a nice little updated snapshot. “Without A Doubt” feels like every Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd breakdown melting into an extended HD slow-motion shot, revealing extra layers of guitar you never realized were there, all howling at the moon and dripping like some mystical hourglass. “Heaven II” is where you go if you die while in Heaven, and it basically feels like a direct continuation of “Without A Doubt”, tumbling past alien galaxies and time-space continuums in search of the eternal Wawa hoagie. It really sounds quite lovely, and while I admittedly don’t closely follow Bardo Pond, I’m starting to think it would be a good idea to track down whatever their latest LP is. If anything, this single’s mellow trip is over too soon.
Beth Israel Dental Denial LP (Dull Tools)
Wasn’t sure what to make of this Beth Israel LP on first look – it’s probably not a woman named Beth Israel, I’m thinking, that’d just be too coincidental, and what’s up with the hand-written Disney font? I heartily enjoyed the Eaters LP on Dull Tools, so I was excited to throw this one on regardless, and it’s about as weird as I could have expected. I suppose Beth Israel (it’s just a band name after all) could (and probably should) get lumped in the whole lo-fi indie-garage thing that is still going strong (did you know there are roughly a quarter-thousand Captured Tracks releases?), but there’s something lurking beneath the surface here that’s uniquely Beth Israel. I guess I’d describe it as this feeling of exhaustion or defeat, like there’s no wild Brooklyn party waiting for Beth Israel at night, just an elderly parent to care for or a final collection notice. Imagine Tyvek if they were just diagnosed with terminal cancer, and watch as their rambunctious attitude simmers down to the sadly resigned strum of “Family”. Sure, there are some upbeat Ty Segall-ish songs here too, but this group often feels like The Beets if they just kept partying into their late 30s and suddenly realized they don’t have any real friends. And then like halfway through this album, some guy starts aping Ian Curtis and I realize they haven’t just slit their wrists, but mine as well. All this under the guise of a fun-in-the-sun indie-punk act! I like it.
Big Boys No Matter How Long The Line Is At The Cafeteria, There’s Always A Seat! LP (Modern Classics Recordings)
It’s 2014, and this is the second Big Boys record review I’m posting on this internet website this year. I wonder if the freaks in Big Boys would’ve anticipated that? I also wonder if critics of other art forms have to review reissues like this, standard-issue reprints of canonical, critically-undisputed albums. What do you say about a new print of The Scream, or A Clockwork Orange on limited-edition Blu-ray? Anyway, this is one of Big Boys’ iconic, genre-defining skate-punk albums, filled with Gang Of Four-style funk, Bad Brains-y thrash and Minutemen grooves, and for better or worse, it’s one of the reasons why Red Hot Chili Peppers came to exist. To be honest, I’m not a huge Big Boys fan (at least on a musical level), but there’s no arguing with a record like this. Modern Classics (a division of Light In The Attic, which seems weird) opted for the finest materials for this basic reissue, going with a thick tip-on gatefold, a fancy paper/plastic inner sleeve and pristine virgin vinyl (or at least that’s what it feels like), so that’s nice at least. Feel free to buy it!
The Bilders Utopians 7″ (SmartGuy)
How many rock n’ roll national treasures does a nation as tiny as New Zealand have? Is like every third guy some sort of psychedelic blue-collar svengali raised on Velvets bootlegs and the concept of punk? I’m not complaining, even though it does get a little tiring to hear every underground record critic gush out praise for all these old NZ farts, but a record like this gives credence to the endless acclaim I’m sick of reading. The Bilders have been around since the ’80s, based around Bill Direen, and while that sort of longevity is usually a warning sign, these songs are quite smashing. “The Utopians R Just Out Boozin'” might have a funny title but The Bilders play it cool the whole way through, grooving somewhere between Lou Reed and The Fall, right were the leather meets the corduroy. “Mardy” snakes through the bar like a black-market solicitor, and it makes perfect sense to realize that The Native Cats are only a boat ride’s distance away. “C.B.A.Z.Y. Extract” is a chunk of a live tune, demonstrating The Bilders’ ability to, well, build, letting it loose in Austria to a crowd that had to be shuffling and skipping so long as they were alive at all. Guess I’m just one of those annoying praise-filled critics after all!
B-Lines Opening Band LP (Hockey Dad / Nominal)
Glad to see that Vancouver’s B-Lines are still splashing around up there. From catching a frantic live set, and their very-good debut LP, I’m proudly a B-Lines fan, and pleased to announce that this new LP cements that fact. They’re a little zanier this time around, not necessarily in songwriting approach but in delivery – I can’t help but feel like the singer is screaming all of his lyrics directly into my face, and there’s a constant buzz of cymbal-crash / open hi-hat surrounding the drums, giving off an air of slop even though they are played with precision. I’m reminded of Plow United, Jay Reatard and The Ergs at times, the sort of bouncy punk rock that tries to bum a cigarette off you, and the title track has a sly self-awareness that I’ve only ever seen Life Partners tackle so effectively. A cool and speedy record for sure, the sort of thing that makes it more understandable when I hear about punks from Halifax making the hundred-hour drive just to hang out in Vancouver for a while.
