If there’s one thing the current global politial climate tells us, it’s that the dystopian sci-fi future we’ve been fearfully anticipating is basically upon us, so why not suit our musical diets accordingly? L.O.T.I.O.N. are perfect for the job, the punk band most likely to integrate computer viruses and drone strikes into their musical aesthetic. They’re from New York City, which is probably where the apocalypse will start, and their sound conjures visions of G.I.S.M., Ministry, Chaotic Dischord and Rudimentary Peni in equal measure, fusing all that confusion, frustration and paranoia (founded or otherwise) into thick chunks of hardcore-punk. I spoke with vocalist and bandleader Alexander Heir about the group and now I’m on my way out the door to get one of my ears pierced.
Is there one specific phrase that L.O.T.I.O.N. stands for, or is it ever-shifting and open to interpretation, like MDC or something? Are you willing to divulge its meaning?
L.O.T.I.O.N. is an even changing acronym. On our first cassette release it was “Leaders Of Tomorrow Ingest Only Noise,” on our second it was “Legacy Of Terror In Occupied Nations,” and on our newest LP we used a handful of different meanings, including “Logical Organized Technology: Intelligent Observable Network.”
Did the acronym L.O.T.I.O.N. come about from that first name, Leaders Of Tomorrow Ingest Only Noise, or did you start off wanting to be L.O.T.I.O.N.? It’s an interesting contrast, as “lotion” conjures images of soft skin and aloe leaves, or perhaps lubricant…
We started with LOTION. I can’t exactly remember how we came up with it, I think Tye and I both thought it was a gross sounding word that seemed appropriate for what we were going for; a little bit nasty and a little bit absurd. The acronyms came later, as the concept of the band was fleshed out.
What inspires the band more, fiction or non-fiction? What I’m wondering is, are you truly afraid the world is in shambles due to our insane reliance on technology none of us truly understand, or are you just really into the concept of Robocops and Terminators?
I think the unfortunate truth is that reality has caught up with a lot of the nightmarish scenarios of science fiction. Invasive surveillance cameras, lethal unmanned drones, military grade police equipment, phone and email data collection, cyber terrorism and more are all part of our reality. People have and will continue to have their jobs replaced by robots, and well-respected scientists are making public statements about the possible threats of artificial intelligence, all while people become more reliant on advanced technology.
While the imagery of machine-soldier is an exciting way to represent these fears, the rapid advancement of technology also makes it not such an implausible idea and something we might see in the near future.
Were the electronic instruments and percussion always integral to L.O.T.I.O.N. or did they arrive after the band’s inception? Was there a specific industrial influence at play as the band was forming?
The band was initially formed by Tye, who plays guitar, and me, after discovering our mutual interest in industrial and techno. We were particularly inspired at the time by Scumputer, a “digital d-beat” project started by Gabba of Chaos UK. The first two tape releases were just bedroom recordings of Tye playing guitar & bass over drum-machine beats I constructed and sang over. We were both interested in exploring what we could do with electronics while still
maintaining the elements of a punk band, and never expected to be able to play live. The band was fully realized when Emil joined, who, beyond being an amazing drummer, has an extensive knowledge of sound production and electronics, and was able to help us figure out how to perform as a full band with the addition of Cory on bass.
You released a split USB earring. How do you see something like this in the scope of the band? Is it an amusing trinket, serious commentary on technology, collector bait, something else entirely?
As a designer, I have always been intrigued by the functionality of fashion and the application of technology. Punk culture and fashion is very rooted in its own tradition… this seemed like an interesting way to modernize a classic accessory and make it useful beyond just fashion. I think the concept is similar to how we approach our music, as well. Clearly inspired by punk, but not afraid to add some new elements or embrace new ideas. We’re already living in a cyberpunk hell, might as well dress the part.
Are your newer songs being written by the band, or does it remain Tye and yourself putting things together? I am curious if working as a full “band” has changed your songwriting, or changed it in the past.
We’re definitely writing more as a band. Originally the songs were fully composed and demoed before the band learned them. We still do a lot of bedroom composing and recording, but there is a lot of work being done as a band in the practice studio. The songs change a lot more from the rough idea to the final product. Emil and Corey contribute riffs and ideas, as well, as opposed to just Tye and myself. We’re also learning more about how to create the sound we want; experimenting with different gear and exploring the possibilities of what we have.
In a way, I’d say L.O.T.I.O.N. is a highly political band, regarding your discussion and stance on technology. Do any of your fans or supporters ever discuss these topics with you? Do you ever feel nervous that many punk crowds are complacent on their iPhones, using the same apps and programs as the rest of society?
