In a sea of sound-alikes, you can name Dark Blue’s distinctive sound in under five notes, and that’s not just because they only play four. Vocalist John Sharkey (the third)’s voice is unmistakably his own, perhaps the best sarcasm-wielding baritone of all time, and it guides Dark Blue’s peculiar formula of bubblegum Oi!, or at least their approximate sound-clash of heart-on-sleeve New Romanticism and drunken skinhead anthems. After a couple 7″ singles and a debut full-length, all brandishing their Crate & Barrel-font logo, Dark Blue are poised to take over the underground, if only because they have absolutely nothing to prove – this is a group that exists to replicate the sounds bouncing around in Sharkey’s head, not to collect likes, pings or track-backs. They’re also some of the downright sweetest men over thirty you’ll ever likely meet, just don’t tell them I said that. After previously denying me a Puerto Rico Flowers interview, Sharkey finally relented and talked Dark Blue with me.
Seeing as both Puerto Rico Flowers and Dark Blue are essentially your babies, can you explain why Puerto Rico Flowers ended and Dark Blue began? Even with some personnel overlap, they seem like pretty distinctly different projects.
There really was no heady reason why Puerto Rico Flowers ended. Like everything I do musically I get sick of it after a while. I’m sure some people out there can relate. I was also getting extremely bored with the synthesizer and modern bands associated with them. Fake Goth is pathetic. It seems like every dude who was into hardcore decided two years after Cold Cave emerged that they too were a tortured soul who need to exercise the demons of the Revelation Records message-board by moaning over GarageBand preset drum beats.
I started Dark Blue out of the itch. I was ready to play guitar again and the only reason personnel overlap happened in that case is because I trust Andy (Nelson, bass) and Mike (Sneeringer, drums) more than anyone. They can just walk into the situation knowing the score. No nonsense.
It’s been said that Dark Blue is basically trying to fuse Oi/street-punk with New Romantic / Madchester pop. Is that accurate? Was there a specific plan behind how you wanted Dark Blue to sound?
I originally got the idea to do an Oi!-pop type band after making a compilation of all the hidden pop gems stashed on those skinhead rock records. Some of the sweetest sounds came for the lunkiest British boofheads. I was always attracted to those songs when I was a 14-year-old discovering that shit. I also romanticize that era of punk a bit too much. It was the en-vogue style when I found punk. I can recall fondly going to shows in West Philadelphia at Stalag 13. One time I was running down the street, overjoyed that some idiot had sold me – fourteen at the time – a forty-ounce malted beer. Halfway back to the show I dislocated my right knee and smashed it on the ground. I was already kind of drunk so it was no big loss. Then “Nazis” aka skinheads from Reading drove their car into the singer of a band called Dehumanized. The singer was an African-American female. A person who I’d become good friends with later named Tony Pointless threw a brick right through the windshield. It was like a soap opera. All for me.
I’m certainly not gonna start a band that sounds like Blanks ’77 but this is as close as I will get. It’s still just my songs.
Do you personally identify as a skinhead?
Which combination label/distro has had a deeper effect on your life: Profane Existence or Vulture Rock?
Neither. The Cleopatra Record catalog and distribution had that market cornered. Although I loved bands like Misery and Assrash when I was young.
Do Australians understand skinhead culture?
I guess. There were a few of them in Sydney and Melbourne. A few of the members of AVO were from the suburb I lived in, Canberra. You should check that band out.
If you’re a skinhead, and Andy is a punk, does that make Mike a herbert?
Mike is a hippy, Sean (McGuinness, fill-in drummer) is a Herbert. Dave (Wagenschutz, fill-in drummer) is also a skinhead. He was Detroit’s last real skinhead.
Dark Blue has been documented via social media since the band was having its first practices. Why did you want the process of Dark Blue to be so visible to friends and followers?
I have been guilty of over-sharing, yes, but it’s an easy way to remain relevant and not extremely active. I’m not playing in this band to be intentionally obscure. Fuck that. Even if I can’t commit to touring and do what they call in the industry as “going for it”, the band is still gonna represent itself properly.
Where does Dark Blue exist within the record industry? It seems to me that you’re not self-sabotagingly DIY, but at the same time it’s not the #1 priority in your life.
It’s definitely not my life’s work anymore but it’s still a large part of my daily thinking. Now that my children are getting older I can pay more attention to it and in turn can pursue things like music industry attention. I’ll take whatever comes my way in turns of that. You want to release my record? Sure. You want to fly me to play one show in a weekend? Sure. You want to pay me? Sure. It’s really me being advantageous. I’m not shy when it comes to money these days. I don’t have much so give me all of yours.
How far would you take that? Do you have any fear of Dark Blue being corrupted via commercialization, or is that simply not possible? Like if Coors Light came knocking with thousands of dollars to license a commercial, you’d say yes in a heartbeat?
I would for many reasons take all of that Coors Light money. I have mouths to feed and Eagles season tickets to buy. Rocky Mountain High.
I don’t think licensing is the cause of commercialization corrupting artists. It’s when people start making concession with their output for the sake of being commercial. I probably couldn’t even do that if I made the most concerted effort. I don’t think I know how to do that. Not trying to sound like some pompous Puritan, I’m just being honest. It’s hard to fake shit like that.
Really, you don’t think you could write some beer commercial jingle? I think you could. Dark Blue’s stuff is by far the most straightforward and pop-leaning music you’ve done thus far…
Well, if anyone at Coors is reading this: I’m up for the challenge.
Your guitar sound, particularly on the LP, has that same sort of bite at the end of each note that you had in Clockcleaner. Has your setup changed much since those days?
Yes I’ve changed everything completely. In Clockcleaner I used a Marshall 4×12 with the little buddy Crate Power Block. That was the secret weapon. I still have it but don’t really use it for Dark Blue.
Now I use a Marshall 4×10 and valve amp with built in slap-back so I don’t need to muck around with a delay pedal anymore. And I’m playing a Fender Strat as opposed to the Les Paul. I’m over Gibsons. I’m perfectly comfortable with my penis.