Brody’s Militia Napalm Zeppelin Raids EP 7″ (SPHC)
Brody’s Militia were showing up right as I was getting out of my intense power-violence obsession (the turn of the century or so), so they’re a name I have seen around for probably a decade without ever hearing until now. And now that I have, I gotta say – what a wonderfully weird band they are! This 7″ opens with the sort of full-frontal hardcore-grind I’d expect to find on a Reality compilation, but the song eventually veers toward heavy riff-rock not unlike Orange Goblin or Kyuss or something. Not too much of a stretch I suppose, but then they sincerely pursue their Southern stoner roots on “Patriot Act”, which sounds like John Brannon singing for Black Oak Arkansas, before flip-flopping back into speedy hardcore thrash. Interesting! I know most drunk crusties probably listen to AC/DC and ZZ Top more than the patches on their jacket might lead one to believe, but I’ve never heard such a seamless integration of classic rock and grindcore-thrash as this. I’m not even sure I want to hear it, but maybe that’s just the conservative in me, scared of hardcore being integrated with anything else. Good for these guys for pulling it off!
Alex Coulton Bleep Sequence 12″ (Mistry)
Alex Coulton is one of those young bucks out of Manchester delving deep into techno, house, dubstep and whatever other modern dance music he’s encountered. Figured I’d give this one a shot, because why not, and it’s a tight and snappy little EP. “Bleep Sequence” is nice – it feels like classic Skream reduced down even further. There are barely three separate sounds going off for most of this cut, as if Coulton took Benga’s “Night” and just sucked the marrow out of it. “Tension” fills up the flip, and it’s a bit more involved, but not by much – Coulton’s beats are full of dark, empty space, and while many other producers might suffer from such simplicity, Coulton maintains the beat even when it’s missing. “Tension” gives a jarring synth-shot the role of timekeeper, and shakes drums both big and small over top, progressing forward without ever feeling too linear. I love listening to this 12″, not only for its mix of celebration and menace, but because of the optimism it gives me for the future – as long as people like Alex Coulton are out there pushing things further and into new territory, all is not lost.
Damien Dubrovnik Patterns Of Penetration 7″ (Alter)
The first time I reviewed a Damien Dubrovnik record, I foolishly thought it was the work of a guy named Damien Dubrovnik and not two Posh Isolation noise-youngsters. Alright, you got me! Anyway, I loved Europa Diary, and this new two-song 7″ EP is great too, expanding their grim and dreary power-electronics to a synth-led wasteland. “Penis Corset” (yes, “Penis Corset”) comes first, and it has a punchy synth groove with disgustingly barked vocals – while listening, I’m picturing Sakevi providing guest vocals for the Toll LP on Broken Flag and it’s a nice scenario to envision, particularly as Damien Dubrovnik avoid sounding like noise-screamo (a common pitfall). “Patterns Of Penetration” appears on the flip, and they back away from the groove here, opting for a sort of call-and-response between radio static and a painful sinewave, at least until some dour two-note organ riff shows up to cremate the corpses. The vocals are appropriated toned-down here, like a psychotic villain slowly reading newspaper headlines to his helplessly bound victims before starting his torment. Now, to go make sure I filed their LP under “Damien” instead of “Dubrovnik”, lest this keep me up at night with worry.
Degreaser Rougher Squalor LP (Ever/Never)
The world is overrun with Birthday Party-inspired noise-rockers these days, but Degreaser have always stood out from the pack – they dragged their sludgy tunes out further than the rest, barely crawling but quite capable of sneaking up and pinching your butt. It was much to my surprise when I threw Rougher Squalor on, then, as the album opens with some scorched blues guitar that I swore came directly off Tetuzi Akiyama’s Don’t Forget To Boogie!, like a ZZ Top lick cast into a wood-burning stove. Then the rest of the band kicked in, and I eventually got used to Degreaser’s new approach, forsaking anything remotely Nick Cave- or AmRep-related for hard rock’s earliest days, when Blue Cheer sounded like the apocalypse and The Stooges were considered a novelty joke act. Turns out Degreaser are quite capable with this approach too, wah-wah guitar and repetitive bass jams in full force, with stoner vocals layered deep in the mix. It’s good stuff, but I think I prefer Degreaser’s earlier sound, as they stood out more then – Rougher Squalor is great, it just sounds like half a dozen other bands, and I probably won’t distinctly recall any of these riffs in a couple weeks. Good for them for finding a new decade of rock to excavate, though – there are so many fun styles of guitar music to play, why limit yourself in our short time on Earth?
Delivery Drama 12″ (L.A. Club Resource)
After that DJ Punisher 12″ on L.A. Club Resource walloped me over the head, I had to seek out this 12″, the other newest release from this intriguing label. As people that buy records, we’ve all had some delivery drama, like when the post office says someone left a slip on your door but they never actually did, but the music here contains none of that unnecessary anxiety and frustration, just some punchy, swift techno. I was expecting it to be a little stranger, actually – “Bahgtfo” is the a-side cut (not that you’d know it from the packaging) and it’s like a recent Omar S dance cut played on 45 instead of 33, with a slight case of acid reflux bubbling up toward the end but ultimately going down smooth. “Drama” is the b-side and it has more of a Kraftwerkian grind, with a lunkheaded thunk befitting a Rob Gee production circa 1994 or so. Definitely digging “Drama” for its brutal simplicity, the sort of cut that “anyone could do” but I’m glad Delivery did. I’m not even an L.A. club but I keep finding this label to be highly resourceful.