I have a fair amount of people talk to me about our subject matter; I think a lot of people are excited to see a band take on these topics, and have the same concerns about technology and the ever-increasing police state. Of course punks can be complacent, we are still people after all, but I also think the internet has been a huge boon for DIY/the punk scene. It allows bands/artists/people to directly communicate, advertise, and share information with no middleman, and makes it easy to stay in touch with friends/comrades from around the globe. For as much as I might fear technology and care about all the issues we’ve discussed, I still have an iPhone. Instagram is an integral advertising tool for my art/clothing, and we use a Mac to compose and record demos for L.O.T.I.O.N. I think the point is to be cautious and aware of these tools, but not avoid them completely. Besides, is it not this kind of hypocrisy that makes us human?
For a band that seems securely aware of the present, why did you release an album on vinyl? Do you care about musical formats, or intend to adhere to the punk tradition of vinyl records? Is anything besides “the cloud” a fetish object at this point?
In the age of the cloud I think vinyl is even more important. The experience of putting on a record and listening to it while you look at the album art and read the lyric sheet is hard to reproduce digitally. It allows the band to create an atmosphere beyond just the music. This is why a label like Toxic State is just as concerned with producing quality art and packaging as it is the music. It retains the sacredness of an album; there is a physical presence to the sounds, etched on a delicate object. To care for a song is to care for the vinyl.
Counterintuitive as it may seem, vinyl might actually outlive the digital formats we have now. The vice-president of Google (also considered one of the “fathers of the internet”) has made public statements warning of a possible “digital dark age,” in which all the music, photos, documents, and information stored on hard drives and even “the cloud” will be lost due to quickly evolving technology. Similarly to how it’s very difficult to pull data from obsolete formats like floppy discs and zip disks. Record playing technology, however, remains the same.
Bandages All Extreme Measures / Tokyo Carwash 7″ (Sorry State)
For a second there, I was hopeful that this was the Hot Hot Heat tribute band I’d been waiting for, but nope, Bandages are a rough-and-tough hardcore band, offering two tracks to the steadily-growing North Carolina Singles Series hosted by the ever-gracious Sorry State Records. “All Extreme Measures” interjects a little of that “My War” tension throughout its three-or-so minutes… it’s a plodding, heavy hardcore track with entertaining guitar noise and a sense that the band wasn’t quite sure where the song was headed until it was finally put together (there’s even a chug-chug mosh part toward the end, trying to find its way back to the Strife song it was kidnapped from). “Tokyo Carwash” is similarly strange, creating an entire song out of a mosh breakdown with deceptively complex changes; it’s a song for moshing lunkheads to enjoy but only capable musicians to play. I’m not sure I am crazy about Bandages, but I am highly intrigued at what this band is trying to do and how they reached their sound, and in a modern hardcore landscape filled with bands that do all the right things in all the exact same ways, a sense of intrigue is in some ways most satisfying of all.
Billy Bao Communisation 12″ (Insulin Addicted / Fuck Yoga)
Like some of you I’m sure, I was a little surprised to see some new Billy Bao records coming out – I figured Mattin had basically exhausted this guise, from pounding, harsh anti-punk to empty field recordings, but it looks like he’s recharged his batteries and is ready to go. I was fearing another slice of unlistenable noise/silence, but was taken aback to hear Billy Bao at his punkest here. This EP is great – “Debt: The Crisis To Come” is gnarly as can be, somewhere between Couch and Kilslug, with a plethora of irritating sound effects piling on top (perhaps in the same manner as our national debt?). Pretty much peak Billy Bao, if you ask me. “Communisation” is the flip and works more as a collage of plucky minimal synth, unhinged bashing ala a live Harry Pussy recording and various stretches of found-sound (read: boredom), but it flips through scenes fast enough that I find myself entertained by Billy Bao’s scatterbrained approach. It’s like as soon as you are finally over him, he comes back with just the right cut of belligerent rock music to suck you back in…
Bleed The Pigs / Thetan split LP (Dead Tank / Anti-Corporate Music, Inc. / IFB)
The grindcore split LP isn’t necessarily thriving these days, but it isn’t dead either, as evidenced by this thoughtfully-designed split between two of Nashville’s preeminent hardcore-grind bands, Bleed The Pigs and Thetan. The sleeve itself is screened both inside and out (which is a neat trick seeing as the sleeve is glued into a standard pocket design), with each center label featuring an intricate etching that extends onto the vinyl – Jack White, I hope you’re taking notes! Thetan offer an intense-if-standard take on grindcore, with hoarse, throaty vocals, brief breakdowns, plenty of blast-beats and only the slightest metallic touch, not unlike Kungfu Rick or Iron Lung. Bleed The Pigs are a little more dynamic, kicking it off with a squall of noise that recalls vintage Suppression before the blasting begins, similar to Cattle Decapitation or Insect Warfare, with the occasional doomy foray into Despise You’s territory. Anyone already versed in the genre won’t be hearing anything they haven’t heard dozens of times before, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a thoroughly satisfying affair for those interested in grinding, blasting and the areas in which they intersect.