So yes. I use completely different shit and get the mostly the same results. Still use metal picks. Not quarters anymore, though.
You’re headed to the UK for a Dark Blue tour later this year. Do you have any specific expectations or goals for it? If not musically, just from a tourist perspective?
We actually pushed the tour back to next Spring, but I have some plans that will probably not come to fruition. I want to visit a few football grounds, like Liverpool’s home, Anfield and The Millwall ground, The Den. Fulham FC have a cool old shithole ground. I also want to become UK-tabloid-famous. Maybe I’ll pants a bobby or streak Buckingham Palace with “Free Palestine” painted on my bottom.
Musically I just want to play and get it over with. That’s my goal for every show.
Do you follow the music scene in the UK? Any bands you’d like to play with? Actually, let me open that up further: do you follow the music scene anywhere these days?
Every time Andy says we have an offer to play with someone I never seem to know who the fuck these bands are. I don’t pay much attention to children that aren’t mine. It is a lot of work that I’m not willing to do, staying abreast of modern music.
What are you listening to these days, in that case? What’s in your six-CD changer?
How do you know I have a 6-cd changer?! Did you know I owned an Accord? Am I that quick a study? I hope not.
Lately it’s been from 1-6:
1. Psychedelic Furs Greatest Hits
2. Iris Dement Live at BB King’s crowd tape
3. Misfits Legacy Of Brutality
4. John Cale Fragments Of A Rainy Season
5. Housemartins The People That Grinned Themselves To Death
6. Morrissey Kill Uncle
I know you’ve covered John Cale before. Any other cover songs in the Dark Blue songbook at this point?
I’d love to cover a 4-Skins song or a Roxy Music song but nothing is planned. Maybe “Tears In Heaven” by Eric Clapton. That song is very emotional and moving. Appropriate for a funeral. I’d play that at a funeral for $300.
I feel like the jock-rock of the ’90s has yet to make a nostalgic comeback, and there’s a cultural slot that needs filling. Are any Dark Blue songs explicitly about football? Is that in the cards?
There are definite references to football in a few songs but nothing specifically devoted to the game. I don’t think we’ll be the band to fill that void but you never know. It is really the only thing I care about outside of my family and work. If I could somehow work in a Boils-style anthem for the Philadelphia Eagles and garner some attention for it I might reconsider. It’s really a matter of civic pride for which I have very little.
Since Puerto Rico Flowers, you’ve kept a pretty steady tempo for your songs, on the slower end of mid-paced. Could there ever be a fast Dark Blue song?
Yeah, I’m sure there could be a fast Dark Blue song. Maybe not Neanderthal fast, but possibly Combat 84 fast. That umpa-umpa stupid skinhead beat would probably be it. The only thing I fear is that the drummers we play with are too good to play fast and it would sound like NOFX or something. When really good drummers play fast it usually sounds shitty. I’ve stressed that if you’re gonna play in Dark Blue you have to lower your skill level, brow and expectations. It’s a shame to take all his talent and proficiency and flush it down the john. No pun intended.
The whole next LP is already written, though. Maybe I’ll write a special song just for you, Matt. I’ll call the song “Matt”. Then it would definitely be a Punk In Drublic-era classic!
Actress Xoul 12″ (Werk Discs / Ninja Tune)
So I guess Actress saying he was quitting after Ghettoville was a publicity stunt after all? Not that I’m complaining – he has given me more to think about in his fractured, disassembled electronic music than a dozen of his peers, to the point where I am buying up black-label 12″s such as this (where I have to look up the damn playing speed online [you expected us to just guess that the a-side was 45 and the b-side 33, Actress?]) with the voracity of a Wall Street day-trader. The beauty of Actress is that you never know what to expect, so I was surprised by how much the four tracks of Xoul reminded me of earlier Actress. I suppose with titles like “Xoul”, “Xoul Dark Chamber” and “Xoul Particles” it’s clear he’s working around one central concept, but the chirpy click he uses for a snare sounds recycled from Splazsh, and the general vibe is mostly familiar. I probably didn’t need this one, and should’ve put this money toward buying that ridiculously lavish limited version of Ghettoville that comes with like a board-game and backpack and hologram WAV files or something, but navigating the world of Actress is like winding through a series of complex mazes, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Answer Code Request Code LP (Ostgut Ton)
Answer Code Request came to my attention via a sharp and transfixing 12″ EP on Ostgut Ton earlier this year that I forgot to write about (ain’t that how it goes sometimes). Anyway, he’s back with his first full-length album, and while the concept of a full-length album never quite hits the same highs as 12″ EPs for many of the techno artists I enjoy (and not even Ostgut Ton’s roster is immune to this trend), Code is a sleek and satisfyingly-cybernetic affair. I have read enough to learn that Answer Code Request is the alias of a guy named Patrick Gräser, but this is some seriously post-human music, the sort of record that seems like it was put together by a highly intelligent hardware interface with cutting-edge software, all without human interference. That’s not a diss – I love when electronic removes humanity from the equation entirely, and even though a track like “By The Bay” offers a buoyant beat and upwardly-drifting chords, Code still feels like a record made by artificial intelligence, for artificial intelligence. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to sink into “Blue Russian” one more time and await the impending robot war.
Blood Bright Star The Silver Head 12″ (King Of The Monsters)
King Of The Monsters keeps the party jumping with this 12″ EP by the mysteriously artsy Blood Bright Star. From the band name and dark, obscured imagery, I was kind of expecting something suitable for one of Earth’s opening acts, and while it wouldn’t be ill-fitting, Blood Bright Star are just a little more rockin’ than that. They basically play these simple, repetitive death-rock excursions, like if you had Wooden Shjips re-shape the structure of Christian Death songs into something hypnotic (and well, slightly boring). Blood Bright Star’s vocals also mirror the Wooden Shjips approach, which is a spoken warble buried deep in the mix, the sort of vocal performance you know is there but recall nothing about. It fits though, as this music is mellow and trance-y enough that Blood Bright Star doesn’t need much more than a shadow of a voice to work. Kind of a specific sound, perhaps more interesting in theory. The band’s self-dubbed “death motorik” could be onto something, and I hope Blood Bright Star continue on their cold black autobahn – something really cool could come of it.