Demdike Stare Testpressing #005 12″ (Modern Love)
Okay so basically every month or so I’m on here complaining about paying for the greatness of Demdike Stare, and of course it’s mostly in jest, but the reason I am so strongly stuck on this group is because of records like this, records that come at me completely sideways and tussle my hair and just make me re-evaluate what dark electronic music can be about. Seriously, if you find yourself in need of one of Demdike Stare’s “Testpressing” releases, this is the one to go for! “Procrastination” is the a-side cut, and it’s fantastic – it feels like an Emptyset rhythm played on Throbbing Gristle’s gear, trading in that greyscale boom for what sounds like mortar explosions, digital renditions of broken glass and militant hi-hat. I can just picture Miles or Sean hunched over one dusty sampler, playing “Procrastination” by hand, the other guy rapidly rearranging runes and talismans on a black velvet tablecloth. I figured it would be my favorite Demdike track this year, until I flipped this 12″ over for “Past Majesty”. What a cut! It sounds like Joe Preston and Stephen O’Malley remixing Nine Inch Nails’ Broken, and then shortly thereafter releasing it on Pre-Cert Entertainment under the guise that it’s a lost occult krautrock record that Tony Iommi recorded in 1976 before the studio mysteriously burnt down. Seriously, I can barely contain my excitement for Testpressing #005, and feel completely vindicated that I’ve spent what is probably hundreds of dollars on Demdike records (and that’s buying them new – I can’t imagine those who are paying secondary market “collector” prices). Highest recommendation from atop the highest peak of this fine planet!
Dragon Turtle Distances LP (Oscillating Color)
I know Dragon Turtle as a friendly local ambient-rock group, the sort of guys you’re happy to have bust out their guitars and oscillators at a campfire gathering. They’re from the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania, same as me, and Distances comes with a laundry list of contributing musicians that read like a who’s who of friendly Pennsylvanian avant-garde musicians, from Russell Higbee (formerly of Man Man and The Holy Fallout) to Mary Lattimore and Jay Hudak (that’s right, even An Albatross is represented here). It’s with that convivial spirit that Distances plays out, much like the foggy alien terrain on the cover, but as a place of wonder, not fear. They behave like an American Sigur Rós (would that just make them Victory Rose?), building up thick layers of atmosphere and tugging at heartstrings with soft and caring hands. At their most vicious, I’m reminded of Tamaryn’s hazy aesthetic, music for drifting into pleasant sleep. It’s not a style I often gravitate toward, and I could be swelling with hometown pride, but Distances is a sharply-executed album for this style, from the art design to the pristine swells of sound within. If you want to join me, I’ll be in the rose-tinted tide pool just past the Eastern volcanic formation.
Fat Creeps Must Be Nice LP (Sophomore Lounge)
Fat Creeps? Uh, okay. Anyway, this is another Massachusetts-based group who are doing that whole ’90s indie pop-punk resurgence thing, and they sound pretty good! With a name like “Fat Creeps”, you kind of assume the band has set their sights fairly low, and while that comes through on some of these riffs, which are often quite average, the singer has a particularly cool voice and the band plays these songs with more inspiration than I could personally muster. There are even some slower, moodier tunes that give off a “Chan Marshall fronting Potty Mouth” vibe, which is a nice contrast to the sunshine-slacker sensation that fills most of Must Be Nice. The name is still kinda putting me off, though – if I may, please allow me to suggest a name change to the Mostly-Girl Autumn Downer Band? I guess at the very least, they don’t use two Vs instead of a W, nor have they randomly removed any vowels, so I’ll give them that. But yeah, there are some cool tunes here for sure, and while Fat Creeps haven’t rocked my world, they are a slight cut above your average weed-and-pizza-and-kitties pop-punk band.
Frau Punk Is My Boyfriend 7″ (Static Shock)
Now that I’m accustomed to the delightful punk squeal of Frau, care of last year’s demo recently pressed to vinyl, I was pretty psyched to check out this new single, even if the title had me humming Fastbreak’s “Music Is My Girlfriend” to myself. Thankfully, this short punk 7″ is entirely un-hummable – it’s all just spastic fits and screeching halts, and it ranks much higher than their demo in my book, dare I say surpassing Good Throb as “London’s Best Punk Band” (although I don’t truly dare to say that). It’s so hard to tell what’s going on with the two a-side tracks that I wish I released it myself, as punk rock that unintentionally borders on Jean Dubuffet-style sound-art is one of my favorite forms of music. The import price for a 7″ these days is killer, and this one is only a few minutes long, but I prefer to judge the value of records in terms of quality, not length. This one right here is of the highest standard.
