To a fan trying to wade through the hundreds of bands and fests and labels, hardcore in 2015 can be as exhausting as it is exciting. Dozens of bands working with the same no-longer-obscure influences and an acute awareness of what everyone else is doing can lead to stagnation, so it’s up to us to celebrate bands like Impalers while they’re still among us. This Austin-based five-piece unit takes from hardcore’s various pasts (’83 Finland, ’81 New York, ’82 Japan, ’81 Detroit, ’84 UK are all represented) and mashes it up into something so smooth and powerful, you’ll wonder why no one else has melded Motörhead’s riffs and Gauze’s execution in such a flawless way. All of their records are great, but their latest 12″ EP Psychedelic Snutskallar pushes the band into uncharted territory, performing the near-impossible feat of “growing” beyond hardcore while firmly planted within the music’s timeless tradition (this isn’t another case of a hardcore band maturing by no longer playing hardcore). I spoke with singer Chris Ulsh, and while there was more I wanted to ask, I’ll gladly take what I can get.
What was the time and process like from Impalers’ inception as a band to your first vinyl release? Was it short or did it take a while?
The idea behind Impalers started when Mike, our drummer, and I were on tour with another band we played in. I think we were avoiding a particularly grim house party and listening to music in the van instead. We decided that when that band got home from tour we would work on some ideas while everyone else was on their way to rehearse. Once the songs began to take form we started scheduling our own practices every couple of days and then it took off from there. We had no plans past recording the first batch of songs, and actually almost scrapped the project entirely after we tracked the demo for the first time. The guy did such a piss-poor job recording us that we were convinced our band sucked, but the second time around it sounded much better and that’s what ended up being the demo.
As for the timeline, the earliest rehearsal recording I have was from 2009 and Beach Impediment / No Way didn’t get around to releasing the demo on vinyl until 2011, so the process was pretty slow at the beginning. Todo Destruido and W-Tapes split the first cassette pressing somewhere in the middle of all that and that’s when we decided to add three more people so we could play live. It was my first time playing a show only doing vocals without an instrument to hide behind and I was miserable.
Why were you miserable just singing, without an instrument? How different is it for you?
Until our first show I had only played drums or guitar in bands, so during the first instrumental part of the set it just hit me, a “what am I supposed to do right now?” kind of thing. I had never thought about it before. I imagine our first couple of shows were probably sort of awkward but it’s fine because no one was there.
You’re a five-piece hardcore band, which is kind of rare for the sort of no-frills, to-the-point style you play. Are there any five-piece hardcore bands that inspired you or your sound?
Initially when we were writing the demo as a two-piece there were a couple parts that didn’t really sound right with just one guitar and drums, so we had a few “just trust me” moments. After the songs were done it was obvious that in a live setting we would need to have two guitars, and I was bent on only singing to be more aesthetically appealing but also to try something new. Then the lineup filled out around that. But now that I think about it, most of the bands that inspired Impalers were all four-pieces. We wanted to do a tripped out later-era Anti Cimex sort of thing but with more focus on the vibe we could create by doing certain key changes and using some effects, rather than the more metallic Discharge sound those records have – if that makes any sense. The song “Mower” from the most recent record is where I feel like we finally nailed it on the head.
Do you think it helped for Impalers to have that incubation period as a ‘studio’ project, and a few years to figure out what you wanted to do? Would it be the same if you started off as a fully-functioning live band?
I think it would be completely different but I’m not sure how. Every band I was in before that was always rushed. We had to have this out by tour, this had to be ready for this show, etc… Having no real plans was perfect to make sure we got what we wanted out of the recording. Also being able to just scrap it and just walk away like we wanted to for a couple weeks with no pressure from anywhere – I think that provided a good environment initially for the creative process.
Does the standard hardcore-punk model still feel exciting in 2015? Write songs, put out a record, go on a tour? Do you think more bands should think more critically about what they are doing to promote and market themselves (or un-promote and un-market themselves, as the case may be)?
I don’t really feel like there is a lot of room for marketing but I completely understand un-promoting and un-marketing. It all depends on the goals you set when you start a band and that dictates what you say no or yes to, I guess. I am a fan of the hardcore-punk model because it gives you exactly what you put into it. Let’s say you are an active participant and you’ve been spending a lot of time with your records at home and you decide to put some effort into writing songs, then put out your own record or give it to someone you trust, then the tours come easy. But if you don’t contribute anything and put some derivative band together, why would you expect any return from it? You get what you put in. We all know this. If you are excited, punk is exciting. For example, we go to the pyramids in Mexico City before we’re about to go play, and that experience is the manifestation of our band’s work. I am literally living inside it, it’s very real to me and I like that about it. The bullshit will always be there and I might be romanticizing a little bit but I do appreciate the functionality of “write-record-tour”.
Do you think that’s generally the case, that great hardcore bands get noticed no matter how much effort they put into self-promotion? Do you think the internet has sort of leveled the playing field, in that regard?
I think there’s a few different factors at play but the internet’s effect on underground music is undeniable to me. You hear people say things like “There are no good ____ bands anymore”, but really all that says to me is “I am too lazy to try to find current music on the internet”, because it’s so easy, it just takes a little time and effort. Think about the hours we’ve all logged on Discogs over the years, or even Metal Archives – the amount of available resources is so much bigger than when I first started seeking out punk bands. And then because of these resources, the spreading of information almost effortless. So in that sense I don’t think it requires much effort, social media will do that for you. If your band decides not to play live often then the word-of-mouth factor is not in your favor. But in 2015 bands that don’t tour because they have office jobs can fly across the country for a weekend and have a crazy reaction, so god bless the internet I guess.
I have to ask: what is your practice schedule like? Both your records and the live footage I’ve seen display a tightness that most hardcore bands seem to lack.