Corrections House How To Carry A Whip LP (Neurot Recordings)
I couldn’t resist checking out the new Corrections House album: the main promo photo looks like an ad for G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra as directed by William Bennett, and the band is an underground-metal supergroup of sorts, claiming folks from EyeHateGod, Bloodiest, Twilight and Neurosis, among others. As Corrections House, they attempt to revive the heavier end of the Wax Trax catalog, where industrial and EDM collided in the late ’80s – think Ministry, Skinny Puppy, Revolting Cocks. Sounds great on paper, but in listening to How To Carry A Whip, I’m not totally sold. They certainly stand out from today’s industrial-goth pack, at least – Corrections House are undoubtedly more familiar with heavy guitars than your average industrial-nostalgia group, and it certainly imprints a more “authentic” sound than Youth Code or High-Functioning Flesh. Plus some of these guys have actually spent time in jail, so their themes, while in some ways fantastical, are based in their reality. I’m just not sure it’s the sound I’m looking for, though, as How To Carry A Whip has more of a nu-metal feel than I expected, veering into territory that recalls a KMFDM remix of Down, or something that even the staunchest Slayer fan would accept. And where metal guitars are clearly familiar territory for the members of Corrections House, electronic programming might not be, resulting in beats that lack the sonic punch, mixed lighter than one might recommend. Even so, I’ve had fun listening to this record, pun-based song titles and all, and am glad I no longer have to worry about what I’m going to be for Halloween this year.
CP / BW CP / BW LP (no label)
Released days after every year-end best-of list besides mine, apparently, came this glorious collaboration between one of my favorite electronic weirdos, Beau Wanzer, and a duo previously unknown to me by the name of Corporate Park. They all decided to go by their initials here, and when your music is this tweaked, delirious and potent, you don’t really need any name at all. As far as who deserves responsibility for this fine record, I’m not sure what exactly Corporate Park added to the mix, as these tracks all sound like Beau Wanzer at the peak of his game – corroded drum machines, ancient Speak & Spells rewired for dungeon use, synthetic monster vocals and an undeniable pulse that survives through it all. These tracks are never overcrowded; rather, each cut is succinct and unique yet CP / BW is fully developed as an album. Every track offers its own bent idea on what might cause a person to rhythmically bob their head, as though the worlds of Mammal, Throbbing Gristle and Ron Morelli collided and simplified their means in the process. I’d recommend you check out “Bored Hurt” first, as it carries all the best qualities of this album within it, but I’m also partial to “Whips, Chips, Chains & Dips”, and not just for the mental image of a supermarket-purchased snack bar laid out on the dresser at a Motel 6 bondage orgy. If I don’t have your attention now, I doubt I ever will.
Dark Blue Vicious Romance / Delco Runts 7″ (12XU)
In case you’ve heard some drunk dudes chanting “Dark Blue!” while getting kicked out of a minor-league hockey game or Irish-themed pub in the past few months and been curious about the band they so adamantly support, I recommend you start here! Dark Blue have been honing in on the unusual coordinates of skinhead aesthetics, new-romantic pop and drone-punk monotony, and these two tracks are the best distillation yet of the good that can come from such a mission. “Vicious Romance” is their purest pop thus far: it’s a song that could be sung by The Anti-Heros or Fall-Out Boy with equal success. While restrained as always, the drums are actually quite propulsive (and actually switch up the beat halfway through), and vocalist John Sharkey III repeats the song title more than Steve Grimmett does any given Grim Reaper song (go on, count the “see you in hell”s in “See You In Hell”). It’s an instant ear-worm, which has me wondering if Sharkey has started switching his knob from AM sports talk to pop-country. “Delco Runts” feels more like the street-punk Dark Blue claim to be, spinning a tale of dead-ended suburban life with little sympathy for anyone involved. I’d consider this a double a-side single and hope you might agree.
Manni Dee Behaviour Cycles 12″ (Earwiggle)
Manni Dee came at me unexpectedly in 2014, dropping two 12″s with a stunning level of post-dubstep heaviness… truly some keen and forceful tracks that felt slightly ahead of the curve. The man had a knack with manipulated bass and texture (and the skinhead artwork on Dreams, Fears & Idols was a nice touch too), so I was excited to check out his 2015 offering here. Much to my surprise, this is a purely nostalgic throwback to the pummeling acid techno of the ’90s, neglecting the future (or even the present) for a sharp look into the past. Once I got past my expectations, I was able to get into the barely-changing grid that Manni Dee sets into place over these four tracks – drop the needle on any dusty Jeff Mills or Underground Resistance 12″ from 1994 through 2000 and you’ll locate highly similar waveforms. I suppose what I’m lacking here is the point; clearly, Manni Dee is more than a tribute producer, and has stoked my flames with a variety of intriguingly heavy tunes, so why bother running something as standard as this? It’d be like having a chance to ask Rodney Mullen to perform any trick he can do and you ask to see him ollie. I’m gonna hope this was just Mr. Dee getting a little bit of that old-time rock n’ roll out of his system as he gears up for bigger and better things.