The Garment District If You Take Your Magic Slow LP (Night People)
The days of equating Night People with costumed noise seem to be essentially over, making way for a softer, daintier form of underground pop, like K Records if it was spawned in a town that hates art. Sweet DIY pop is what The Garment District are all about, as they wind their way through various instrumentation to a similar endpoint of cozy, intimate indie music. I’m often reminded of the Elephant 6 collective, picking up some serious Olivia Tremor Control and Elf Power vibes early on, but while The Garment District have a singer (and her April March-esque voice fits wonderfully), half of these songs are long instrumentals, plodding along like cartoon turtles on their way to the pond. They even play one song twice, with vocals and without, but the song titles are different so maybe my brain is tricking me? They’re usually a relaxed, pretty rock band here, but The Garment District can settle in on an electronic beat just as comfortably, which keeps If You Take Your Magic Slow from falling into a rut. No pretense here, just some cute tunes, the sort of thing that would make flowers dance on a children’s TV show. It’s adorable without sounding like iPod commercial music, so I tip my hat.
Gog Gog LP (King Of The Monsters)
Nice to see that the re-booted King Of The Monsters label appears to be a full-time thing, and that they continue to release heavy, ugly, underground music. Never heard of Gog before (and like you, I had to double-check to make sure it wasn’t actually Gag), but this album ain’t half bad. They’re kind of like a black-metal version of Explosions In The Sky – picture long-form mood-setting ambient instrumental guitar music, but instead of beautiful melodies chiming upward, Gog deliver menacing guitar drone, low-octave piano bashing and unsettling hives of noise. By the third track, we’re in full-on percussion-banging crescendo mode, as though the black clouds you saw from miles away finally rolled into your small town and started downing trees left and right. It’s a little generic I suppose (the beautiful inner sleeve has one of those “the sun through tree branches” photos that almost seems like a prerequisite for the genre at this point, and the song titles are long and melodramatic), but Gog are confident, patient players who clearly take their chaotic dust-storm of sound seriously. Maybe this is what modern-day Swans would sound like if the band existed without the tyrannical direction of Michael Gira? No matter what the case, I hope there’s a Friday Night Lights moment in Gog’s future.
Hero Dishonest Kaikki Hajoaa 7″ (Peterwalkee)
Here’s a nice and new five-song Hero Dishonest EP on the Peterwalkee label, America’s number-one importer of Finnish hardcore-punk. Nothing has changed in Hero Dishonest’s MO since I last encountered them, and that’s no complaint – they are still crazy, frantic, occasionally-moshable and highly enjoyable. I’m frequently reminded of Japanese hardcore stalwarts Gauze, as the vocal delivery and general syllabic cadence are quite similar (and I comprehend as much Japanese as I do Finnish), Jellyroll Rockheads when the songs slip over the edge into insanity, and oddly enough, the metallic NY crossover of Crumbsuckers (some of these slower parts just reek of a CBGBs matinee with a guy in an Agnostic Front shirt creepycrawling off the stage). I’ve had the benefit of seeing Hero Dishonest perform live, in their home country no less, so knowing that it’s four old white guys with long hair wearing wrinkled t-shirts and construction boots makes it that much more appealing. Why can’t old American punks be as non-embarrassing as this?
Idea Fire Company The Laboratory EP 7″ (I Dischi Del Barone)
If you have that one friend who is really into noise, like someone who turns the vacuum cleaner on just to listen to its variant overtones and speaks of Jason Lescalleet on a first name basis, you can be damn sure they’ve got more than a couple Idea Fire Company albums stacked up in their home. They’re one of those serious edge-of-the-earth, test-of-strength noise groups, where the very concept of noise is erased over, folded into a crane, and then discarded. I don’t always want to hear them, but when I do, they hit the spot like no one else, so I was excited for this peculiar little EP on the new I Dischi Del Barone label out of Sweden. Depending on your point of view, the following will be either good news or bad news – both tracks are little more than two extended synth-tones held down for what was probably all of eternity (but due to the limitations of the 7″ format we only get to inspect about five minutes per side). Certainly nothing more than that, and nothing less, just two inharmonious tones subtly warbling while you sit there like a dumb-ass. I kinda love it, on one hand, but I also know I am perfectly content never hearing it again. At the very least, I am delighted that this record exists.
Kam Kama Shift LP (Sister Cylinder)
Kam Kama are really going for it, but it’s a good it – I’m not talking about hype-fueled micro-stardom or corporate sponsorship, but rather a thoughtfully-considered, stylish, and quality musical aesthetic on their band-run label. I heard their 7″ before and thought it was okay, and Shift, their debut full-length, is cooler, more realized and more confident. I’d describe their sound as a jazzy, melancholy form of art-rock, somewhere between The Cure and At The Drive-In? The music is clean and understated, and while there are all sorts of interesting riffs, nothing ever gets tangled – at times, listening to their music is like watching a really respectful debate. I’m also reminded of The Zoltars, as both bands share an inherent intellectual sadness that I find appealing, like these guys are all friendless nerds who discovered the secret to the meaning of life but will never share it because no one talks to them. The first lyrics on the record are “so hard to hear / when your clothes smell like smoke / and you’re embarrassed / in front of yourself” – Kam Kama have found a peculiar way to express their doldrums, and I’m worried that if they refine themselves any further their anxieties might rub off on me, too.