This may sound corny but all of us are pretty close and spend a lot of time together regardless if we are practicing or not, so the chemistry is already there before we pick up any instruments, and I think that has a lot to do with it. If practice is enjoyable and the drive is there, then that sort of tightness live is the most obvious result in my experience. We also played in some other bands together previously and they are all great musicians so that doesn’t hurt either. I think we like being creative within the company of our band and it makes the level of stress very low, at least on that front. We can be really neurotic about practice so maybe sometimes we will rehearse up to three times a week, but the frequency of practice really depends on what’s on our plate. I specifically remember practicing every day for a week before we went on our first tour, but if we don’t have much coming up we won’t force anything.
Does the band feel like a democratic five-piece at this point, or is it still you and Mike writing the songs, and just telling the other guys what to play?
It was up until the very last song we wrote. We did a track for the Hardcore: Gimme Some More compilation on Beach Impediment that started with Mike and I doing our usual thing, but everyone else was there and added their own flavor. Juan helped me out with the lyrics and played the bass on the recording. That song ended up being one of everyone’s favorites so we will probably start writing more democratically from now on since we know it works well. Mike and I wrote that way for so long that I think we really needed that extra push from somewhere outside.
I get the impression that Impalers had time early on for live awkwardness and generally figuring things out, without being in the hyped spotlight or whatever. Is that the case? Are you glad that Impalers took its time to blossom, so to speak?
It was sort of a combination of things. This was before the sort of resurgence that Austin just had, even Texas on a bigger level. There weren’t as many out of town bands coming through, or bands starting up here, or shows to play as there are now. Plus we were all younger, had other bands, school, jobs… It just didn’t make sense to try to do more than what was really possible at the time. Impalers was kind of an experiment in the sense that everyone’s spot in the band wasn’t their first nature, so it was pretty convenient being able to work out the kinks before a lot of heads started filling the room.
How do you feel about Austin becoming such a hardcore hub in the past couple years? Are there any downsides to it?
It has always been a hub but now is a particularly exciting time to be there. Timmy consistently spoiled our city with Chaos fest and bands I never thought I’d see but the main difference now is that a lot of other people are stepping up too. The younger group of kids down here really breathed new life into the scene and I think we needed that. Starting bands and booking shows, mainly at all-ages spots which made it easy to pack heads in. Since the age range is a pretty big spread, that is also the downside – trying to keep a consistent all-ages venue that won’t get shut down. We’ve gotten pretty good at sneaking kids in when we need to but the attendance at those shows isn’t the same.
Was there a specific concept behind the Psychedelic Snutskallar record, or did it just kinda randomly happen? Did you try to write a track to fit the title, or did the title come about afterward?
Mike and I had a short lived project called Sick Plot that recorded two songs during the same session as the Impalers 7″. The Sick Plot songs were more drawn out, each string was layered as its own track with tons of effects. The idea was similar to Impalers but more dense and jarring. I sent Todo Destruido all of the songs together after the 7″ was done and then Eddie coined the phrase “Psychedelic Snutskallar”. I guess it floated around in our heads for a couple years, then fast forward to right before New York’s Alright 2014. We wanted to throw something together on the fly to have a new tape for sale at the fest, so we decided to rework those two Sick Plot songs as Impalers songs and maybe come up with a couple new ones. I’m not sure which we decided on first, calling it Psychedelic Snutskallar or writing an eleven-minute-long d-beat song. We tried to make it as literal as possible lyrically and aesthetically, so the record is essentially about dosing a cop.
Is Impalers the best band you’ve ever been in?
It’s the best band anyone has ever been in.
Aye Aye Aye Aye LP (Richie)
Here’s a Richie record if there ever was one – the new collaborative effort of John and Michael Gibbons (of Bardo Pond), Ben Leaphart (of Purling Hiss, Birds Of Maya and Watery Love) and Dan Balcer (beloved Philadelphia rock cornerstone). There’s a whole lot of rock history within these four men, yet they take it easy with that supreme knowledge. They could easily cook up something extravagant, but with Aye Aye they simmer a pot of chili for hours longer than necessary – these guys are in no rush to eat. These six tracks remind me of Earth’s most sun-baked records (The Bees Made Honey In The Lion’s Skull in particular), but with a slight dampness to the guitars (it’s not quite as arid of a desert-rock record as the promotional material implies) and a harmonica that sounds estranged from its lover. It’s one of those records for which Welcome To Flavor Country would be an apt title. The pace is glacial, the guitars ooze from one chord to the next, and if Neil Young caught wind of this record, he might inquire as to Aye Aye’s availability to open his next arena tour. Aye Aye will probably never make it out of the backyard, though, and that’s surely fine with them.
Beech Creeps Beech Creeps LP (Monofonus Press)
Beech Creeps are a versatile Brooklyn rock band, surely just as prepared for a drunken basement show as a corporate-sponsored cross-promotional showcase (you know, the new standard Brooklyn live music experience). Their self-titled debut starts with an open-ended freakout, guitars running through all sorts of effects as the drums insistently pound forward. I was ready for a whole album of this, just pointless headbangable instrumental-rock bliss, but then the vocals came in, in a nasally whine that would make the guy from Dead Meadow blush. The rest of the album sees Beech Creeps splitting the difference, melding heavy instrumental rock riffs (I can sniff out anything from Tad to A Place To Bury Strangers) to modern shoegaze-indie politeness. When they are raging their hardest, it almost feels like they are impersonating what they assume anger feels like, and while that would usually turn me off, something about Beech Creeps’ tunefulness and professionalism erases that gripe – they’re not impassioned psychos, they’re competent adults, and there’s room in the world for them, too. Not sure why they spelled it “Beech”, though. Is there already a Beach Creeps out there?
Lea Bertucci Light Silence, Dark Speech 7″ (Dischi Del Barone)
Lea Bertucci plays altered Alto saxophone and “tapes” on this 7″ single, and you expect me to figure out the proper playing speed all by myself, Dischi Del Barone? That’s plain mean. I’m going with 33, and “An Unbroken Plane”, the a-side track, sounds pretty alright at this speed. I’m reminded of geese taking flight, at least until I realize it’s actually just Steve Reich in a goose suit acting the fool. Excellent execution and a nice flow, as the track is eventually subsumed by a thousand toilets flushing. “Faces In The Shadows” opens with a mating call not unlike the Barnacled 7″ I released (it’s long sold out so I can rightfully mention these things without accusations of creeping capitalism), at least before the reverb is applied and Bertucci’s sax ripples on the same note; the Nintendo button-masher equivalent of jazz. If my Whole Foods would hire Lea Bertucci to hang out in the stairwell playing this sort of stuff all the time, I swear I’d go grocery shopping at least four times a week.