Fucking Atomic Orgasm 7″ (no label)
That’s right, this Minneapolis hardcore-punk outfit is called Fucking, as in the act of, and seeing as that name somehow wasn’t already used by a transgressive math-rock band around the turn of the century, it’s fair game. They’re aiming to the left of center with their general vibe, opting for a green dust sleeve in lieu of a standard record cover with an insert detailing their eccentricities via outrageous pseudonyms (“Clean X Pee” on what I presume to be drums) and antagonistic sloganeering (“for a good time call your mother”, they recommend). Musically they are a-ok, with frantic, tumbling riffing that pushes hardcore speed into garage-punk riffs (not unlike Brain F≠ or Double Negative), with a vocalist who seems to ignore song structure altogether, slowly squeezing out his words as though his throat was suffering from constipation. I can picture him stumbling about, seemingly unaware of the hard-rocking band behind him as he stares a little too long into the audience’s eyes, trying to convince both them and himself that he’s truly the sexually-frustrated, enriched-uranium-desiring psychopath these songs paint him to be. I’m not entirely convinced myself, but the rest of Fucking supply the goods to the point where it doesn’t matter if the singer’s a try-hard goon or the second coming of H.R. himself.
Gary Wrong Group Away In Heathen Darkness 12″ (Scavenger Of Death)
Away In Heathen Darkness, now that’s the name of a record I want to hear! It’s a four-song 12″ EP, and Gary Wrong and his Group really spread things out, continuing to open up their punk rock as though it were soaked in primordial ooze instead of blood and alcohol. Opener “Massacre Island” is an instrumental tune-up, the sound of a spaceship landing in hostile alien territory. It’s followed by “Stuck Inside”, a stompy jam that goes heavy on the sci-fi effects and keyboards; not sure who’s playing with Gary Wrong on here, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Quintron (or one of his electronic gadgets) was featured. It’s “Destroy You” on the flip that really steals the show though, and the closest modern torchbearer to Bobby Soxx I can think of (certainly living up to the label name). Wrong’s vocal delivery here is so Soxxian it’s almost eerie, the way each syllable is ejected from his throat, complete with a wordless nyah-nyah chorus and at least two guitars soloing at all times. “Thank You” continues that vibe, glacially paced but feeling far more like “Kill The Innocent” than anything remotely close to Khanate. If you aren’t listening to Gary Wrong Group, I have to ask why not?
German Army Kalash Tirich Mir LP (Yerevan Tapes)
By Discogs’ authority, German Army released seven albums in 2015. Seven! Sure, most are tapes under half an hour, but what is going on here? Do these two guys not have jobs, families, friends, Xboxes? I can only picture them, sweaty and feverish, one of them trying to load free space on his Mac while the other finds a new synth plug-in to use, perhaps bickering nervously to each other: “C’mon, get moving, we’re due to turn in three more tapes by sunrise!” Regardless of the actual struggles of German Army, and thinking strictly about Kalash Tirich Mir and not the other metric ton of plastic they’ve produced, it’s a pretty enjoyable outing, especially for fans of experimental post-punk (the semi-established genre more so than any actual experimentation). I’m hearing bits of Cabaret Voltaire, Blank Dogs, Factums and Scattered Order here, with a significant nod toward the dub-techno practices that have crept into the American experimental underground consciousness to the point where beats are the norm, not the deviation. I appreciate that Kalash Tirich Mir isn’t so distorted and affected as to be muffled, as they hit on a smart level of clarity that provides just enough visibility through the fog. I just hope German Army didn’t bother reading this review, as they could’ve used that time to crank out at least another couple tapes.
Grizzlor Cycloptic 7″ (Hex)
In one of the few Grizzlor press photos I found online, one of the members is wearing a backwards baseball cap (fitted, not adjustable), and I don’t know about you, but isn’t that subtle sartorial decision kind of refreshing, in this time where bands coming from hardcore/punk backgrounds are expected to wear some sort of intriguing punk costume at all times, to make sure their Void or Swans t-shirt actually got its rips and stains from a fireworks-laden mosh-pit? It’s nice to see a band that’s clearly catering to no one, just wearing the clothes they own and not thinking twice about it, naming their band after a He-Man character and not worrying that it might not impress you. That comes through their music too, which plays out like a young and rowdy take on Helmet and Unsane – Grizzlor certainly don’t have the guitar rigs to match, but they’ve got the feistiness that any band who is used to playing to more than fifty people a night has surely lost. There are seven songs on this 7″, and to be perfectly candid, I’d happily accept seven more.