Bronze Teeth A Waif’s Rent 12″ (Diagonal)
Only those with a keen eye for experimental techno will notice that there were actually two Bronze Teeth 12″s released in July, one of which I already reviewed, and this one, which showed up shortly thereafter (but you know, not quick enough that I could order them simultaneously). I heartily enjoyed the first, and as Bronze Teeth’s constantly-shifting-grid of danceable (but not dance-centric) techno continues here, my feelings remain unchanged. The twelve-minute “Albion Pressure” feels like one of those 8-bit racing games where the player’s car is static and the road twists wildly side to side, pushing forward past one-dimensional trees in a race against the clock. “Cut Bronze” opens the b-side with a distinctly different vibe, with a slyly-shifting dub foundation giving way to various sideways effects and mutated forms of treble. “Tephra” closes it out with even less energy, with the buzz of a flatlined pulse and soft, fidgety drum pads tapping on the coffin (from the inside). It’s a bit more playful and out-there than the first Bronze Teeth 12″, and clearly a record that has shaken hands with Powell (which is strong praise). Great, provocative un-techno from Bronze Teeth here, I just hope they don’t start their own Testpressing series, lest I have to pick up a second form of employment.
Morgan Buckley Shout Out To All The Weirdos In Rathmines 12″ (No Label)
Attention! It’s the ability to tell you, dear anonymous reader, about records like this that I spend my time doing Yellow Green Red in the first place. Total stone-cold left-field corker here from someone named Morgan Buckley, who I have tried to track down online to no avail (I was only able to locate one Soundcloud page, but there’s no email contact listed…). Four tracks on this EP, all different enough to inhabit separate colors of the spectrum, but Morgan Buckley is essentially doing this chilled-out collage-house thing that calls to mind Arthur Russell pre-gaming with Torn Hawk, with maybe a touch of Blues Control’s unique nostalgic lens, the unhurried pace of Galcher Lustwerk and the artistic freedom of Can. Seriously, soak all that in, because I mean it! I’m wondering if Morgan Buckley might actually be Torn Hawk, because the similarities are certainly there (and this was released by the “No Label” associated with Rush Hour distribution who also recently released that Torn Hawk 2×7″), but it kind of soars above Torn Hawk in that this could easily appeal to psychedelic crate-diggers and Brain Records archivists as much as Not Not Fun acolytes. Really can’t get over how much I love this one, to the point where being unable to stalk Buckley online feels like meeting someone at a party that you are crazy about and forgetting to get their number – if I knew where Buckley lived, you can be damn sure his local Craigslist would be getting a missed connection.
Christina Carter Character Study 12″ (Drawing Room)
If you don’t know about Christina Carter by now, you’ve been doing the sun-bleached anti-folk psych-drone thing wrong! She’s been steadily producing bizarrely great records, CDs, tapes and whatever else for decades now, and this new two-track 12″ EP on Drawing Room is another captivating piece. There are two tracks here, each exactly ten minutes and forty-five seconds long, and they are comprised of vocals, guitar and tambourine, and while I’d probably sound like a really dopey White Stripes if I was left to those devices, she molds it into this constantly shifting form of grotesque beauty, like watching one of those colorful deep-sea invertebrates twist itself to swim. She presumably is using a slide on her guitar, and while I wish I could watch what was happening (I can’t quite figure it out by ear alone), it makes for a delightful form of confusion. Her vocals are layered in wordless cooing and spoken-word seriousness, and it’s like opening a really beautiful old book that is written in a foreign language – alluring and inscrutable. As a matter of fact, there’s actually a nice chapbook of artistic statement and theory included here, and while I’ve only skimmed it (I can only think seriously about a topic for three and a half minutes at a time), it adds substance to an EP that already has plenty.
Cobwebbs World Wide Webbs LP (Sonic Masala)
World Wide Webbs is Cobwebbs’ second full-length and my first experience with this energetic Australian garage-rock group. I say “garage-rock” because that’s what it mostly sounds like to me, but the Discogs entry for this album lists the style as Swamp Pop, Psychedelic Rock, Noise, Lo-Fi, Krautrock, Acid Rock, Experimental, Glam, Ethereal, Rock & Roll, Post-Punk. Phew! I can only assume that was entered by someone with a personal stake in this record, be it a band member or a loving aunt, and while I can see how Cobwebbs might be reaching into all those different bags, this album hits a pretty uninspired homogeneity, mostly due to the muddy recording. The whole record sits in a fuzzed-out mid-range that collapses any possible dynamics, and the songs are all filled with the same distortion, riffs and vocal-style as countless other punk-inspired, garage-indebted, psych-loving bands. I’m sure it was a fun record to make, hunched over in front of their amps and chain smoking between takes in some unventilated room, but it’s a pleasure that World Wide Webbs offers only in theory.