Boyhood When I’m Hungry LP (Bruised Tongue)
Fresh off a successful run at the Oscars and Golden Globes, Boyhood finally hits vinyl! Actually, this Boyhood is the Ottawa-based Caylie Runciman, who performs a decidedly home-recorded version of blurry indie-rock and narcoleptic garage. The shadow of Blank Dogs continues to loom (or in the case of Boyhood’s Canadian locale, maybe The Pink Noise?), as When I’m Hungry has a similar feel of Echo & The Bunnymen or Felt songs replicated through borrowed gear in a couple takes by someone who probably spent way more time as a kid listening to Nirvana’s Unplugged than any Joy Division record. The slower tracks resonate with me most (“As A Fog” almost feels like Tamaryn crawling through the desert, a nice vibe indeed), but Boyhood never rests in one specific place too long. As if I needed more evidence that Canada is a cool place to be!
Cairo Pythian Touched LP (Katorga Works)
It wasn’t until last year’s Unity Mitford EP that I got on board with Cairo Pythian, but I’m mighty glad I did. For as much as I dug that record, I have to say, Touched tops it considerably, marking out a very specific sweet spot in the world of underground dance-rock. This record squeezes Cairo Pythian’s synth-based cold-wave revival sound over to allow flashy glam-rock into the booth, as if Cheap Trick left their fringed suede jacket in the studio and Klaus Nomi tried it on as a joke but ended up looking great in it. I’m reminded of U.S. Girls’ fantastic GEM album at times, and maybe Information Society at their most perverse, but Touched‘s distinctiveness comes from the vocals, which sound like Gary Numan imitating the sassy guy from The Blood Brothers (or more succinctly, like Marilyn Manson). It’s kind of the perfect voice for a gig like this, and on the decidedly weirder and looser second side (this album continually gets better as it goes on), he has this one-sided conversation that bests Nikki Sixx’s part in “Girls, Girls, Girls”. Fantastic album, and I can only hope Cairo Pythian hits the road a bit to support it – I wanna see how much snakeskin this guy wears live.
Chicken Chain Birth Of The Googus LP (Snot Releases)
I had you at “Chicken Chain”, didn’t I? It’s the sort of name you’ve got to respect (whatever it may mean), and it suits this Baltimore group’s debut album, Birth Of The Googus. It’s possible the members of Chicken Chain are all seasoned players, but this record sounds like the work of a first-time hardcore-punk band, recorded in perfectly lo-fi, straight-to-four-track fidelity. It’s the right kind of crappy, from the vocalist’s meaty yowl to the drummer’s impatient finesse. There’s even a track on the a-side that is nothing more than slowed-down / chopped-up drum tracks, which bears no semblance to the rest of the record (and is a perfect addition if you ask me). Birth Of The Googus feels strongly inspired by Lumpy & The Dumpers and stupid Cleveland hardcore (I’m talking Folded Shirt, The Inmates, Bad Noids, that sort of thing), and it’s a fine addition to any Expedit that is about to topple over due to poor assembly.
The Coltranes The Cat Of Nine Tails 7″ (SPHC)
Oh thank God, I was worried I wasn’t going to get any records by young dudes with “shocking cartoon of nonsensical violence and sex acts” artwork this month, but The Coltranes saved the day! Makes me long for the days where every hardcore record had a skateboarding skeleton doing a frontside tailslide on the cover, let me tell you. Anyway, The Coltranes are alright… they’re certainly more “normal” sounding than I expected, going from hardcore dirge-mode to speedy riffing and back, with a snarling Bobby Soxx impersonator on the mic (I bet he even does that crazy thing where he puts the mic in his mouth while singing, hands-free!). Sorry to be so sarcastic, but all these shockingly unshocking bands are kinda wearing me out – The Coltranes, while essentially a slightly-above-average hardcore group, strike me as Goosebumps Junior. It’s like impersonating a Michael Jackson impersonator – how much dilution can you take?
Cuticle Mind Holding Pattern LP (Not Not Fun)
The term “hipster house” has essentially been techno’s scarlet letter in the past few years, and I gotta say, Cuticle’s Mind Holding Pattern kind of feels like the definition of it. That said, I think this album is quite good, and I don’t think the idea of techno purity is really one that should be held above anything else – some of my favorite punk records were played by musical tourists (or even people purposely lampooning the genre) so as far as I’m concerned, anything goes. On Mind Holding Pattern, we hear chilled-out beats emanating from various pieces of hardware, a focus on abstraction versus quality of groove, and a curiosity of sound and noise that can only come from someone who came up on basement punk shows and noise tapes (Cuticle features Darren Ho, formerly of Raccoo-oo-oon, after all). Complete with a screen-printed paper cover in place of a traditional sleeve, Mind Holding Patterm is pastel and bubbly in both appearance and sound. It’s forward-minded background dance music for art openings, and there’s a place in my collection for just this sort of thing.
Albert Demuth Albert Demuth LP (no label)
Albert Demuth’s self-titled solo album is one of those records that are so beautiful you almost never want to go through the hassle of playing it – the black vinyl LP (with hand-scratched center labels) comes in a striking fold-out cover, presumably hand-screened with a Magic Eye puzzle on one side and stark imagery on the other, and that sleeve comes nestled in a large sheet of gold tissue paper, expertly-wrapped and embellished with a postcard of Demuth, head in hands. I still haven’t properly put it back together, just because I’m pretty sure I’ll ruin it in the process, but that’s alright, as this is a record to leave out, particularly if you’re the type of person who paces the apartment after midnight, burning your cigarette to the filter and trying to pick up the pieces of your life. I hate to romanticize cigarettes, but this is that kinda record – Demuth plays a loose, somber form of guitar, as if Loren Mazzacane Connors joined an indie-rock band and was unceremoniously kicked out, and he whispers his lyrics over top, like Jandek doing a Leonard Cohen impersonation (or vice versa). I can’t make out what he’s saying half the time, but it’s more about the tone of his voice than his words – even when his syllables are garbled, I feel like I know exactly what he’s saying, like he’s refusing the hand on his shoulder and desperate for a drink. Kudos!