Ipman Regicide / Ghostrunner 12″ (Tectonic)
I figure it’s gonna be hard to go wrong with a dubstep dude on the Tectonic label calling himself “Ipman”, right? Those are some great movies, and I can easily picture “Ipman” tagged on a metro-area highway overpass, so he’s really passing any tests I could give him before listening to his music. That said, the rugged, modern-throwback drum n’ bass Ipman kicks up here is quite stunning. “Regicide” feels like The Prodigy remixed by a top crew of Hessle Audio employees – the drums are fast and jungle-y, but their gruff exterior is patted down softly with a variety of ambient hisses, colorful tones and sweeping melodies, very much placing Ipman in the ’10s instead of the ’90s. “Ghostrunner” opens with a Burial-esque torrential downpour, quickly displaced by a gated synth, like watching a city via high-speed train. Soon enough this cuts away to some peak-time propulsive techno, with all sorts of percussive elements, vocal snippets and rugged drums pushing you through to a new personal-best in spinning class. “Ghostrunner” is as intense as it is intriguing, certainly one of the most unique and physically-satiating tracks I’ve heard in the past few months. The Ipman name implies some level of asskickery, and this 12″ boasts those skills proudly.
Lutto Lento Dog Leaf 12″ (Proto Sites)
After savoring all that Lutto Lento had to offer with his Whips 12″, I had to seek out more, and as it turns out there was more to be found, as he released three EPs in the tail end of 2015. Dog Leaf is filled with music to match its intriguing title, techno that beguiles and confuses those searching for some sort of answer. The title track sounds like the beat is being played by hand, unquantized and free, and it’s not long before some old-timey bebop saunters in, soon to be joined by an operatic choir, as if Lento raided his grand-mama’s 78s for samples. Still haven’t figured out if I like it. “Gang Dog Ghosts” follows and has more of the sound that made Whips so great, as if he sampled the same dust-covered jazz records as Wu-Tang, only to use them for the forces of underground techno instead of rap. “Mantle Of Strength” goes a little deeper into Ostgut Ton-style techno stalwart behavior, but still with drum programming that feels slightly off. “Anika” teases a Dido sample before stutter-stepping into something that feels like early Squarepusher or Planet Mu at the turn of the century; kind of an unexpected twist, but not particularly what I’ve been looking for. Curious man, this Lutto Lento, and I intend to stay hot on his trail.
Meercaz & The Visions Get Muzzed LP (Sweet Rot)
Anyone else have trouble reading the name “Meercaz” without picturing an adorable crew of rodents standing on their hind legs, scoping the tundra together? It’s an intriguing name, but unfortunately that’s where my curiosity ends with Meercaz & The Visions, a basic, psych-inspired garage-punk power-pop trio. They look like nice enough guys on the insert: bandleader Muzz Delgado with two guys who look like cousins of The Black Keys hanging out next to their basement practice space, but there isn’t a whole lot grabbing me within Get Muzzed. It’s an album filled with anthemic riffs you’ve heard before, like a mix of Roky Erickson and Home Blitz melodies with any individual character or flashes of personality pasteurized away for sanitary reasons. In addition, the songs are generally a hair slower than you might expect them to be played, which has a wearying effect on my ears, at least. Not my cup of tea for sure, but I make no question as to the nature of the character of these gents, and will shut up about this album before harping on my tastes any further.
Ron Morelli A Gathering Together LP (Hospital Productions)
Ron Morelli’s first solo outing, Spit, was one of my favorite underground electronic records of 2013, and its 2014 follow-up, Periscope Blues, I found to be “just okay”. Goes to show just what a fine line there is between a captivating masterwork and a ho-hum display of machinery when it comes to instrumental industrial music, perhaps up to the ear of the beholder more than anything. I was eager to hear A Gathering Together, if only because Spit stuck with me so strongly, and I’m getting the same sort of non-committal feelings with it as the last one, wondering where the magic is hiding. For most of its run, it’s like listening to a stereo recording of Nocturnal Emissions or Severed Heads through a mono setup – Morelli will work one or two flashes of synth abuse or incorrectly-wired mixers at a time, resulting in an uninvolved listen that demands very little of one’s attention. There’s continual motion, so it’s certainly not a drone record, but it’s kind of like listening to an inkjet printer: fascinating at first, but quickly humdrum. The title track picks up the most speed, recalling one of Demdike Stare’s tribal-inflected collages found within their Elemental series, and “Desert Ocean” warbles nicely as well, but on the whole I’m feeling like A Gathering Together requires so little of me as a listener that I am just as content listening to it as no records at all. My old creaking walls and the loud people on the street can be pretty damn passive-industrial too.
Much Worse Chronic Instigation LP (25 Diamonds)
Very thrash-centric hardcore from Minneapolis’s Much Worse (not to be confused with ’80s NYHC band Even Worse, who had possibly the best cartoon rodent artwork ever to be associated with hardcore). Much Worse is a band that looks and sounds like at least one guy in the band has bid hard on a vintage Anthrax tour shirt on eBay: they seem to appreciate the maniacal thrill of early thrash and crossover, where a wanky guitar solo is cut short for a galloping riff, all with gruff-yet-intelligible vocals not unlike Municipal Waste. Much Worse don’t opt for any nostalgic thrash gimmickry within their vibe though – they seem to be pretty much just about the music, with feelings of alienation, disgust and rage moving the songs forward (the holy trinity of hardcore-punk). I’m more of a casual fan of thrash-core than a genre enthusiast, so I haven’t found myself itching to come back to Chronic Instigation that often (unlike most of thrash’s pinnacle records, there are no overtly memorable tunes here), but it’s nice to know that right now, somewhere in the middle of our country, Much Worse are probably going to town on some beer and pizza while they work out a tricky mosh-to-slam transition in their practice space.
Odd Hope Brave And Olde / I’ll Follow You Soon 7″ (Fruits & Flowers)
At this point, I’ve come to expect a certain level of quality in the sad-sack indie-pop from Fruits & Flowers, more of which is provided in this tasteful two-song single by Odd Hope. “Brave And Olde” is a nice way to start a Sunday brunch, wistful yet ultimately optimistic, while vocalist / instrumentalist Tim Tinderholt clears the mist from his eyes, singing as though he might be Tobias Jesso Sr. “I’ll Follow You Soon” has an early Belle & Sebastian vibe, as Tinderholt’s vocals are of a higher, less comfortable register and the music is befitting a dance party comprised of bookish teens in their private-school uniforms. This sort of music can annoy me greatly when it misses the mark, but I find Odd Hope to be perfectly acceptable, as its twee-ish tendencies never overrule good taste and studied song-craft. Perhaps if the singer’s name was Oscar Okcupidholt I’d feel differently.
Gerry Read Stand By The Bomb 12″ (Clone Jack For Daze)
Gerry Read was still a teenager when he produced “All By Myself”, one of my favorite house tracks from this decade (or any), and while I picked up the rest of the singles he released that year into the next, my enthusiasm waned. His janky, junk-shop house music is consistently nice, but never came close to the buttery-soft emotions of “All By Myself”, and as he seemingly has an endless supply of tunes, I lost him in the shuffle. I still check in here and there (he released five records in 2015, one of which is a 7″ flexi with a track called “Limp Biscuit Anthem”), and I’m glad I pulled up this one, as “Stand By The Bomb” is another notable melody destined to enter my brain while showering, driving to the post office or grilling zucchini. Unlike the bulk of his tracks, this one offers no crusty jazz drum samples, instead leaning entirely on a bright, exuberant melody of non-English origin: I feel like it could be an Iranian traditional that I’ve never heard before, or an old Argentinian melody that Ricardo Villalobos would’ve transformed for Fabric in 2005. Read runs that percussive melody through a few iterations and it has me dancing in ways I can’t fully explain. There are five other tracks here (where’s that old “The Nice Price” sticker when you need it), and none of them match “Stand By The Bomb”, but they’re all quite good; the rest of the EP has a similar pacing and slight dab of retro-silliness that reminds me of Joe, if not entirely in sound but spirit. Quantity may be Read’s MO, but his bursts of quality are dazzling all the same.
The Screaming Abdabs / City Ram Waddy split LP (Wallaby Beat)
Wallaby Beat continues to excavate the deepest, most mysterious crevasses of Australia’s earliest punk / pre-punk history, this time with a split between The Screaming Abdabs and City Ram Waddy, two groups known only to the most die-hard of Australian archivists (which is to say, they’re both news to me). Accompanied by a handy and interesting zine that documents the bands’ history (particularly that of the tragic murder of Abdabs singer Carmel Strelein), this split LP is a fascinating document if not the sort of thing you’ll be pulling out weekly. The Screaming Abdabs take a furiously primitive stab at what punk rock was turning out to be, covering AC/DC and “Surfin’ Bird” in triple time, coming across like what I always assumed Chipmunk Punk sounded like before actually hearing it. Out-of-control fast, no cymbals just drums, and Strelein’s strangulated finch vocals, like a loud, fat fly buzzing your head in an elevator. City Ram Waddy also opt mostly for covers (Chuck Berry, Neil Young, Rolling Stones and more) and are less vocally jarring, but with a guitar that sounds as though it’s made entirely of repurposed tin. Musical notes are barely audible through the metallic din, unrepentantly repetitive and unfriendly. When it’s just an occasional vocal and fast muted guitar, I almost pick up an accidental Suicide vibe from City Ram Waddy. Once again, this bizarre Australian archival release proves that anytime you hear some contemporary punk band do something particularly outrageous or bothersome, chances are strong that punks had already done it, probably better and more outrageously, decades prior.
Slaap Iceberg Alley 7″ (Close Up)
It’s getting to be that miserable time of year where the sun shines for two and a half hours, so why not sulk it up with music that evokes a similar form of universal despair, like this 7″ from Slaap. They are a very murky, slow-moving post-punk band that located the perfect production for their sound, as though they are performing these soft little tunes from the bottom of a shallow pond. It’s like their music is wearing pitch-black sunglasses, which is evened out by the fact that their simple riffs are uppers, not downers. While listening, I recall that great lone 7″ by The Prefects, had they developed an infatuation with Interpol, or the recommended under-the-radar obscurity The Eternal Scream. Not much in the way of punk going on here, but more like that moment when DIY bands in the early ’80s realized they could indulge their infatuations with The Velvet Underground instead of The Ramones. Quite supple indeed.
So Pitted Neo LP (Sub Pop)
I’m contractually obligated to get excited about every new Sub Pop release, but I would’ve checked out So Pitted’s debut regardless. They seem like the prime sort of weirdos I wasn’t sure still grew up in Seattle, and the preview tracks I heard sounded good, so why not? Now I’m listening to Neo, presumably named after everyone’s second-favorite Matrix character, and quite enjoying it indeed! To my ears, they sound like a heavy, grunge-punk update on No Age’s early days (think Weirdo Rippers); the drummer will lay out an interesting pattern that generally remains in place for a song’s entirety, the riffs evoke anything from Butthole Surfers to Mayyors to Karp, and the vocalist usually delivers an off-kilter, slightly-whined harmony with extended syllables, much like No Age’s Dean Spunt (check the chorus to “Rot In Hell”). Pretty simple formula really, the sort of thing that could go over just as smoothly at a K Records’ coffee-house gig as one of these modern exclusive jet-setter punk festivals (I’m looking at you, Austin and New York), and rightfully so. It doesn’t hurt that So Pitted are visually appealing, with at least one band member sporting orange-soda-colored hair at all times and what I can only assume is one of Chris Cornell’s unspoken love-children on drums. (Keep on never wearing a shirt, please.) I can’t think of a better way to reacquaint yourself with the greatness of Sub Pop grunge than giving So Pitted a swirl!
Soupcans Soft Party LP (Telephone Explosion)
Now that Metz are a touring band and on the road ten months out of the year, someone has to provide quality noise-rock for the city of Toronto, so why not Soupcans? They’re also a trio of dudes playing a thick and frothy form of AmRep-influenced punk, with plenty of fast-paced two-note riffs, hammering drums and vocals curdling on the edge of feedback. The main difference is that Nirvana doesn’t seem to factor into Soupcans’ equation – the closest they get to grunge might be a nicked Melvins riff here or there, but Soupcans seem to come from a speedy punk mentality as opposed to flannel-coiffed rock. Sounds pretty good to my ears, and the songs all sound different enough that I don’t feel any Noise-Rock Fatigue setting in (the backwards drum/guitar-noise break at the tail end of “Psychosomatic Rash” is a nice palate cleanser). I just worry that if Soupcans start to tour a bunch, Toronto will develop some serious noise-punk abandonment issues.
Spacin’ Total Freedom LP (Richie)
If you have any concern that Spacin’ don’t live up to their name, I offer you this: the band practically all lives in the same house together, plays music together all the time, mostly record themselves, and it still took them practically four years to put out a new record. They are truly living the lackadaisical lifestyle, so have no fears that they bought loafers and started working at a job that provided health benefits or something like that. Nah, they’re sticking to the script laid out for them by classics like The Rolling Stones, The Stooges and Big Star, chooglin’ through the best major-label rock of your parents’ lifetime for their own personal enjoyment. Their pleasure is infectious, as grooves like “Human Condition” and “Over Uneasy” could brighten the grimmest of funerals. They also branch out just enough into previously-unexplored territory (at least as far as their first record), with the Xpressway-ish guitar noodling of “Kensington Real” and a riff ripe for Fela Kuti’s taking in “Stopping Man”. Maybe not as immediately catchy on the whole as Deep Thuds, but that’s the kind of album a band can only really write once, stunning in its borrowed simplicity, and Total Freedom builds upon that sturdy base, staring out into the cosmos through a tiny grime-encrusted basement window.
Spray Paint / Exek split 7″ (Homeless)
This split 7″ was released in conjunction with Spray Paint’s 2015 Australian tour, which begs the question: is Australia the global hotbed of split 7″ consumption I’ve been searching for? Global economics aside, I know Spray Paint released a couple albums last year, and I can’t remember if I heard either of them, so it’s nice to get a quick little dose here, two songs that bastardize country-blues licks for the sake of menacing DIY punk. It’s as if Lamps, Country Teasers, Protomartyr and Afflicted Man blended to form the efforts of these three Austin-based men. Nice job! Exek are new to me, and they sound a hell of a lot like Anika to me, of all things. A robust bass-line is triggered forward by minimal dub percussion and a deadpan vocalist – not entirely unlike those earliest Tussle recordings, but with an eye on PiL instead of !!!. In this day and age, it seems like a split EP’s purpose is to make you want to hear more of each group, more of a promotional advertisement than a stand-alone release, yet I’d say this one works well for purposes both commercial and artistic.