Cold World How The Gods Chill LP (Deathwish)
Cold World are one of those bands whose fanbase knows no bounds, not just because they meld such a diverse set of influences into their sound but simply because it sounds so damn good. I think their last album surprised everyone at how memorably great it was, myself included, so I spent most of 2014 waiting for How The Gods Chill (this is probably the only band who can get away with a Danzig parody album title, after all). Those who enjoyed Dedicated To Babies Who Came Feet First should love this one too – rap interludes are cut into laser-sharp mosh-core, with visions of Biohazard and Trapped Under Ice walking pitbulls on chains through back alleys. I found myself singing along with some lines after the very first listen (Cold World have the benefit of writing catchy songs without appearing to have intended to do so), even though I wouldn’t argue with those who feel that Dedicated remains Cold World’s pinnacle. Interestingly, it seems like the “main” vocalist sings the least here, giving way to whoever does those James Hetfield vocals, not to mention the shift away from Life Of Agony vocals to a distinctly Corey Glover (yep, of Living Colour) form of emoting. If you haven’t heard Cold World before and this all sounds preposterous, just give them a chance, I swear. I only have one complaint about How The Gods Chill, though, and that’s that it is too short. I understand this band may be more of a part-time concern for its members at this point, but I just want more of it. Maybe they’re just stockpiling riffs for the inevitable Body Count collaboration…
Alessandro Cortini Sonno 2xLP (Hospital Productions)
If there’s a sharper businessman in the world of noise than Dominick Fernow, I’d love to meet them – he single-handedly made it reasonable practice for a one-sided LP with a screened cover to cost $20, and through nearly two decades, his audience remains unwavering and rabid. And he comes up with records like this: a double LP solo venture of one Alessandro Cortini, better known as the main synth guy for Nine Inch Nails, the originators of cult-based, limited-edition commerce in aggressive electronic music. You know this record (in its various colored-vinyl editions) will sell out in no time thanks to its varied, frenzied fanbases, and while I say all this not to shame Fernow and Hospital Productions, but rather to appreciate their cunning method of survival in an age where consumers see music as a God-given right alongside fresh air and flushable toilets, I should talk about the music, too! Sonno is the result of Cortini recording in hotel rooms and various transient spaces while on tour or doing whatever, and it’s a pretty cool serving of lonely ambient electronic texture. Of all things, it reminds me most of Kid 606’s ambient material for the Mille Plateaux label (or his Soccergirl 3″ CD EP in particular), in the way that the music sounds sad and distant without any sense of perversion or evil. It’s nearly soothing in a way, like a blanket as comfortable as it is visually unappealing, as Cortini’s unhurried synths play out quaint little melodies before disintegrating entirely. If you’ve got Sonno over at your house, I may request you throw it on if I end up spending the night.
Cottaging Mise En Abyme 7″ (Abscess)
Can’t help but think of cheese when I see the name Cottaging, and it suits them – their music has clearly fermented in some way that by all accounts shouldn’t be edible, but it’s actually quite delicious. Nice to see this new two-song single on the Abscess label, and it’s a good reminder of Cottaging’s existence, one of the most moderate-working bands out there today. “Meet Me At The Puritan” is a nice tune, cultivating an intimidating, brash form of indie rock that seems to have all but disappeared. Its never-ending bass-line is met with sparse, surfy guitar and a vocalist who takes heed from Watery Love or Shellac (and I guess the general attitude and presentation of the song falls somewhere between those two as well). “Mise En Abyme” is faster, with phased-out bass (I think it’s bass) and motorik drumming, and it somehow approaches a Dead Kennedys song by the second verse (although the vocals recall more Cheater Slicks than Jello Biafra). Cottaging are definitely on their own trip, pushing toward some other form of post-hardcore rock that isn’t currently inhabited by dozens of other bands, and I hope they keep at it. It’s cool!
Demdike Stare Testpressing #006 12″ (Modern Love)
Yep, the sixth installment of Demdike Stare’s Testpressing series is here, and at this point I have accepted its presence in my life, like a cable bill you actually look forward to each month. The last one, Testpressing #005, was their most earth-shattering moment since first coming onto the scene, and while this new one doesn’t reach that level of greatness, it’s still a worthy entry in this series. “40 Years Under The Cosh” is the a-side, and it’s beastly – it starts off like another mutated footwork track (UK producers have been having a field day messing around with this stuff as of late), but it slowly gains weight and size until threatening to ruin the block, all with a vague Prodigy aftertaste. “Frontin'” on the b-side opts for a different ’90s electronic style to juice up, this being Oval-style glitch, although instead of clicks and crackles Demdike are cooking with powerful blasts of 8-bit thunder. And before long, they cage it with a minimal, slow-mo thud, trying to re-write grime as though it were doom metal. See you next month!
Dick Diver New Name Blues / Lonely Life 7″ (Fruits & Flowers)
Ever since I first saw their name, I just figured Dick Diver was drug-fueled, antagonistic garage-punk ala Bits Of Shit and The Cuntz and so many other Aussie bands who use dirty words for their moniker. I mean it’s clearly not a man named Richard Diver’s solo project, right? Anyway, this single is my first time hearing this celebrated group, and lo and behold, turns out that they are sunshiney, left-of-center indie-pop. Who knew! (Probably everyone else.) Anyway, “New Name Blues” is quite a refreshing splash of water, just kinda thumping along with a twinkle in its eye until everything fades into a wide-open vista, horns tooting and guitars chiming, as if Kurt Vile suddenly became the Land O’ Lakes mascot. “Lonely Life” is a Coloured Stone song (gotta plead ignorance on them as well) but if it weren’t for my keen ability at reading the cover, I’d be none the wiser, as it wears its pop-bliss like Prefab Sprout or The Verlaines or some other group of people far too perfect to be so damn unpopular. Time for me to Dick Dive into their one of their albums, wouldn’t you say?
Eleven Twenty-Nine A Tithe To Hell LP (Drawing Room)
Drawing Room just keeps on pumping out the vinyl, in general accordance with U2’s message that rock isn’t dead. This LP is pretty cool, basically a shred-fest for mature audiences, or at least people who value a basic Wah pedal and killer tone over feedback and noise. I’m reminded of The Davis Redford Triad in the way that Eleven Twenty-Nine seem to aim skyward with their intense guitar improvisations (surely this isn’t all pre-planned?), and maybe a touch of The Psychic Paramount, although Eleven Twenty-Nine seem far less stressed and meticulous than them. There’s certainly an undeniable logic about Eleven Twenty-Nine sharing labels with Bardo Pond. The drums keep the train moving forward, but it’s really all about guitarists Tom Carter and Marc Orleans going buck-wild in the best of ways. Even when they mellow down, it feels as glorious as their most incendiary moments, not unlike those Jack Rose and Glenn Jones duets. Really such a pleasure to sit back and witness, truly a “masters at work” kinda record.