Deviation Social Practices/Demo. June-Oct. 81 LP (Dais)
Okay, so Dais could release a chapbook that lists the restaurants Deviation Social used to eat at after practice and I’d still be excited to obtain a copy, but I’m obsessed with this group for a reason! Their music has always inhabited a unique space within industrial/noise music, as they create oppressive, creepy atmospheres without relying on ear-piercing feedback, violent screams or clanging percussion. On Practices/Demo. June-Oct. 81 in particular, these four tracks imbue a sense of loneliness and isolation, as if the band was performing their scattered noise and tapes from the far end of an underfunded hospital; no staff or faculty around, just a crappy white bed on wheels and chipped linoleum beneath it. I’d even go so far as to say that these tracks remind me of The Shadow Ring, as there’s a strange playfulness to these aural experiments, like they are testing your patience and absolutely delighted to do so. I can understand if you feel the need to sit this one out, Dais’s third Deviation Social reissue, but I’m all in.
Dickhead Rescue More Than… 7″ (Ever/Never)
This one really warms my heart, another 7″ single of music only a few dozen people on Earth (at best) could really be interested in, care of New York’s Ever/Never label. The beautiful fact that these folks actually called their band “Dickhead Rescue” isn’t lost on me, either. Anyway, “More Than…” is apparently a Michael Hurley cover (or some sort of artistic inspiration point), but there’s nothing folksy or psychedelic about this track, which clatters across a simple pop progression, mobilized by peppy drumming and imbued with a sense that the final tape was processed through a dying Wah pedal instead of an actual mastering job. Reminds me of the first Roachclip 7″, or some dank corner of the Flying Nun corporation. B-side “Erepeato” is basically the same song, except this time it sounds like it’s performed by Sightings back when they still had the slightest resemblance to a garage-rock band. Both tracks combined, you’ve got a laser-guided practice jam that deserves to be immortalized on a black-vinyl 7″ that very few people will ever hear. Thank you, Ever/Never!
Exacerbación Desastre Humano 7″ (Pan Del Muerte / SPHC)
Costa Rican grindcore? Where do I sign up! Exacerbación have been around for a few years now, mostly sticking with the lifers-only format of the split cassette, but this 7″ is pretty fantastic generic grindcore, the sort of thing that I first heard as an impressionable teenager and have wanted to hear every day of my life since. In particular, I’d say Exacerbación go the Fear Of God / Napalm Death route, quickly churning through down-tuned “riffs” with no mosh parts (just thrashing or blasting or the infrequent dirge), a throaty incomprehensible beast of a vocalist, and a drummer who tunes his snare nice and high. No tricks, no awkward transgression, just distorted hardcore grind from a country I can only hope to someday visit. Their thanks list ends with the phrase “stay BULLA”, and whatever that means, I have no doubt that they sincerely mean it.
Frankie & The Witch Fingers Frankie & The Witch Fingers LP (Permanent)
First of all, big disappointment here: no one in this band is named Frankie! Seriously, Josh, Dylan, Alex and Glenn weren’t willing to just go with the flow and change their name for the good of the group? Does the lack of alliteration in “Dylan & The Witch Fingers” really make a big difference? Insincere band name aside, this Chicago-based rock group pay homage to classic ’60s and ’70s psychedelia on this album, dropping 13th Floor Elevators tabs as they thumb through live Velvet Underground bootlegs for inspiration. It’s pretty decent (and I say this as a guy whose interest in retro-psych-rock is fairly low) – the track “Electric Seance” is a comp-worthy hit for sure, and the rest flows from mellow to groovin’ and back with very little to complain about. Pretty good, especially considering two of the Witch Fingers look disturbingly like Blake and Adam from Workaholics (I’m talking to you, Alex and Glenn).
Gravmaskin Volym 1 LP (Electric Assault)
Keys, drums and electric guitar are the elements harnessed by Sweden’s Gravmaskin. Combining those sonic forces, Gravmaskin perform instrumental rock music, dabbling in psychedelia and heavy stoner motifs but ultimately settling on classic prog-rock, the sort of music where a band would call themselves Broccoli Daughter or Tomato Frog in 1971, release an album with a giant picture of a broccoli woman or a tomato-shaped frog on the cover (you know the genre: “band-name-referential-cover-art rock”), break up a year later due to disinterest and later end up on the want-list of many a hairy collector freak clutching a bookmarked copy of Acid Archives. I made those bands up (sorry if you were already scanning Discogs), but you know what I’m talking about, right? I was waiting for Gravmaskin to pull out a surprise or two, to possibly utilize math-rock of the ’90s, doom metal of the ’00s or something else entirely, but they play it by the books, perfect for fans of “Hocus Pocus” by Focus, The Groundhogs’s entire discography or one of Spooky Tooth’s more obscure works. Doesn’t really do a whole lot for me, as my interest in prog is limited (and my attention is therefore relegated to the originators), but Volym 1 does have me wondering what it’d be like to smoke smuggled Soviet Union opium in a shag-carpeted tour bus.