Keluar Vitreum 12″ (Desire)
Nice to see a new Keluar record not too long after their debut, care of the Desire record label, who seem to be locking down the modern cold-wave game. At this point, I’m fairly used to Keluar’s sound (biting, astringent synth-pop with unusual melodies and deconstructed beats), and they offer no surprises in that regard here. However, part of me will forever compare them to vocalist Alison Lewis’ previous project, Linea Aspera, and I continue to wish some of Linea’s hook-laden melodies were resurrected here. If anything, Keluar push even further from the Wierd Records scene toward a darkened abyss of synth experimentation, complete with jagged edges and strange cooridors. There are some songs on here where Lewis’s slow-motion siren call doesn’t quite fit with the aggressive tone of the music, but it makes for an interesting clash – Vitreum never sags or lags. I’m still hoping Keluar decide, if only for once, to bust out some La Roux-destroying synth-pop banger, but I’ll be content if they keep releasing unique and intriguing records like this.
Life Stinks Portraits / Sweep It Under The Rug 7″ (Total Punk)
What’s that smell? Why, it’s life itself, back with another two-song slow-motion cruise to bummertown. If I were Total Punk, I’d make Life Stinks one of my marquee artists (along with say, Video and Lumpy & The Dumpers), as they’ve just got it, that sort of unfakeable punk rock coolness that I need in my life. They gutsily re-format Flipper’s “Love Canal” into a song called “Portraits”, singing different words and shifting the drumbeat just enough so that they avoid paying royalties. Their boldest borrowed riff thus far, and they make smart use of it, rocking as though the audience is slowly filtering out and they couldn’t care less. “Sweep It Under The Rug” is great too, fitted with a simpler riff, slowed-down Urinals drumming and a memorable sing-along vocal, the sort of tune that guys over forty can pogo to (their knees are starting to go, so a slower tempo like this is key). Ready and waiting for more Life Stinks, that’s for sure…
Lonely Wholesome Vanity / Lethargy 7″ (Wild Animal)
Lonely Wholesome is the newest solo project of Jonah Falco, one of my favorite musicians (Fucked Up, Career Suicide, Mad Men, etc.), not to mention human beings. Maintaining Fucked Up’s deliberately outrageous pressing style, this 7″ is limited to 400 copies and comes on five different colors of vinyl (it’s at the point where if you’re the type of person who actually cares to own records like this on different colors of vinyl, you deserve all the suffering you get). Anyway, this is a really strange one, certainly not what I expect from Mr. Falco – Discogs files it under “Alternative Rock” and I’d have to agree. “Vanity” is this quiet little wormy song that recalls a Pixies b-side, maybe some early REM that John Peel would’ve enjoyed, or I dunno, Violent Femmes? The vocals are especially nerdy (is that Jonah?) and I honestly don’t understand the point of the song. “Lethargy” doesn’t make things any easier, as it sounds like The American Analog Set or Bedhead, one of those dark indie bands comprised of wimps that purposely helped worsen your depression, maybe with a slight hint that the next Lonely Wholesome record will sound entirely like Machines Of Loving Grace. This one’s not for me, but I’m still delighted to have listened to it, and I remain assured that while the rest of us are asleep in our beds for fifty to sixty hours a week, Jonah Falco is using that time to lay down rhythm guitar or backing vocals on one of the dozens of bands he’s dreamed up.
Lumpy And The Dumpers Bat 7″ (Total Punk)
Didn’t take long for Total Punk to pull some more Lumpy And The Dumpers out of some big abandoned toxic-sludge facility in St. Louis, and who can blame them? They might be the most discussion-worthy hardcore-punk band of the year, and rightfully so, even after I found out that this is actually just a vinyl pressing of a two-song tape from back in 2012. I don’t care, because I don’t have that tape and Lumpy and his gang have been nothing short of vinyl-worthy. This one might be a just a hair shy of the greatness that is Gnats In The Pissa, but it’s still really cool – “Bat” is perfect for those already planning their Halloween parties. I love how the drums seem to kick in just a millisecond too late, but then maintain proper timing… I thought only Iceage could pull off such mean-spirited sloppiness. B-side “X-Rod” is another science-fiction-based punk wreck, and with the addition of slight reverb on the vocals, I swear I’m listening to The Mentally Ill reincarnate. Punk obscurities Max Load wrote the b-side in 1979, Lumpy And The Dumpers wrote the a-side in 2012, and there is essentially zero difference between the two. How long until a Lumpy And The Dumpers album? Could the world be so lucky?
No Intention Good Intentions / Material Dilemma 7″ (I Dischi Del Barone)
Along with the Idea Fire Company 7″, I Dischi Del Barone released this No Intention 7″, a drastically different form of ‘experimental’ music but just as uncompromising (and probably just as annoying to 99% of the population). “Good Intentions” is a spoken-word piece over a rhythmic, electronic boing, which eventually gets warped into itself before dissolving entirely. It’s like an update on LCD Soundsystem’s “Losing My Edge”, but for the Kye Records set. The flip is what seems to be a fairly unedited field recording of someone sitting in the reception area of a Jiffy Lube, trying to eat their lunch-hour sandwich while waiting for their oil to be changed. The tape is fast-forwarded seemingly at random, and it’s really the highest form of art in that it circles back around to being totally pointless and stupid. No idea who is behind No Intention; could be some famous avant raconteur or some nobody’s cousin, but the beauty of a track like this (which ends with some untrained piano plonking) is that it’s kind of irrelevant who made it. No matter its creator, it will take you to the same zone of drab meta-reality, like having an out-of-body experience only to watch yourself tie your shoes. Intriguing, for sure, although I am more interested in the future tricks of I Dischi Del Barone than No Intention.