500 MG Receiver One / Receiver Two 7″ (Drawing Room)
500 MG is the solo project of Bardo Pond’s Michael Gibbons (get it?), and as this 7″ was released concurrently with that Bardo Pond single also on Drawing Room, it makes for a nice alternate view of Gibbons’ world – with sunglasses on, maybe? “Receiver One” is a sad strum of undistorted electric guitar, presumably picked by finger and slowly unraveled into a loose pile of wool on the floor. His playing reminds me of Loren Mazzacane Connors at his most fluid, at least until Gibbons lands a spaceship on the track and the guitar is doing its best to not be abducted. “Receiver Two” sounds like the interior of the spaceship post-abduction, with a hypoallergenic keyboard tone gracefully welcoming your brain into a jar. At least until an acoustic guitar shows up and dances like Leo Kottke doing a Bill Orcutt impression. I bet there are countless hours of 500 MG recordings just sitting around – Gibbons and the rest of Bardo Pond clearly have devoted themselves to the time-honored practice of music, and records like this are curious little peepholes into their world.
Golden Pelicans Golden Pelicans LP (Total Punk)
After a couple of cool (but non-mandatory) singles, Golden Pelicans stop messing around and deliver this beastly 45-RPM 12″ long-player like a hand-scrawled death threat. If they poked me in the gut before, they’re holding me by my ankles and shaking the change out of my pockets here, playing their classic-sounding, hard-edged punk rock as if it were the only thing that ever mattered in their lives. I can imagine the Golden Pelicans not being the type of folks to own racks and racks of collectible punk rock vinyl – this sounds like a record made by guys who own one Damned record, one Stooges record, and a scratchy CD compilation of the No Future catalog; that’s it. Just the classics, you know? Not sure if he really turned it up on this record or if I just somehow missed it before, but the singer has a a frothy, incensed scream that really pushes the music forward, somewhere between the respective vocalists of The Pink Lincolns and (the Australian) X. I thought the OBN IIIs were the tough leather-jacket rockers of our time, but I bet even those guys quietly step away from the pool table when Golden Pelicans walk into the bar.
Glue Glue 7″ (Katorga Works / Video Disease)
The first of this month’s “Austin hardcore-punk” entries comes care of Glue, a band whose simple-yet-effective name suits their music. This is a four-song EP of mid-tempo hardcore punk, very much in the vein of Negative Approach’s Tied Down, with vocals in the “violent Daffy Duck” style, not far from Men’s Interest or Bad Noids. I saw a live photo of Glue and it looked like a high school band competition if those old guys in The Inmates and Cider were the faculty, which is pretty much exactly how I could’ve hoped Glue would look. No frills, nothing new or experimental, just quality raging hardcore with a sound and delivery that is clearly of 2014 vintage. If you sniff one hardcore EP this year…
Great Reversals Natural Burial 7″ (How Soon Is Now? / Hydrogen Man / Protagonist Music)
It’s kind of crazy to think about, but basically every style of music ever created never went away. No matter what it is, people are still playing it somewhere, no matter how unbelievable that may be. For some, it might be skiffle or third-wave ska that seems least likely to still exist, but I’m having that sort of moment right now with ’90s metal-core, care of this Great Reversals 7″. They basically sound like a generic mix of Strife and Trial, with the occasional Hydra Head-approved melodramatic guitar performance. This sort of stuff often lives or dies by its vocalist, and the guy who sings for Great Reversals is just too intelligible to buy his conviction. If I found out that this was his first time recording vocals in a studio, I wouldn’t be surprised, as there’s a level of discomfort or awkwardness in his performance that I couldn’t help but pick up on. And the music is severely generic, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but it solidifies Great Reversals as a band not worth talking about. So I’ll shut up now.
Hank Wood & The Hammerheads Stay Home LP (Toxic State)
Hank Wood’s debut LP was one of the great unexpected hardcore records of 2012, the sort of album that grows in prominence with age. In a musical landscape where the concept of a unique hardcore band is more and more of an impossibility, Hank Wood & The Hammerheads offer a voice distinctly their own, conjuring a New York City where you’re likely to get slapped in the face with a hot slice of pizza for not crossing the street fast enough and where carnival stunts are as commonplace in the pit as stage-dives. I was really looking forward to this album, and I’m pleased to say that their formula remains the same (cow-punk percussion and garage-rock swagger mixed with hard-as-nails New York hardcore troupes). Two things in particular stick out: The Hammerheads seem to have honed their skills, really rocking the cowbells and additional percussion with flair and writing some thoughtful, dare-I-say mature riffs; they’ve also produced an album that is less memorable than their first. There’s no instant-classic like “It’s Hard On The Street” or “Don’t You Walk Away From Me” here, although the general bad boy attitude and hard-living essence are firmly intact. I didn’t expect Hank Wood to create that magical first album twice, and Stay Home is incredibly enjoyable too, it just helps to be familiar with Go Home to truly appreciate the nuance and development they’re showing. Sure, their development is pretty slight (Hank still sounds like he is throwing the microphone past his mouth for every word he shouts), and I plan on continuing to spin this one plenty, it’ll just be Go Home that’s etched into the hardcore history books.
Huerco S. A. Verdigris Reader 12″ (Proibito)
Huerco S. tried slipping this new 12″ under the radar, not even spelling out “Huerco” on the center sticker, but he couldn’t fool me! As a fan of both his album and earlier 12″, I had to locate this one. It’s unmistakably Huerco – this is PTSD-house, coping with some deep feelings of pain and resentment in the form of blurry, winded synths and nostalgic drum sounds. It’s cool, but after a few runs, I’ve decided that A Verdigris Reader is less inspired than his previous work – these four tracks generally enter the chill zone and hover until the lights go out, offering uninspired contemplation. If Huerco S. were a cook, this one feels like a frozen meal he tossed in the microwave for four minutes, not something that required labor over a cutting board and stove top. That sort of carelessness is cool with me, even in pre-programmed electronic music, but this is one Huerco S. release you can comfortably sit out, unless you dare to question my judgment.