Harpoon Forever American Flag 7″ (Sweaters & Pearls)
I’m guessing that’s a painting of Mr. Harpoon Forever himself on the cover, Alex Goldstein, as it looks like the sort of awkward, probably tall, bearded and bookish Wes Anderson character who frequently plays this sort of languid indie-pop music. No offense to Harpoon Forever, but I’m kinda reaching my fill of this sort of thing for the moment, and while these four songs are perfectly fine, they don’t do anything for me but add to my exhaustion of awkward-guy pop. There’s a new Home Blitz album coming soon and I’m sure Tony Molina’s sitting on a new record or two, so I’ve got plenty to anticipate as is, you know? Anyway, Harpoon Forever are far less strange than Home Blitz and significantly less poppy than Tony Molina, which puts it right in the middle of a category I’m already growing weary of (and Goldstein’s disinterested, mostly-tuneful vocals do nothing to snap me out of this funk). There’s just no pleasing everyone, and in this case the everyone I’m talking about is me.
Hot Dolphin Negative Fun Singles Club 7″ (Negative Fun)
Couldn’t help but think of Ultra Dolphins, the only other dolphin-based punk band I am aware of (unless you count Flipper), when checking out this single by Richmond, VA’s Hot Dolphin. I remember Ultra Dolphins as pretty wild and nutty, and while that vibe also permeates Hot Dolphin, their music is a bit more regimented – they play a roomy, muffled form of melodic garage-punk, heavy on the toms and vocals cascading with reverb. I like the vocalist’s husky growl – her voice is probably the most distinctive part of these three songs, like a chain-smoking lunch-lady who deposits a scoop of khaki-colored mashed potatoes on your tray without ever making eye contact. Decent enough tunes overall, although I doubt I’ll be coming back to it soon – something about these uniform, image-less “Singles Club” sleeves just seems so unpalatable to me, like it’s too un-American of a way to produce and sell vinyl records. A band name like Hot Dolphin leaves itself open to various interesting artistic avenues that sadly remains unexplored here, wouldn’t you agree?
Kerridge Always Offended, Never Ashamed 2xLP (Contort)
I’ve loved Kerridge for nearly as long as he’s been releasing records, but I was wondering where his music was going to head – you can only make bleak, post-apocalyptic industrial techno so many times before it starts to repeat itself. Thus, it brings me great pleasure to tell you that Always Offended, Never Ashamed is a dramatic and awesome step forward for Kerridge, retaining all that made him great (insurmountable bass, atmospheric gloom and leaden beats) while moving in a new direction. Essentially, this album sounds like the fascist oppression of George Orwell’s 1984, a believable sci-fi world where the masses march forward to collect their food and water rations while soldiers look on from turrets above. Opener “GOFD” (all the songs have weird unexplained acronym titles like that) is downright oppressive, with vocals that sound as though they are wafting in from an old Communist-era PA system, barking orders at the lower class. It has the feel that Hunger Games and Snowpiercer are going for, but with a working musical knowledge of Regis, Throbbing Gristle and Emptyset, and it’s truly a stunning album to behold. It’s only a matter of time until the violent alien overlords of our future make Kerridge’s vision a reality, so let’s enjoy these days while we have them.
Life Partner Have I Demon? LP (Sophomore Lounge)
This one threw me for a loop right away, as I couldn’t help but immediately think of Life Partners, Boston’s preeminent goof-rock band. They didn’t break up and go solo, did they? Thankfully not (they are life partners, after all), as Life Partner is an entirely different act (and in an ironic twist, no longer together). It’s not too far from Life Partners in spirit, actually, sort of reveling in dudeness in a way that avoids macho aggression and focuses on the sad hilarity of manhood, name-checking a list of professional wrestlers in one track and asking a Danzig-esque question for the album title. Musically, it’s pretty basic stoner/heavy riffing with a stronger pop sensibility than most of that ilk, sort of splitting the difference between the red-lining pop-punk of The Thermals and the weed haze of Uncle Acid. Pretty good work for a rock trio, although the guitarist / lead vocalist is named Aaron Ozzy and that’s a name you’ve really got to live up to. Nice record for family and friends to enjoy, as well as those curious about the sound I described above, although I can only hope they’re onto bigger and better things as I write this.
Lime Crush Lime Crush 7″ (Fettkakao)
Gonna give credit where it’s due and mention the wonderful Dynamite Hemorrhage blog / radio show / print zine for tipping me off to Lime Crush, a delightful Austrian post-punk group that offers three skinny sets of grooves on this 7″ EP. “Graveyard” has the a-side all to itself, and rightfully so – I’m reminded of Kleenex’s spunky attitude and Girls At Our Best’s pop perfection within this brief number. There’s some pre-song chatter, then they kick into it and the hook represents itself immediately. “Baby” has more of a shambolic garage feel, calling to mind the expansiveness of The Oh Sees’ influence, and “Honk Tonk” is off on its own entirely, big gang vocals chanting about a “honk tonk”, the definition of which I am unaware. Great guitar work on “Honk Tonk” in particular, but the whole thing is just so frenetic and joyous that I want to move to Austria just to hang with Lime Crush at the DIY zine fair or wherever it is they spend their time.
Louder Louder LP (Sorry State)
Chuck Taylors and amps feature prominently in the artwork for Louder’s self-titled debut, and I can’t say they’ll be sued for false advertising – this is spunky, upbeat punk rock played with a reverence for classic rock n’ roll archetypes and a mostly-implied grittiness. It’s as if Louder are more suited toward John Varvatos’ revision of CBGBs than the actual club itself, as these songs are safe, poppy and harmless fun. The tempos are pogo-friendly, the vocals are snotty (but not too snotty), and I’d expect at least one member to be wearing sunglasses while another jumps off his amp at the exact right time. I dunno… Louder are fine at what they do, they just haven’t put together any big hooks to warrant their Replacements and Guns N’ Roses Lies-esque artwork, and while they are musically talented, it all feels a little too squeaky-clean without the payoff of a masterful hook or melody. Maybe I just need to play Louder louder to really get it, but I care about the relationships I have with my neighbors.