Opéra Mort Dédales LP (Alter)
Opéra Mort is a duo consisting of one of my favorite French freaks, El-G, and Jo Tanz, a French freak to whom I am glad to become acquainted. If you’ve heard any El-G material, Dédales might not be much of a shocker, but that’s cool with me – I could listen to El-G any day of the week. I’m reminded of Nurse With Wound, of course, and maybe Drekka too, but Opéra Mort feels closer in spirit to early Cabaret Voltaire or Throbbing Gristle, like it was borne of the punk scene and quickly got fed up with its restrictions. This material is bit more slow-moving and restrained than the El-G I’m used to hearing, but I appreciate avant-noise artists who take their time and avoid throwing the whole kitchen sink down the steps. There’s usually some sort of drone or synth presence on these tracks, but the rest of the sounds seem to come from parts unknown, from dribbly percussion to muted feedback and inexplicable nonsense. The vocals base these songs in some form of reality, even if they frequentlu sound like a drunk person confusedly trying to get into your apartment at 3:00 am. Great stuff!
Mark Pritchard Untitled 12″ (MP)
Mark Pritchard is one of those pasty, bearded white dudes making The Wire-approved techno, the sort of music where it just sounds like melted electronic chaos but it comes with a six-page academic explanation to back it up. Well, you know what, I love that sort of stuff! Decided to check out this low-key new 12″ from Mr. Pritchard, because why not, and I’ll be damned if it isn’t one of my recent favorites, a frequent go-to in the Yellow Green Red estate. It opens with “You Don’t Know Me”, a sly and subtle juke variation on the method Ricardo Villalobos applied to “Easy Lee”, which hangs in the air like an eventual three-point swish. “I’m Going To War” follows, and it reminds me of one of those early Nicolas Jaar R&B edits, just focusing on two seconds of the blues and rubbing it raw. Both “Wake Up” and “Givin’ Up” on the flip toy with the same basic template of “I’m Going To War”, dropping a hook-ready sample over stuttering footwork pads, party music for parties both myself and Pritchard could only dream of being invited to. He hits that sweet spot between frenetic and chilled-out, and while this was probably just a Monday morning studio exercise, I hope MP continues this concern.
Rakta Rakta 12″ (540)
When I heard that I missed some killer noisy goth-punk group outta Brazil last year, I smacked my forehead hard enough to leave a mark, a mark I deserved to wear with shame for at least the rest of the day. So it was certainly nice of 540 to come through with a fresh American pressing less than a year after its original release, so that I may finally bear witness to Rakta. At this point you can probably tell that I built this group up in my head pretty high without actually hearing them, so it might not be a surprise to find out that upon listening, I think they are cool but ultimately fall short of the greatness I had anticipated. To my ears, they remind me of Naked On The Vague (specifically their early-period songwriting acumen and their late-period instrumentation), rolling in on a cloud of reverb so thick it makes Lost Tribe cough. Maybe a touch of Trop Tard’s miserable hopelessness can be located within Rakta too, but the music never really touches a nerve, so much as it floats by on familiar songwriting tropes and an even more familiar aesthetic (bear witness to any five Sacred Bones records to get the feel I’m referring to). I still like Rakta, and I hope they put out more records, because I’ve already made my mind up to be blown away by them; they just haven’t done it yet.
Replica Beast EP 7″ (Prank)
Replica are on my short-list of hardcore bands I need to catch live – people talk of their shows with the awe and reverence of a Joel Osteen sermon, with lots of “best front-person in hardcore” statements bandied about, and I need to see that for myself. This new 7″ EP is my first time actually listening to them (not sure why I never ordered that flexi), and I dunno – this is good hardcore for sure, but I am not feeling particularly moved. It might be unfair to compare them to Permanent Ruin, but the songs on Beast aren’t as fast, unhinged or tight, and I feel like both bands are mining similar hardcore territory, somewhere between the post-Slap A Ham / 625 Productions fast-core scene and the jumpy hardcore thrash of Limp Wrist or Life’s Halt. Maybe I’ve just reached my limit for the NOFX drumbeat they use in their fast parts (see the opening of “Night Life” and “Becky’s Rite” for two examples) – I suppose it’s a variation of the d-beat, but the clean recording quality and song structures just makes me think of Fat Mike’s chain wallet; I can’t help it. Don’t get me wrong, they are a talented group and this is a good hardcore EP, but I was hoping to hear something that would scare Hoax and Vile Gash fans out of the pit through its sheer intensity, not a band that could fit as an opener for the next Kid Dynamite reunion.
See You In Hell Jed 12″ (SPHC)
Here’s the first of two artists to be reviewed this month whose band names inflict Christian morality judgment upon me, See You In Hell. This is a Czech hardcore group (is there a country not yet represented by the worldly SPHC label?), and they play a pretty straightforward form of hardcore thrash, not unlike Forward or Contrast Attitude, constantly pushing ahead with big gang vocals repeating the same phrase for many of the choruses. It’s certainly competent hardcore, but I’ve personally heard enough of this solid-yet-predictable style to last me for at least a couple years before I find myself actively seeking it out again. Were See You In Hell able to invigorate some aspect of the formula, either pushing the drums past human ability or subjecting the vocalist’s throat to a cheese grater, I might sit up in my chair and consider See You In Hell to be a hardcore contender, but for now they’re just a quality hardcore band that I never need to hear again.