Institute Giddy Boys 7″ (Katorga Works)
Institute are another Austin-based punk band, from the seemingly endless well of hardcore-punk out of that town. They’re also one of a few bands to offer both Katorga Works and Deranged Records on their resume, and unlike some of those peers, their sound is distinctive enough that I’ll remember them in the morning (and fondly, no less). They play a very simple, non-heavy form of punk, directly aping Crisis and ending up not too far from a Ceremony practice recording (I’m thinking Ceremony’s last album in particular, where most signs of hardcore aggression were scrubbed clean, leaving only tuneful simplicity behind). The vocalist certainly has a similar croak to Ceremony’s Ross Farrar, although he would probably flick a booger at such a comparison, because I get the impression that Institute are at the age where they can’t conceive of ever doing anything besides releasing records through friends and the DIY network and playing gross basements for donation money (you know, where Merchandise was two years ago). These three songs are all winners though, Flux Of Pink Indians-esque downer punk with the feel of a first-time band, rather than seasoned hardcore players going through the motions.
Ivy Ivy LP (Katorga Works)
Starting to feel like a fool that I haven’t seen the majority of the great new hardcore bands coming out of New York – like Ivy, for instance! I loved Brown Sugar (that Tropical Disease single is ten-year material for sure), and Ivy Seems to be the logical continuation of that, featuring the same lead singer and maybe one or two other dudes (sadly, the horn player was not invited). It’s hardcore that rages, but it’s the quirky personality and unhinged vibe that draw me in. I’m reminded of the knuckleheaded punk of Mutha Records’ early catalog, Adrenalin OD, and maybe a touch of the Angry Samoans’ catchy and simplistic nihilism. Ivy’s mid-paced jams are probably my favorite, like the one that starts off with “my friends are losers!” – it’s an age-old sentiment we can all appreciate, delivered with the gusto of an unemployed roommate enraged at the disappearance of the unopened salsa he just bought especially for himself. Aversion to fireworks be damned, if Ivy make their way down to my city sometime soon I’m gonna have to show up and get my boots dirty like the rest of their fans.
Naomi Punk Television Man LP (Captured Tracks)
I’ve heard a damn lot of new music in the past few years (as evidenced by this very website), but there’s still no way to hear it all, or even close to all of it, which is my lame excuse for having not heard Naomi Punk until recently, specifically this new album called Television Man. People I trust were raising a fuss about how great they were a couple years back, but I dunno, I never reached for them, even though I liked the name and everything. Well, now that I am checking them out, I can see why people were so excited. The thing that strikes me most about Naomi Punk’s taut, repetitive, simplistic punk music is how dejected it seems – I can’t remember the last time I heard a record that sounded more miserable than this, not in a Black Heart Procession sort of way, but rather that the band members all seem upset and frustrated by their existence in this band. It’s like every song was recorded directly after a screaming match over some pointless inter-band argument. I’m reminded of a heavier version of The Prefects’ “Going Through The Motions” on many of these tracks, as Naomi Punk are content to write one part per song, hammer it into the ground, and then kick a bunch of dirt on top so as to hide all evidence of its existence. And yet, it still kinda sounds like Roomrunner, too? I can’t picture myself settling into Television Man too frequently, not because I don’t like it but because of how musically unwelcoming it is (my mood has to be just right to appreciate a record like this), but I’m quite pleased to have finally made their acquaintance even if our relationship never makes it past the platonic stage.
The Number Ones The Number Ones LP (Static Shock)
Following one of the most pleasantly authentic power-pop debut 45s, The Number Ones return with a self-titled debut album, seeking to cement their band-name ranking status. I really loved their 7″, and this album is more of the same – upbeat, mod-ish, snappy power-pop with significantly closer lineage to The Undertones and Adverts than Cheap Trick and Big Star. They blaze through these songs with the spirit of punk, that’s for sure, as none of them stick around too long, resulting in a ten-track LP that zips by at 45 RPM. It’s a solid effort, but their sonic likeness to Exploding Hearts is particularly strong here, to the point of being almost distracting – their melodies, vocal approach and overall fidelity bear strong resemblance to Guitar Romantic, and while that’s by no means a bad thing, I can’t help but wish I was listening to that instead at various times. And, while there’s not a rotten egg in the bunch, “Sharon Shouldn’t” is the stand-out smash-hit, and it was featured on their debut 7″ as well, so its impact is lessened. Still, I don’t want to sound like an old codger – The Number Ones are a fantastic punk quartet and I would gladly wave their pennant from the sidelines were their parade to hit my town.
Patricia Side Piece EP 12″ (Spectral Sound)
Patricia, Siobhan, Lucy, Sophie, Millie and Andrea… pretty soon every female first-name will be used for some dude’s mysterious techno project. Kind of a weird trend, but Patricia has been pretty tight thus far, with his Body Issues album already fetching exorbitant bucks on the secondary market. This new EP is refreshingly not weird or modern – rather, the three original tracks here pay tribute to Perlon circa 2004, back when Ricardo Villalobos still focused his production work on the dance-floor and Matthew Dear was tearing it up as Jabberjaw and Audion (and quite fittingly, this EP is released on the Spectral Sound label). “Drip Dawn” is probably my favorite of the bunch, transforming a spoken syllable into a chunky piece of kick, but all of these tracks are great and seem to ignore today’s “basement full of analog hardware” obsession without sounding overly computerized either, happily floating in the middle alongside Levon Vincent and Marcel Fengler.
People Skills Tricephalic Head LP (Siltbreeze)
Gotta love Siltbreeze, as no matter how many game-changing underground artists they’ve (alright, he’s) dug up over the years, the label remains committed to putting completely unknown musical nonsense down on vinyl. Take People Skills for instance, a solo artist out of Philadelphia who I would’ve had no idea about were it not for this stately debut album. Tricephalic Head is pretty bleak, like what it must feel like to sleep on that awful mattress on the cover of the Kitchen’s Floor LP. I’m hearing some sort of super-depressed combo of Pink Reason’s Cleansing The Mirror, Lee Noble’s Ruiner and Russian Tsarlag’s Gagged In Boonsville, but with the guitars replaced by whatever rhythm generators and measly keyboards were to be found in the earliest practice spaces of Cabaret Voltaire and Young Marble Giants. All this with a constant warble effect laid on the vocals, to ensure that it sounds like the man behind People Skills is slowly drowning in an inch of water. This isn’t a record you can throw on at anytime and feel good about it – all your roommates or co-habitating family members must already be asleep or not yet woken up, and you’ve gotta be sitting there, staring into your lukewarm cup of coffee in search of answers. There are lyrics included in the cool DJ-style inner sleeve, but quite frankly I’m scared to read them.