Stick Men With Ray Guns Grave City LP (End Of An Ear)
My life has been indelibly changed by three different artists the first time I heard them: Guns N’ Roses, Ricardo Villalobos and Stick Men With Ray Guns. I say that with no exaggeration – if anyone ever distilled the pure nihilistic ugliness of hardcore-punk without all the useless machismo and aggression, it’s Bobby Soxx and his compatriots. Stick Men With Ray Guns were previously relegated to various compilations (all of which worth the price of admission) and a comprehensive CD discography including live recordings and outtakes (which was my mind-blowing introduction), and this new LP collection perfectly splits the difference, offering arguably the best eight Stick Men With Ray Guns tracks (although I could just as easily petition for the inclusion of “What Am I?” and “Buttfuckers (Try To Run My Life!)”); a highly suitable primer, if you will. These songs will never sound anything less than superb to me, that ultra-heavy, toxic bass, metal-buzzing guitars and Bobby Soxx’s inimitable sneer, practically dripping with alcohol and grease from the pizza shop that employed him. It’s also notable to hear the subtle influence of The Cramps coming through some of their more groovy moves, a band one doesn’t normally associate with heavy noise-punk, but Stick Men are still so thick with hate to the point where I appreciate the rockabilly influence. Truthfully though, theirs is a sound all their own, one under-appreciated in its time, as most valuable works of art tend to be. As fine and necessary a reissue as they come, particularly if it blows the minds of the next generation of pure punk seekers, instantly rendering their recently-purchased Cuntz and Rectal Hygenics records completely obsolete.
SW. Reminder Part Three 12″ (SUED)
In search of strange new worlds of techno music, I stumbled upon the SUED label, fell in love with their citrus-y website (that’s right, a record label with an actual website!) and found myself hooked on the strange club constructions within the Club No-No & SVN 12″. Figured I’d check out SW. as well, who is up to his/her third installment of the Reminder series, and it’s been a pleasant affair through and through. Four untitled tracks here, opening with a spacious, jittery groove to recall the common ground shared by Kassem Mosse and Melchior Productions, underpinned by what sounds like a particularly funky dial-up modem connection. The second track opens with a soothing rainstorm (not unlike my favorite Threadbare EP) before calling up a twitchy tech-house groove. Flip it over and the weather system moves out; the jungle-life resumes its daily behavior, this time bolstered by a mid-tempo house shuffle. It wraps up with a bossa-nova groove that floats effortlessly into the evening, the sound of crickets ensuring nighttime. While I can’t say there is anything particularly special about the music SW. has showcased here, I find myself continually returning to it, like a chair that doesn’t look particularly attractive but feels like heaven once you’re plopped down in it.
Taiwan Housing Project Three Song Record 7″ (M’Lady’s)
Taiwan Housing Project have been peppering all sorts of interesting gigs for the past year or two here in our shared home of Philadelphia, but I’ve still yet to catch them. This new 7″ is certainly a wake-up call that I need to make it a priority, as it’s a fine example of how noisy post-punk can be so damned appealing when the band goes all-in. “Maintenance Of An Application” yanks some old honky-tonk riff and throws it into the fire, somewhere between the middle of a Bulb Records 7″ sampler and the rawest Huggy Bear material, like a violent dance party where half the crowd brought their own musical (or non-musical) instruments and is banging along. “White Frosted” is a Sonic Youth-ish jam with top-shelf guitar abuse, and to be honest, it sounds like the song I’ve always been trying to find from Sonic Youth but never been able to locate in my sporadic listening. The last of the promised “three songs” is “Behind The Green Curtain”, a sweetly minuscule tune with those same buzzing guitars hiding behind a cutesy riff and what sounds like Baby’s First Drum Machine… a nice way to wrap things up. Now I just gotta make sure I catch them live before their inevitable album drops, lest I start to be known around town as a shameful poseur.
Utah Jazz Ivory Wave LP (Black Dots)
At first the whole “naming your band directly after a professional sports team” thing amused me; it’s certainly a level of audaciousness I can appreciate, as it ensures your band remains underground or has to change with success, even more so than a band name filled with expletives (see Fucked Up’s continued major media coverage). I think Utah Jazz fills the quota though (lest we forget the New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins and probably more I’m forgetting – do Metz count?), and they’re a band who takes the silly name and wears it proudly through this album of cynical, energetic punk rock. They seem to combine the straight-forward, rock-based Dangerhouse sound with the frantic garage-punk of today – I’m hearing songs that remind me of the Bags and Predator in equal measure, maintaining some level of composure and historically-safe rock moves with wild punk tantrums and uninhibited attitude. It’s my understanding that Utah Jazz features an ex-member of Brown Sugar and I can certainly hear that here as well, although Ivory Wave offers a clearer, more “mature” recording that works in the group’s favor, as they play tight enough that their talent is worth showcasing. Of course, there’s still a song that starts with an extended instrumental and the sound of someone eating chips (?), and another featuring choruses of barks and grunts, so it’s not like these folks have cleaned up completely. Thankfully, it’s possible to grow up without getting too smart in the process.