Sete Star Sept / New York Against The Belzebu split 7″ (SPHC)
Ah, thank the kind folks at SPHC for keeping the Sete Star Sept coming. I love that it’s essentially tradition at this point for horrible tuneless noise-core garbage bands to release endless slews of split 7″s, CDs, tapes, LPs, etc., and Sete Star Sept are following in the footsteps that Seven Minutes Of Nausea and The Gerogerigegege left before them. Their side of this EP is exactly that, just endless unintelligible noise-grind, and it goes without saying that I love it. On the flip is a band that is called New York Against The Belzebu, just think about that for a second, and their side of the insert not only reveals that they are from Brazil but it also lists their deep discography of splits and CD-rs and whatever else. Bravo! Their music is less brutal, more like one of the less-inspiring blips to come off the first Bllleeeeaaauuurrrrgghhh! compilation, but still pretty delightful. Bad anime art is featured on both sides of the 7″ sleeve, further proving that when it comes to international noise-core pointlessness, there is simply no room for good taste.
Sokea Piste Valikasi LP (Peterwalkee)
Like I was saying, Peterwalkee remains America’s pipeline for modern Finnish hardcore, back with yet another Sokea Piste record, this being their second full-length from 2013, repressed for us Yankees. I consider myself a passive fan of Sokea Piste – I get their records to review, listen to them a bunch and enjoy it, but generally forget about them shortly thereafter. It’s not that they aren’t really good, it’s just that moody, spiraling post-punk hardcore isn’t what I reach for on a day-to-day basis. I mention this because I can’t recall if there is any big stylistic leap or songwriting shift from their earlier records – it sounds just as focused and downtrodden as before, chugging along with the exhaustion of old age but fueled with a fiery determination. Maybe I’m catching more Wire or S.Y.P.H. moments on Valikasi than before, or maybe they’ve always been there? Regardless, Sokea Piste are great, and I hope there is an audience out there more focused than myself who is lapping this stuff up.
Suffering Luna With The Astronaut King / Suffer The Storm split 12″ (King Of The Monsters)
Graffiti-tagging metalheads rejoice, this two-song split 12″ has all the sludgy doom-grind you can handle. I’ve only ever heard one Suffering Luna song before, off their Dystopia split, and I’ve doubled that number here (with assistance by “The Astronaut King”, whoever that may be). It’s pretty dope, if I may be so bold as to use that word, fusing slow-mosh Bongzilla riffs, Gasp-styled noise interludes and a heavy dose of Pessimiser-Theologian misery-metal throughout. I’ve tried to stop the habit, but I found myself lifting my left hand in air-guitar position more than once. Suffer The Storm are a good fit for this EP, as they sound incredibly similar. Sure, their vocals are more monstrous and their snare drum delivers more of a sharp ping, but this is essentially more demonic sludge akin to Corrupted or Noothgrush, at least until they click off the distortion pedals for a majestic metal dirge ala Khanate or Asunder (and yes, there are samples). If you’ve already got the limited versions of all your favorite Relapse and Nuclear War Now! records, might I point your attention over here? 95 on gold/white vinyl, 100 on white vinyl and 315 on black.
Tyrants Tyrants First EP 7″ (no label)
Straight outta Portland, OR, this is Tyrants’ third EP (editor’s correction: it is their first EP), and it’s pretty cool if you like no-wavey post-punk that emphasizes the punk aspect of the equation. I’d describe their sound as a somewhat straightforward mix of Arab On Radar and The Urinals, with single-stick drumming and a guitar that’s picking its nose while the bass chugs mightily along. These songs zip by quickly, and while the singer is blurting all sorts of vein-popping nonsense, these tracks shut down before he’s even broken a sweat. Maybe a touch of Charm City Suicides in the vocals, too, which naturally is a strong nod of approval from yours truly. For every bogus paint-by-numbers garage-punk band that has a variety of record labels clamoring to issue their tracks, there’s a band like Tyrants, happily self-releasing their own music (and even rubbing some weird greasy ink stamp on both the cover and center sticker) without a publicity schedule or media contacts (well, I guess besides Yellow Green Red and whoever else they sent one to). I don’t mind if these Tyrants stick around for a while!
Ultra Pulverize Toxic Vacation 12″ (no label)
Finally, here’s something: Ultra Pulverize, a self-described “Electronic Synth-Punk Rap” group outta Kentucky. They wear laser-tag suits, write songs about space vampires, and are clearly having the time of their lives being in this weird-ass band. And I guess it isn’t half-bad! I mean, it’s barely half-good, but these guys clearly are so wonderfully entertained by themselves that the rest doesn’t really matter. The music hits somewhere between the early demo material of both Nine Inch Nails and Skrillex, maybe even a touch of early Cold Cave too, but the vocals essentially ruin any sort of raw electro-industrial EBM vibe by sounding like “Weird” Al doing an Outkast impression. Try as he might, the rapper sounds like the normal nerdy white-guy he is, rather than transcending his mortal existence ala Riff Raff or Oderus Urungus. It’s a distracting vocal, for sure, but even with Ultra (that’s the rapper’s name) going full throttle, it’s still a fairly entertaining record, the sort of thing I truly hope is getting a daytime slot at The Gathering Of The Juggalos, in between The Egyptian Lover and Municipal Waste or whoever Violent J is booking these days.