Antoni Maiovvi Avrokosm LP (Not Not Fun)
I try to avoid being a hater if I can, but simply looking at and reading about this record had my guard up: obvious Tangerine Dream homage artwork, fake Italian name, previous releases including an album on Death Waltz and another called Escape To L.A., etc. I was ready to grouchily poke this one to death with the attitude of John Carpenter in his recent Wire feature (a hilarious must-read, by the way), but I threw on Avrokosm and it’s not the cheesy horror-movie synth soundtrack redux I was fearing. Rather, this album plays out with Alden Tyrell’s pacing and Move D’s inventiveness, constantly grounded on a 4/4 beat but offering a dazzling light show above. Maybe I’m making it sound too crazy, because it’s still just a synth-heavy, mid-paced Italo-techno album, one cooing vocalist away from an Italians Do It Better contract, but when you sit down with the music and forget the image being projected, Avrokosm is an easy record to enjoy.
Max Kala Amplification & Super Regeneration LP (no label)
You know how there are dozens of obscure private-press metal / hard rock LPs from the ’80s, most with generic or hilarious artwork and small town mailing addresses? This Max Kala album has a similar feeling, just updated with today’s modern rock aesthetic. Which is to say, it’s a self-released LP pressing by an unsigned group that sounds like they’re shooting for corporate rock radio, if not in their message but their sound. I’m reminded of acts ranging from Queens Of The Stone Age to Velvet Revolver as I listen to Amplification & Super Regeneration… it feels like Max Kala would be an excellent fit as Seether’s opening act at your local Hard Rock Cafe. Lyrically they’ve got a pretty righteously liberal slant which works for me (although there’s one strange song where the singer repeats “I would like the press to know / I didn’t get My Spaghetti-Os” and I cringe just thinking about it), but the whole thing is just so derivatively radio-rock that it’s not that I dislike it, it just doesn’t really register on my personal radar one way or the other. Cool to know that people are making this sort of music simply because it’s the way they wish to express themselves, but my ears don’t necessarily want any part of the action.
Mumdance & Logos Proto 2xLP (Tectonic)
After a false start care of Mad Decent, Mumdance is back, wiser and more refined in his approach to spacious and sleek post-dubstep bass music, bringing along his pal Logos for his first proper album. I’ve really been enjoying this one, but it’s been a little hard to pinpoint why… Proto isn’t a game-changing release, and lots of other records these days sound like it, but it stands out. I suppose a big part of that is its empty space – so often, listening to Proto feels like you’re standing in a beautiful and completely empty loft apartment, as if the massive lease-breaking party is either about to take place or happened the night before. When the tracks hit big, they are huge (“Dance Energy (89 Mix)” and “Move Your Body” both live up to their titles), but so much of Proto is thick with a weightless pause, like the brief moment you’re still bouncing upward off a trampoline, or the nervous wait as your gun is reloading in Call Of Duty. It’s like the perfect crowd-pleasing foil to Egyptrixx’s latest post-apocalyptic warning call, and I plan on enjoying both deep into 2015 and beyond.
NHK yx Koyxen Hallucinogenic Doom Steppy Verbs 12″ (Diagonal)
I’ve been avoiding having to say “NHK yx Koyxen” out loud (it’s too complex for my simple tongue), but I can’t imagine I’ll be able to hold out much longer, as I want to tell all my friends and acquaintances about this fantastic record. The fact that the great Diagonal label put it out should’ve tipped me off, but it even exceeded my Diagonal-based expectations. NHK yx Koxyen is Kouhei Matsunaga, and under this moniker he produces experimental acid-techno that varies in depth, elasticity and abrasiveness. Opening with the minute-long skipping-CD workout “218”, it heads into the twelve-minute “845_”, which is the track I’d recommend you check out immediately. It’s as if Powell and Ricardo Villalobos butted heads over their definitions of acid-house, fighting over the knobs while the main arpeggio kicks like a bull. It’s like a continually shifting maze, equally maddening as it is impressive, and I want to hear it all day, every day. The rest of the EP follows suit, falling somewhere between the beatless expression of “218” and the red-faced footwork of “845_”, and it’s shaping up to be one of the best electronic EPs I’ve heard this year or last.
No Other Option C / Opaque 7″ (Negative Fun)
Another entry in the varied Negative Fun Singles Club (2014 vintage), here’s Philadelphia’s No Other, offering two songs of punchy, no-frills indie-punk. Latched to possibly the simplest drum beat I’ve heard an indie band commit to in a while (the one-two snare/kick ratio is unwavering for its entire duration), No Other offer an appropriately simple riff on “Option C”, replete with a gang chorus and a melodic vibe that has me recalling the late-emo-inspired pop-punk of the Tri-state area circa 1994 (I’m thinking Sleepasaurus and Clockwise). “Opaque” dims the lights considerably, dripping some moody guitar stylings into a capricious and fuzzy chorus, like breaking up over a candlelit dinner. From the likes of this single, it feels as though No Other are still putting their pieces together, or perhaps these two songs only reveal part of their puzzle. I’m more partial to the spunky optimism of “Option C”, and await the time when our paths cross again (Philadelphia is merely America’s fifth largest city, after all).
Nü-klē-ər Blast Suntan Prophetic Visions LP (SPHC)
Scratching my head a little over this one… I know SPHC is a big supporter of the underdog, the band whose artwork is too corny, sound too bizarre or attitude too earnest to be appreciated by the general sneering wannabe-nihilist hardcore populace, but I can’t get on board with this one. I mean seriously, a band name this annoying should be reserved for mathy emo-core or nerdy indie-pop, and besides that, this record doesn’t seem to have had much care put into it. The center sticker says 45 RPM (but it plays at 33), the design is horrible, and the back cover is nothing more than a list of the song titles, of which the title track is misspelled (unless they actually called the song “Prophetic Visons”, which I guess I shouldn’t put past them). Their music is another big airball: it’s average thrashing hardcore filled with awkward prog-rock flourishes (Matt Freeman-style bass runs, poorly-rendered guitar effects, etc.), performed sloppily, with a low-level of continuous noise and a vocalist who sounds like a really angry Elmo doll (but not in a good way). I can’t help but think that both SPHC and Nü-klē-ər Blast Suntan are better than what they’re giving us with Prophetic Visions.