The Pilgrims / Ghostt Bllonde Home & Home Vol. 2 7″ (Negative Fun)
How do you prefer your band names, plain or extra spicy? You get both on this split single! The Pilgrims start it off with some basement blue-eyed soul, somewhere between The Replacements and Titus Andronicus but not nearly as good as the former or as annoying as the latter. They’ve got two songs here, and I prefer the simplicity of the Big Star-ripping second, more suited to the singer’s affected sneer (and I’m a sucker for shitty hand-claps, of which there are plenty). Flip it over for the non-typoed Ghostt Bllonde, a band whose self-described “trash-pop / doom-wop” is like a sign that says “keep out, bedbugs here” when it comes to my personal musical tastes. It’s not that bad, though – it’s jangly, echo-y pop-rock, not too far from The Walkmen or where Merchandise are probably headed. The only extra consonants found here are in the band name, as the vocalist does a fine job stretching his vowels through various octaves without ever feeling forced. I’ll admit, I tried to prevent myself from enjoying anything called Ghostt Bllondes, but these guys broke down the wall I put up, if only for a song.
Henrik Schwarz Masse Remixes III 12″ (Ostgut Ton)
Hey, do you know what Masse is? Me neither! That’s the beauty of listening to techno music – there is this giant complicated multi-layered currently-expanding history that no single human being can possibly understand, nor could ever hope to listen to in their lifetime, so just grab whatever is around you or looks cool and give it a try. It must be so boring to be one of those guys who just collects colored vinyl variants of the first ten Revelation releases, you know? Anyway, I recall Henrik Schwarz from some killer remix somewhere, and Ostgut Ton is the best, so I checked this one out, and it’s really cool. “Lockstep” is the a-side, and it sounds like Schwarz sucked all the fat out of a techno track, reducing what might have been booming tribal drums to the sounds of a tiger pawing through the snow and rattling snares to chopsticks tapped on a marble counter-top. Nice effect, kind of bold, and hypnotic as it moves onward. “Unknown Touch Two” is the b-side and is significantly more traditional. The strings sound incredibly fresh here, like they just bloomed, and it turns a Marcel Fengler-worthy beat into something quite exquisite, like eating dark chocolate in a Swiss castle after midnight and scurrying down a tiled corridor before the head maid catches you. It’s a track that inspires such vivid descriptions, and my life is richer for having heard it. Danke, Herr Schwarz!
Scuba Death Nitrogen Narcosis LP (Further)
The name an artist chooses means a lot to me, maybe more than it should, but something like Scuba Death had me intrigued from the start – what was a name suited for an early Earache release doing on an experimental electronic label like Further? Turns out it fits just fine, a very thoughtfully considered album based on producer Ricardo Donoso’s “near-death experience in the Atlantic Ocean”. Cool, right? With that concept in mind, it plays out perfectly, a mix of infinitely deep analog techno swells, subtle ambient thump and an occasional mix of claustrophobia and disorientation. Imagine if Gas wasn’t inspired by the Black Forest but rather deep tidal swells and the unseen presence of sharks, and you’re pretty close to the mild terror that Nitrogen Narcosis invokes. The ocean really is this bizarre hell that currently exists on Earth, which only a tiny sliver of the population has delved into, and along with The Rita, I can comfortably say that I enjoy all the music I’ve ever heard that pays homage to its horrifying majesty.
Sewn Leather Motorcycle Ministry 12″ (American Tapes)
One deranged and scummy electronic metal-head meets another with Sewn Leather’s new one-sided 12″ for the sadly soon-ending American Tapes label. They call this one “trip metal”, and while almost anything sounds cool coming from an American Tapes press release, how could you not at least be a little intrigued, if not super-psyched? I dug Sewn Leather before, and this one starts promisingly, with random bursts of feedback underpinning an echoed sample of Gangland or one of those other gang-exploitation shows on Spike or FX. It really sets the mood, but then when the music kicks in, I dunno – I’m not totally feeling it. Maybe it’s because every other ex-noise dude is doing some form of beat-related electro / techno now, and many are really quite good at it, but this material feels weak in comparison. It’s probably the recording’s fault more than anything – the tape hiss overwhelms any sort of heaviness the beats might carry, and the vocals are just kind of an echo-y itch on the back of your neck, never a commanding presence. The songs don’t seem particularly thought out, either, more like something that was made up as it went along, so it stacks up short next to similar artists like Future Blondes and M Ax Noi Mach. Sewn Leather is capable of some serious electro-terrorist scum-punk, and I hope there comes a day when he gets a worthy recording.
Shackleton Deliverance Series No. 1 12″ (Woe To The Septic Heart)
Before I get into the music on this new Shackleton 12″, can I just mention how consistently cool his artwork is? For a while there he had some sort of psychedelic, vegetation-obsessed, Pushead-style guy doing his art, and this one comes with some great primitive and splattery ink art, not unlike Jean Dubuffet or Rizili of Menstruation Sisters. Anyway, just like the art, Shackleton has hit a level of quality the majority of us can only dream about, and this new one is top notch too. If anything, Deliverance has Shackleton moving further away from the dance-floor and closer to intense modern composer territory, kind of feeling like something Steve Reich would’ve composed in collaboration with Sir Richard Bishop if they were only allowed to use synths and samplers. Both tracks are long-form, with various movements and shifts and alleyways, and while there is no basic 4/4 kick running the show, these tracks follow the standard Shackleton MO of exotic alien percussion crash-landing in the Middle East in the year 2099. Man On A String Part 1 And 2 remains my favorite Shackleton EP, and I think I preferred the recent Freezing Opening Thawing to this one as well, but that’s not to say this isn’t entirely hypnotic and intriguing in its own right. Looking forward to the rest of the Deliverance series, that’s for sure!
Skander Dirge 12″ (L.A. Club Resource)
Death metal fonts used by techno artists are always a good sign, and a title like Dirge had me thrilled to throw this one on, not to mention its home on the consistently impressive L.A. Club Resource label. Of the four thick cuts on this 12″, I’m not sure which is the dirge, though – they all seem to move at the same pace, something like 120-125 BPM, appropriate for a hip club rather than a demonic funeral. The dirge must be in the sonics, then, as I can only picture Skander’s samplers and drum machines encasted in a thick layer of black filth, like they were left outside near the street and accidentally paved over. The hi-hats are particularly crusty, and on the second a-side track, the whole thing takes on a very monotonous, textural affair, like there’s a giant set of helicopter blades between yourself and the stereo. Nothing new here, that’s for sure, but Skander’s entry in the Russian Torrent Versions-styled basement analog crud sweepstakes is welcome, another fine offering of relentless, semi-anonymous lo-fi thump.
Total Control Typical System LP (Iron Lung)
So it’s October 1st, and if you haven’t already downloaded the Total Control album four months ago and picked up the vinyl a couple weeks ago, you probably ended up on this website by mistake. Therefore, I write this for the remaining few who haven’t yet checked out Total Control’s seamless synthesis of cold-wave and classic punk. Their debut album Henge Beat was a bold statement that delighted both underground elitists and indie dabblers alike, and Typical System follows suit, its needle slowly inching toward the synth-pop side of the equation. To some, it might seem a little antiseptic at first, with the filth of punk basements mostly scrubbed clean (“Systematic Fuck” being the hardest stain to remove), but I’d argue that the raw energy of early Total Control records is still alive and well, just bolstered by a richer sonic palate and steadier synth hand. Drummer James Vinciguerra offers at least a hundred different drum fills, vocalist Daniel “DX” Stewart is more confidently cool than ever, and Mikey Young remains the world’s most modest guitar god. I’d consider a Total Control tattoo, but “Flesh War” and “Safety Net” are already etched in my heart, and that’s what really counts, right?
Ulsers Forget Them LP (Wallaby Beat)
Wallaby Beat is a blog and record label proudly loitering in the strangest corners of Australian rock music, and their biggest feat thus far may be the release of this archival Ulsers material on vinyl LP. Pretty nice project all around, with plentiful color photos of the band (who strangely seem to resemble The Hooters). As for the music, well that’s pretty cool too, and not solely from a historical point either. Ulsers were around in the late ’70s / early ’80s, and they seem to split the difference between Midwestern USA acid-fried weirdness and British art-school DIY. Imagine if Mark Perry was the primary songwriter for Tin Huey, and you’re pretty close to the goofy, grating stumble that Ulsers offer. There’s practically more saxophone than guitar, and it’s either wildly gesticulating or calmly following the melody, all while some guy yells “somebody loves you but it’s not me” as he attempts to stifle his own laughter. While I might not be coming back to Forget Them that frequently in the future, it certainly adds another splash of color to Australia’s already quite-vivid post-punk landscape.
Video Cult Of Video 7″ (No Good)
Video continue to be one of the most entertaining domestic punk bands, to the point where I can politely overlook them essentially burning the American flag in the form of this German-released 7″ single. First they asked us to join the hate wave, and now we’re expected to submit to the Cult Of Video, but that’s fine with me so long as they keep sounding this inspired. “Cult Of Video” has an interesting blueprint: it’s uniquely structured in the way it slowly builds intensity (I swear the drummer only uses a kick for the first minute), and it finishes with frantic guitar solos and a heavily-chantable chorus. “City Of Hate” is bouncier and shorter, less of a masterpiece than “Cult Of Video” but still a fine entry in their growing songbook. Another classic Video!
Wildhoney Seventeen Forever 7″ (Photobooth)
If I were to actually look back at myself as a seventeen year-old, I’d probably be horrified, but it’s nice to pretend I was some wistful and naïve lad on the constant cusp of lust and heartbreak. “Seventeen Forever” certainly helps me slip away into that false nostalgia, and it’s really quite beautiful – I kinda hate shoegaze, just in general, but Wildhoney make the genre sound like the most thoughtful and resonant thing a person can do with a rock band. These tracks are centered in pop-rock, replete with beautiful vocals and swirling guitars, like a mainstream-aspiring Slowdive or Belly if they never had that radio hit. The two b-side songs are just as beautiful, almost beating that last Dum Dum Girls album at its own game, but with far humbler resources. This is the second great Wildhoney EP out there, and part of me really wants to see them live now, just to witness this spark of magic in person, but another part of me is afraid they’ve just absolutely nailed it on record and anything else would fall short. If Wildhoney are as stunning live as they are recorded, I might not be ready for it anyway.
YOU. Sunchaser LP (Dais)
For a world that is anything but short on modern gothy synth-wave, I was pretty excited for this new YOU. album, a band whose specific punctuation and capitalization request I am willing to honor. Their EP on Blind Prophet wasn’t some uniquely creative work of art, but the beats hit harder, the vibe was deeper and I found myself more eager to enter their dark little crawlspace than many other bands of their ilk. So now I’m spinning Sunchaser, and either I have a poor recollection (possible) or YOU. have shifted toward a more melodic, Joy Division-esque approach than their earlier EBM-indebted material. It’s so sweetly, simply melodic that the sheet music for “Get Paid” could be easily re-worked by Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, for crying out loud! This could certainly lead to disaster, but once I acclimated myself to YOU.’s lighter, friendlier stance, the Cure-ish nature of “Breaking Collapse” was easy to settle into. No matter how dark the club is, you have to prepare yourself for the morning light, and Sunchaser makes for an easy transition.