Ulysses The Casual Mystic 12″ (The Bunker New York)
The Bunker has been the coolest spot for forward-thinking, unusual and utterly-banging dance music in New York for years now, and they’ve decided to get into the vinyl game earlier this year, releasing all sorts of cool stuff that I need to check out (I feel like it’s a safe assumption that the stuff this label is releasing is cool). The first one I yanked is Ulysses with The Casual Mystic, and it’s tight. The title track simmers ominously, with a tweaked acid line and Knight Rider syncopation flirting with each other across the room. It’s Mr. Raoul K-like in its subtle deviance, and a great way to start the night. “Throne Of Bubbles” kicks off the b-side, and it’s an effectively uplifting tech-house cut, reminiscent of Moonbeam and their transcendent methodology, although it never quite pushes through to a soul-stirring crescendo. “Nanook” sounds like the name of an underpopulated Star Wars planet, and the track provides a good soundtrack for such, little technoid animals scurrying into dark crevices when your Asteroid Jumper lowers onto the planet’s thorny surface. It twists and turns, but never erupts into something for the dance-floor – this is a track you inhabit for a few minutes, admire its textures and colors and quietly escape. It all results in a nice, diverse EP that has me curious about the dozens of other records Ulysses has released over the last decade. But wait, there’s a Voices From The Lake 12″ out on The Bunker New York, too? I gotta get on that first…
Violent Change A Celebration Of Taste LP (Melters)
Probably the poppiest band with Minor Threat lyrics for a name, Violent Change are back with a second album, even as rumors of their demise swirl about. I can’t remember what I thought about the first Violent Change album besides being delightfully confused by it, and that feeling is intensified with A Celebration Of Taste – their Hairdryer Peace, perhaps? It feels like I’m watching someone flip through fictional college radio stations, from the Sebadoh-obsessed loner to the buttoned-up garage rocker that comes in at midnight and then later, the guy who named his program after a Television Personalities song. Songs seem to begin and end at random, sometimes sputtering out of gas, other times abruptly cut short as the tape runs out, and they don’t seem to use the same distortion pedals or production effects twice, which makes for a consistently varied record. It’s almost kind of frustrating, when there’s a great tune you want more than 90 seconds of, but there you go: “Violent Change” indeed.
York Factory Complaint Lost In The Spectacle LP (Accidental Guest)
York Factory Complaint’s had a lot of different members and guests over the years, but the core is Michael Berdan and Ryan Martin, two of the nicest folks in noise. I swear, if there’s someone out that there dislikes or is disliked by both of them, that person has some serious issues to deal with, but let’s not turn this into a celebration of their upstanding characters so much as a celebration of the sound within. I had never actually heard York Factory Complaint before, and I was expecting big modular drones with spliced electronic sound effects, like Maurizio Bianchi collaged with Tod Dockstader, and while they might have sounded like that at one point, Lost In The Spectacle is actually a pretty focused and heavy power-electronics record. It starts off on a rust-colored cloud of drone and static, but before long York Factory Complaint are laying down heavy industrial slabs with violently distorted vocals, not far from Con Dom or Grey Wolves, or like-minded contemporary artists like Puce Mary or Cremation Lily. As I listen, I get the feeling that these six tracks were culled from a much larger reservoir, like their recording session (under the talented hand of Kris Lapke) yielded three hours and they picked the best thirty minutes, because there isn’t a wasted moment or improvisational cul-de-sac here. It flows like a story, but each track stands on their own as well – I’m most partial to the churning ragers, and there’s plenty of that here. I think it’s also my favorite vocal performance from Berdan, across any of his many bands, so that’s nice too. Strong work, guys!
You’ll Never Get To Heaven Adorn 12″ (Psychic Handshake)
First of all, I don’t like band names that try to pick a fight with me. How do you know the extent of my sins, tough-guy? Anyway, with a name like that I was expecting some sort of instrumental Godflesh or Neurosis-worship band, and was surprised when soft-core ’80s synth-wave romanticism kicked it off, like steam from a New York subway grate as Charles Bronson walks past, searching for his daughter’s kidnapper. Once the cooing vocals come in, it takes on more of a Tri Angle / Not Not Fun scope, but You’ll Never Get To Heaven are still indebted to the emotional turbulence of the ’80s, very much a “brokenhearted teenager suffering of loneliness through the Cold War” vibe. Kinda sounds like if Grimes never got into Tumblr, instead opting to write pages of diaries that eventually got thrown out after she left college. Not sure if you can tell from all that I’ve said here, but I actually enjoy Adorn quite a bit, as the sounds the band uses are all pretty affecting, from the harmonic picking of the guitar to the rain-droplet keyboard sound and fading house-strings. If the Lifetime network is reading this, they may want to enlist You’ll Never Get To Heaven to turn their next original movie about a daughter’s courage to run away from home in search of her biological parents into something truly magical.