Nzʉmbe Titubeo LP (Organized Music From Thessaloniki)
The “anti-copyright” statement on the back cover, the various footnotes within the lyrics, Mattin thanked on the insert… I didn’t need a notarized telegram to confirm that this is some freaky Spanish non-music, ripe for a Wire feature. Nzʉmbe is a “group” led by one Miguel Prado, and it’s actually pretty entertaining – you can breathe easy, Titubeo isn’t just an album of a rustling newspaper mixed with silence. Rather, Prado slowly speaks his words in a tone somewhere between Nicolas Jaar’s milky voice and the off-pitch tremble of Miguel Tomasin (of Reynols, of course). Prado speaks in a sad and confused tone, like the voice of a man you encounter at a bus stop at 3:00 AM, waiting for the Local 47 for hours at a stop that only services the 52. Behind Prado’s voice, there are electronic pulses, clattering rhythms, gauzy trumpet and other instruments, both traditional and unverifiable, working patiently and softly to buffer his voice from the pain of the world that surrounds it. Titubeo left me as confused as Prado sounds, and I can’t help but assume he would be delighted to know that.
Obnox Boogalou Reed LP (12XU)
It feels like Obnox’s last album, Louder Space, came out just a couple months ago, but that could simply be because I’ve been listening to it a bunch and it still sounds fresh. Wasting no time, Lamont Thomas offers us Boogalou Reed under his Obnox moniker, dishing out more proudly Ohioan blues rock in the weirdo misfit tradition. The songs here vary from space-bound Hawkwind tributes to punk stompers, the occasional black metal-inspired riff (for real) and various other corroded gems that are waiting to be covered by Jack White or Andre 3000 for mass pop consumption. I think for my money, I prefer Louder Space, as it’s a little heavier and a little less grimy, but songs like “Too Punk Shakur” repurpose classic rock n’ roll in a way that even the biggest grump couldn’t deny. Nice to see that Matt Horseshit adds “beat assistance” to “Watching You”, too – I’ve been wondering what he’s been up to and hoping he’s doing alright.
Powell Sylvester Stallone / Smut 12″ (XL)
I’m delighted that Powell seems to be receiving the upper-underground recognition he deserves, recently making the jump to the XL label (who has already wisely funded a great music video featuring Powell’s fantastic facial expressions). While I trust Powell, you never know when someone’s going to fall off, but I am glad to say that Powell makes the jump to a larger audience in the best of ways – streamlining his sound while staying true to its core. “Sylvester Stallone” is a definite hit, riding a frantically bumpy synth through various day-glo tunnels, as if Mr. Oizo was tasked with remixing his favorite Belgian nu-beat track. And it’s replete with Powell’s trademarked “random cut of a guy talking about nothing in particular” samples, this one featuring some guy saying “Sylvester Stallone” over and over. Excellent work! “Smut” is the flip, and it has a very similar vibe, just a different set of sounds, looping a drum that sounds like it came from Marilyn Manson’s “Beautiful People” and attacking it with various electronic insects, from a hive of wasps to a lumbering slug. I almost get the impression Powell had these tracks on reserve, just waiting until he was called up to the main room of the club, and I’m so glad they are now mine to enjoy any time I want.
Profligate Finding The Floor LP (Not Not Fun)
Profligate’s Finding The Floor is aptly titled – this is a record that locates the dance-floor through pounding, too-fast beats as much as it causes you to struggle for equilibrium through its maze of distortion and sonic foreign objects. Profligate’s Videotape EP in 2012 was my personal introduction to this slender individual, and while I enjoyed it, Finding The Floor is much better, and an accurate representation of how sweaty, fun and unhinged his live performances can be. Profligate doesn’t just bang his head, he bangs his whole body as he plays these songs live, building up all sorts of rhythmic structures through a variety of hardware (both clean and well-abused) on a table before him, and somehow, that same level of cathartic energy can be found here. On the whole, this is an aggressive techno record, one that touches upon Belgian nu-beat, classic Detroit tech-house and ’80s synth extrapolations, melding it all together in a powerful album that is neither industrial nor noise-inspired. I think you’ll like it too!
Shearing Pinx People LP (Psychic Handshake)
Usually when a band has an album cover with a “we’re all rolling around crazy on stage with our instruments in shambles” photo, it’s some sort of overcompensation for the lack of sonic chaos within, but I feel like Shearing Pinx earned this one. They’ve outlasted Shocking Pinks and Sneaky Pinks, and they continue onward with their deconstructed rock music care of People. These songs tend to fall somewhere between Teenage Jesus and Sonic Youth, with a touch of Bride Of No No’s aural abstraction, and it all sounds pretty good. Personally, I love it best when they are playing the least amount of “real” music – the opener “Weirdling” has a sliding bass-line and dum-dum guitar/drums that I wish would just go on forever, but I don’t mind it when they are playing actual songs with choruses and verses either. Nice to know they’re still at it, as People is proof that you can get really good at playing bad music.
Six Brew Bantha Intravenously Commodified LP (SPHC / To Live A Lie)
Here’s an album that’s just my speed, Six Brew Bantha’s Intravenously Commodified. They’re a grindcore trio, which in their case means the bass is absent, and while the lack of low end could be problematic, they succeed just like Pig Destroyer and Iron Lung and the various bass-less grind bands that came before them. In fact, I’d say much of Intravenously Commodified is on par with Pig Destroyer, Insect Warfare and all those heavy-duty modern grindcore bands that balance time-change gymnastics with concussion-level brutality. I have no idea where one track ends and the next begins, but I’d be missing the point if I cared too much about specific song boundaries when it comes to technical grindcore. Six Brew Bantha offer nothing new, sort of melding the visual aesthetic of Arsedestroyer with generic crust imagery (which I guess is probably Arsedestroyer’s entire style anyway), but they do it so well and get everything so right that I don’t care if they’re the first or millionth band to sound like this.
S U R V I V E S U R V I V E LP (HoloDeck / 540 / Light Lodge)
Normally, when a band decides they need to capitalize every letter (and throw a space between each one, no less), I take it as a sign of pretentious disrespect toward their audience (who wants to hold down the caps lock, let alone press the space bar that many times?), but something about Austin, TX’s S U R V I V E seems to warrant it. They’re four gentlemen who play synths, and this is their 2012 debut album, initially released by Mannequin, now stateside care of the label names you see above. There’s a sea of dudes-with-synths acts out there now, but S U R V I V E feel separate from the pack, like they have gracefully bowed out of the synth rat-race to follow their own personal journey. While some of the sounds are pretty classic, they don’t feel indebted to pastiche or nostalgia, and while they are able to cook up a tense, driving groove, they have no trouble sitting back and building up to that point – once the first side gets to the psychological heart-pumper of “Hourglass”, it feels like an explosive reward for making it through all that sinister foreplay. If they were cooks, their steak would be prepared sous-vide, you know what I mean? Methodical, slightly scientific and classically delicious. And I don’t even eat meat.
Ultrathin Ultrathin LP (Bruised Tongue)
Montreal’s Ultrathin have been around since 2009 or so, opening for many of North America’s finest rock bands as they came through town (ahem), and this is their first full-length release. I’ve enjoyed them both live and on 7″ single format, and this album showcases their subtle variations of garage-punk. Sometimes they get downright hardcore (and even let a “fuck you!” fly), but most of this eponymous album has them skulking around with Stooges riffs, either in mid-paced sleaze mode (“In My Mind” in particular) or cruising around town in a busted-up Bonneville, blasting The Dirtbombs or The Flamin’ Groovies while trying to score cheap beer. And while those names might seem retro-oriented, Ultrathin come at it with a noisy-punk edge, modernizing it a bit and taking a cloth napkin to most of the genre’s BBQ sauce remnants. This record won’t blow your mind, but it might help facilitate a situation in which your mind is blown.
Uranium Orchard Lithophane Geisha LP (Caesar Cuts)
So hear me out on this, but Uranium Orchard are essentially the modern-day Sun City Girls. Here’s why: I am certain they have never heard of Sun City Girls, nor are they influenced by such; they skip across musical styles without a care in the world, from plainclothes indie-rock to raga improvisations and Casio jingles; their music clearly makes perfect sense to them, although the rest of us are scratching our heads half the time; there’s plenty of musical virtuosity mixed within obviously goofy piss-taking; a seeming disinterest in their own success or popularity; shockingly-great moments mixed within pointless noodling and bad ideas; an insistence on releasing multiple albums at a busy pace. All they need to do is release a couple LPs a year for the next thirty years and they’ll be all set! But seriously, I can’t think of any other modern band as outside-the-box as Uranium Orchard, smushing radical and hum-drum music together as if it was the only logical thing to do. And just like Sun City Girls, I still can’t figure out if I’m charmed or irritated by Lithophane Geisha, which of course is high praise.
Vatican Dagger Not To Be 7″ (Total Punk)
Is there some sort of “worst cover art contest” that Total Punk is secretly holding amongst its artists? I swear, it’s like each band tries to outdo the other in their blatant lack of artistic effort. I’m not complaining, as I enjoy a good pointlessly-scrawled band name as much as the next guy, and like much of the Total Punk roster, this Vatican Dagger single is pretty fantastic. They feature Gary Wrong on guitar (an inclusion that is always right), and they’re kind of like the upbeat, freshly-showered cousin of Gary Wrong Group. “Not To Be” has a Bleach-era Nirvana riff with some Screaming Mad George-inspired vocals – tasty combo! And there’s “The Mess” on the flip, which rides a descending four-note riff onto the border of punk and metal, a small town trashed by suburban miscreants in 1984 and violated by Vatican Dagger once more. It’s the sort of record that ends only when the cops show up, and while I can’t rightly deem it essential, only a fool would find something to complain about it. A fool or a Narc.
John Wiese Deviate From Balance 2xLP (Gilgongo)
Okay, Gilgongo is finally tossing their money at something I can get behind, a lavish double LP collection from LA’s noisemaster John Wiese. He’s one of the last few ’00s noise mainstays to have not gone techno, and while he has already released roughly 2.5 million recordings, I can always go for a collection as nicely executed, both in packaging and musical content, as this. Deviate From Balance works as a beginner’s-guide compendium to John Wiese’s many talents, just as much as it appeals to a years-long fan (such as myself), collecting various ensembles and styles onto two long-playing discs. You get harsh computer noise, violent tape edits, free-jazz gibberish, field recordings, studio manipulations, composed ensemble performances and a cast of characters both famous and unknown (“Segmenting Process” features no less than nineteen players). I’m not big on hodgepodge noise records usually, but Deviate From Balance is smartly curated, really the cream of his crop and an excellent insight into Wiese’s mindset. That said, my favorite track is probably “Memaloose Walkman”, which is just Wiese, Joe Preston and Aaron Montaigne firing guns. I can only assume it was some sort of Hunger Games pursuit and that the bodies of Preston and Montaigne have yet to be uncovered, and yet Wiese’s thoughtful mug is displayed on the Actuel-styled back cover, acting all innocent.
Xetas The Redeemer LP (12XU)
Feels like only yesterday I was listening to the debut Xetas 7″ on 12XU, curious as to what they’d sound like on a full-length, and now here it is, staring me in the face. Their 7″ was cool, and this album is better, extrapolating upon their indie-punk sound. It’s really quite a modern thing, the way bands are seemingly influenced by every style of music known to man (Xetas pull from moody post-punk, Jawbreaker, stoner-metal and garage-rock among other forms of guitar music), but it works in Xetas’ favor, as it all gets funneled into the same sharp pipe. It’s a good mix, not an awkward one, and the vocals carry a level of passion that either escapes my daily listening habits or is simply in shorter supply these days. Not exactly a band that I’d expect to do the pretentious song-title move where every title begins with “The” (“The Ashes”, “The Sentence”, “The Deep”, etc. – even the two songs on their 7″ are like this), but maybe it has some deeper significance that I’m missing. If nothing else, Xetas are a band that I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt.