Sure, I tend to dwell on guitars and synths within the pages of Yellow Green Red, but there’s room for all instrumentation in my life, even that of the majestic harp. It’s Mary Lattimore’s muse, and you’ve probably experienced her music without even knowing it, as she has backed up indie luminaries such as Thurston Moore and Kurt Vile throughout the years. Of course, it’s on her own where she truly captivates, working live effects and looping into her glistening tapestry of sound, either paired with other like-minded player or on her own. I am also lucky enough to consider her a friend (just have to put that out there), and was delighted that she was willing to share some detailed insight into her work and style.
I feel like it’s usually the case that people tend to put specific instruments into specific scenes or genres of music – electric guitars are rock, 303s are techno, harps are classical. Did you always see the harp as a vehicle for whatever you wanted to be, or did you initially share that form of thinking, and if so, what happened to break you out of that?
As a kid, I was around a lot of harps and a lot of harpists. My mom is a classical harpist and has played with the Asheville Symphony for thirty-plus years. She has directed a harp ensemble, has taught a lot of lessons, and played a lot of gigs, traveled all the time around North and South Carolina, always practiced a lot at our house. I heard how she was able to play not only classical music, but jazz standards, Celtic music, and instrumental versions of pop hits, so I knew that it was a versatile instrument, in a way. (I didn’t know about harpists like Zeena Parkins or Alice Coltrane or Georgia Kelley until I was a lot older.)
But I think that the freedom, limitlessness, and empty unwritten page of part-writing and improvisation was daunting for a long time and finding a personal style took a little while to cultivate, as maybe is common with conservatory-trained musicians. I have always been into absorbing tons of music for fun and slowly realized that my instrument could play the same notes as those guitars. I listened for those beautiful Nicky Hopkins piano parts. It took awhile to stop being so envious of and mystified by instruments I couldn’t play and to start speaking with my own giant, weird thing and take it to a place that I picked out for it. Part of that revelation came from working with the Valerie Project, writing parts for a re-imagined score for Valerie and Her Week of Wonders, and being a part of that mini-orchestra, being given the trust and sonic space to do whatever I wanted within a lush mishmash of cello, guitar, drums, synth, electronics. Part of it came from playing with Kurt Vile and getting psyched on sounds with him. If I only listened to classical music by myself and with my friends, I think I would probably only play those lovely, tricky, legendary pieces, but this is what happened. Haha.
For those of us who know nothing about the harp, can you give us a little background on it, from your perspective? Is it easy to play? Is it a versatile instrument? Do you need a dolly to move it? I noticed you tend to use your left hand for the strings further from your body and your right hand closer, am I correct in picking that up or was it just how you were feeling like playing when I saw you perform?
Yes, you’re right! That’s just the standard, classic way of playing a harp, left hand down on the lower strings, right hand plays middle to high. My harp is the big one, the Concert Grand, and it was made in Chicago. It’s organized by octaves and color-coded, so all of the C strings are red, all of the F strings are blueish black, and you can figure out the ones in the middle based on those colors. There are 7 pedals, one for each tone of the scale (C pedal, D pedal, E pedal, etc). Each pedal has three notches you can slip it into. If the C pedal is in the top notch, it’s a C flat, middle notch is C natural, all the way pressed down in the lowest notch is C sharp, so the string is essentially being tightened with each level you’re pressing it into. It’s very fun to play, and kinda hard, but it’s like driving a car, where you’re watching the signs, you’re using your feet, you’re using your hands to steer, you’re listening to the radio, and you’re drinking coffee. You get used to doing a bunch of things all at once and it feels normal eventually.
I have a dolly for it and sound like a creep when I’m looking for it at some kind of event: “Have you seen my dolly?”. Haha. It has a giant cover, it’s a giant thing but it only weighs 85 pounds because it’s hollow. It’s a really old instrument – there are harps painted on the walls of Egyptian tombs. It’s been through a lot of changes in design. Mine right now has a really good pickup which has 4 contact mics all connected and it’s glued in for life.
For anyone considering playing a harp, are there any particular things you DON’T recommend they do or try?
Don’t play with your pinkies – they’re thin like twigs and will snap off. Don’t leave your harp in the car in extreme weather, even if you’re lazy and really sleepy. Don’t leave it without a hand on it, even for just a second, on a windy day. (Dad did that and Dad cried as the wind picked it up and hurled it onto the ground.) Give yourself a lot of breaks if you’re practicing something tricky. You don’t want all of that stress and tension in your hands for so long. Give yourself a break, get up, take a walk, and come back to it. That’s all I can think of. Other than that, no rules, try anything you want.
Are you more comfortable performing with another person, or by yourself? Is it the same for in the studio?
Oh, either way. I like playing with other people, solo, with my great bandmate Jeff Zeigler on synth, with other unusual instruments (I have a harp and koto record coming out in October with this guy Maxwell, who plays koto through effects), improvising, playing parts that have been written out by me or someone else, all of it. It’s all pretty fun!
Would you ever consider starting on a new instrument and giving it the same thought and practice you’ve given the harp? Like, what are the odds that one day you’ll decide you want to move on to saxophone or guitar?
Sure! I’m trying to teach myself a little guitar. I’d like to learn the cello and our friend Jesse Trbovich just sold me this beautiful synth. As far as being a student and practicing intensely like I did when I was learning the basics of the harp, I hope so – focus comes in such waves. Going into a practice space, really digging in and being strict with yourself is cool and kind of a luxury when you’re older with a lot more mental chatter. Right now, I feel the pull of the screens and the social stuff and of work and playing live, etc, but know that, ultimately, there will be some space carved out for getting better at another instrument to some degree. It’s so satisfying to get better at something. It’s addictive to get better.
Your solo album is on Ghostly, a label that I think is great, but also an interesting choice. They aren’t exactly known for their carefully considered semi-improvised harp music. How did that come about? Is it a one-off, or do you feel like you are a part of their roster?
Haha, true. They just asked me to do a second record, so I guess I am part of their roster? Sam, the owner of the label, has been in touch since the first solo record, The Withdrawing Room, came out. It was released by a smaller label called Desire Path. Someone at his office was playing it and Sam was into it, so wrote me to say so. We’ve stayed in touch. Honestly, At The Dam wasn’t supposed to be the Ghostly record, in my mind, because I recorded it myself just using Garage Band and my laptop. I thought it’d come out on some smaller label and be very limited, more like a souvenir of a trip across the country. But Sam liked the songs and understood the thought behind the record, collecting vibes from different remote places, and wanted to put it out, so I’m happy about it! Ghostly has been so great to work with. Hopefully they’re happy with me, too, and it’s cool that they’re open to exploring new territory with the sounds they represent.
I bet you’ve got a bucket list, but is there anyone in particular you hope to perform with someday that you haven’t already? Anyone that particularly stands out?
A bucket list, always! I was just in Marfa playing the Marfa Myths festival and got to hear some heroes play and would love to see what we’d come up with. William Basinski played a gorgeous set that everyone swam around in. He performed in this huge former equestrian arena with the wind shaking the windows and his measured loops collaborating with the sunshine and the wind-sound. I’d love to do something with him and I think he’s a great person, too. I went to his house one time and he picked me some oranges from a tree with a special orange-picking instrument. He lives in the part of Los Angeles where the Munchkins, while filming the the Wizard of Oz, all lived in a hotel. Billy is the real wizard, has some magic powers.
Another of my favorite sets was the Raum set with Paul Clipson doing live projections. So artful, so thoughtful and quiet with tons of negative space. Raum is Liz Harris and Jefre Cantu-Ledesma and they had a mini-residency, worked on this set and presented it on the last day of the festival. I loved it so much I wanted to cry and just live there in that spot, blubbering, for a long time. Haha. So, to collaborate with Liz and Jefre or each separately would also be a dream.
I just jammed with the elegant Julianna Barwick a few times and that was really fun, we’re gonna make a record.
Michael Rother in Forst. Also, MGMT in a kaleidoscopic glittery warped young bright world of hooks and total fun.
Fatima Al Qadiri Brute LP (Hyperdub)
I completely appreciate the concept of electronic dance music as a beautiful, fantastic escape from reality, but it can be even more enthralling and interesting when used as a vehicle for evaluating and assessing the many horrors of society. Fatima Al Qadiri’s second album for Hyperdub, Brute, does just that, offering grim images of the police state and the ensuing sense of frustrating and despair in fighting it. The Teletubby in riot-gear on the cover is a potent image, both hilarious and disconcerting, and it suits Brute well – this is electronic music not for dancing so much as ruminating, music born of creativity but raised in reality. Musically, there are a lot of basic minor-chord changes and what seems to be factory-setting synth sounds – check “Battery” for a prime example of heavy synth-horn usage, as if you’re playing Zelda and just entered a particularly evil castle. Mixed with the samples of political commentary, glass-breaking, police sirens and cell-phone chirping, however, Brute conjures images of protests being unlawfully dispersed, oppressors oppressing and dissent stomped and covered up. I am not trying to glamorize any of that, but Al Qadiri has gotten me thinking and feeling about my complicity in America’s tragedies far more than any “ripped from the headlines” Vatican Shadow album title, which through her music becomes necessary and deliberate.
Arv & Miljö Svulsmen I Skyn / Essensen Av Denna Förbannade Stad 7″ (I Dischi Del Barone)
I Dischi Del Barone is nothing if not intriguing, a sort of European, 7″-sized analog to Kye’s adventures in sound, and as this new one from Arv & Miljö recently arrived (with a dedication to the great improv group Enhet För Fri Musik, no less), I was all ears. Good thing I was prepared, as “Svulsmen I Skyn” immediately thrusts the listener into some sort of unhinged aviary, sounding like you’re on a rocky cliff surrounded by nests the size of dog beds as large winged predators tend to their business. Except, in Arv & Miljö’s world, the whole scene plays out from inside a somewhat active parking garage. “Essensen Av Denna Förbannade Stad” opens with a steady stream of tape hiss that eventually gives way to undetermined rustling and maybe one of those birds from the a-side still soaring around, and just as soon as I expect something dramatic and intriguing to happen, the hiss is merely joined by some form of distant theme music, as if Vomir was watching an afternoon soap in the other room. Please keep in mind, I’m not speaking extremely colorfully about actual music: both tracks consist of little more than captured field recordings with what must’ve been very conservative editing. Certainly not for everyone, but then again nothing discussed on Yellow Green Red is for everyone, except maybe Agathocles.
Behavior 375 Images Of Angels LP (Iron Lung)
Iron Lung Records is truly one of the pillars of underground hardcore-punk and its associated strains (noise, post-punk, grind, etc.), the sort of label that this scene really can’t afford to lose, I’d even go as far as to say. That said, even Lebron airballs a free-throw every now and then, which is how I’m classifying the debut LP by LA’s Behavior. As I listen to their album, I can’t help but think these folks heard the Institute album and thought “we can do that!” and tried to write the most boring post-punk they could muster, low on ideas and full of positioned influences. Take a Crisis riff, remove two of its notes, play it for four minutes, and occasionally sing in an anguished faux-British tone. I love the most boring This Heat songs too, but something about trying to recreate them with the occasional Raspberry Bulbs moment in between just isn’t working for me, even though if I was reading this review right now and not the one writing it, I’d be thinking that it sounded right up my alley (funny how that can be). Once I hit the track that is a Jock Club-worthy techno beat with random percussion, I felt like I was listening to the top underground trends barfed back in my face, as if Behavior arrived to formally announce the end of this particular micro-zeitgeist, which the early Iceage-aping “–” that follows confirms. Perhaps this is all just a highly specific trolling of today’s underground scene, though, in which case I will strongly endorse 375 Images Of Angels in ten to fifteen years.
Benny Boeldt 8 Of Cups LP (Carpark)
Baltimore’s electronic scene always seems to err on the side of the hilarious, ranging from the slapstick excursions of Leprechaun Catering, Nautical Almanac’s circuit-bent flatulence and Dan Deacon’s hyper-modern goofballism to many stops in-between. There must be something about that city’s economic and social depression that makes these artists want to paint a giant tie-dyed Nickelodeon logo across its crumbling exterior, and Benny Boeldt fits in perfectly. 8 Of Cups makes me nostalgic for turn-of-the-century electronic music, when amateur enthusiasts started making music on computers, but it was never easy for them, prone to all sorts of malfunctions both hardware and software. I’m hearing the warm electronica fumbling of Global Goon and the Audio Dregs label, the choppy glitches of Kid 606 around that time, and perhaps Aphex Twin at his most playful and exhausting, along with a vague sense that Boeldt and Animal Collective might be mutual fans of each other. Rapid-fire bleeps give way to a quick sample from a Saturday morning cartoon, not unlike a Venetian Snares remix of an MF Doom instrumental – these tracks are full of friendly, welcoming tones, even if their momentum is as frantic and calculated as the tunnel traffic within a large ant farm. And does it hurt that Benny Boeldt kinda physically resembles Justin Bieber, were he removed from any sort of celebrity status and thrust into Baltimore art-warehouse living? No, it doesn’t.
Brood Ma Daze LP (Tri Angle)
Check out Brood Ma’s bio: “Brood Ma is a fractured, cybergothic nexus of tropes from weird literature, dystopian rave and high technology, presented in longform performances and recordings that resemble crisis scenarios as much as electronic mixes.” Go ahead, dear reader, tell me you weren’t down for a spin by the time it got to “cybergothic nexus of tropes”. I have to say, it’s a tad extreme, but whoever wrote that isn’t entirely off – Haze certainly plays out like a mixtape from the future, filled with coded warnings, cryptic messages and sound effects we don’t yet have available in 2016. In fact, the “mix” feel is so strong on this thirteen-track album that it plays out more like a series of carefully-crafted intros and outros, as if the actual track is seconds away from arriving, just until the road quickly swerves and you’re off chasing some other acid squiggle, grime beat or finely-serrated noise blast. I feel like I’m traveling through an off-the-grid modem for most of Daze, in search of illegal bitcoin, at least through its closing moments when some uplifting, Burial-esque segments materialize and I feel like I’m being baptized inside the Matrix. Seeing how the real world is turning out, a Matrix-based existence doesn’t sound so bad after all.
Cretins Meat 7″ (Deranged)
These guys decided to call themselves Cretins, with an image of grotesque prehistoric mutants eating each other on the cover of their EP entitled Meat… I’m expecting something severely damaged, not unlike Brainwashed Youth or A-Team, not the powerhouse steamroller hardcore offered here. These dudes can call themselves whatever they want, though, as they blaze through these six songs with fury and menace. Musically they’re like an extra-fast take on the retro-modern hardcore sound (not unlike, say, Blood Pressure or Concealed Blade) with a vocalist who reminds me of Framtid or the last Gauze album, the way in which his voice often sounds more like one continual guttural sound than actual lyrics. It’s a great style, utilizing an extended monosyllabic bark over rapid-fire hardcore with air-tight drum rolls and guitars that are more tuneful and thick than distorted and painful (which works in Cretins’ favor). They may want us to imagine them as a bunch of brain-dead, bottom-feeding carnivores, but as I listen to Cretins I can’t help but applaud their considerable talent and style.
Yves De Mey Drawn With Shadow Pens 2xLP (Spectrum Spools)
Yves De Mey is one of those European gents who I can only envision from his lips to his forehead, illuminated by a laptop screen in a darkened room, his oval-shaped glasses reflecting the Mac screen that lies before him. His music certainly fits in with contemporaries like Emptyset, Kerridge, Tim Hecker and Kangding Ray, electronic sound-artists with occasional acknowledgement of the dance-floor but ultimately obsessed with locating the bleakest, harshest soundscapes, like they’re all trying to sonically replicate Venus’s atmosphere, wherein a human body would implode as quickly as it would cremate. I’ve enjoyed De Mey’s music before, and he’s more stoically academic than ever here, opting for frigid, oscillating sine-waves, assembly-line static and a general sense of artificial dread. I’m often reminded of Emptyset’s most recent beat-less experimentation on many of these tracks, but I’m mostly drawn to Shadow Pens when some sort of pulse or beat enters the vicinity, like a giant metallic slug oozing ever closer. This is an album that unfolds nice and slow; it’s a bit more delicate than other players in the post-industrial electronics field (“Xylo” is what it sounds like when your deceased body is picked at by little Terminator crabs), and it’s been a pleasure to have in my home.
Den Mediterande Uttern När Jag Dör 7″ (Mediterande)
Really hoping this doesn’t come across as more of a taunt than a review, as it drives me nuts when someone reviews some instantly sold-out and desirable record as more of a means of bragging that they secured a copy than any actual critical insight. But I’m going to take that risk and review this obscurer-than-obscure one-sided 7″ by Den Mediterande Uttern anyway, a group who seemingly only semi-existed in the early ’90s, recording “När Jag Dör” (by Drajan of Brainbombs fame, no less) to be released some 25 years later in an edition of 100 (or so I’ve been told). Seems like a lot of trouble to go through for one song by one band that was clearly lost to the sands of time (did they even play a single show?), but as soon as I heard it, I realized that the efforts these Swedes went through to memorialize this “group” on vinyl were well founded. “När Jag Dör” is visceral guitar and slobbery punk vocals the likes of which I haven’t heard since Danny & The Dressmakers. The guitar is seemingly stuck on one chord, distinguished only by breaks in strumming, and the whole thing is about a minute (I tend to listen while in plank position – it’s a great song for exercise). It is now clear that punk reduced itself to the point of negative energy in 1991 when Den Mediterande Uttern recorded this tune for posterity, and I can’t wait to file it away and surprise myself all over again when I find it in a couple months.
DJ Fett Burger Burger Trip 12″ (Mongo Fett)
If you’re willing to accept someone named DJ Paypal as an artist worth respectfully listening to, surely you’ll be willing to give DJ Fett Burger a chance, right? I was completely open to hearing him myself, and thank God I did, as this is one of the most fantastic 12″s I’ve experienced this year thus far. “Burger Trip Original” is the a-side, and it is essentially one continual and fairly simple drum circle, at least until Fett Burger slowly shifts, reduces, tweaks and blossoms it into various shades of rhythmic bliss. It wraps with the sound of night-time crickets, and is essentially continued on the flip, “Burger Trip Meme” (what a title), where things get particularly intoxicated / intoxicating. For twelve more minutes, Fett Burger summons that percussive troupe deep in the heart of an unpopulated jungle, shifting filters and arpeggios as though the life of the party depended on it. I am reminded so strongly of Ricardo Villalobos’ work circa 2006-2009, where he would toss off some simple loop and mold it into the most beautifully extended trip into the beyond, like throwing down a chunk of clay on a wheel and shaping it into an exquisite vase, all while carrying on a lively conversation the entire time. Burger Trip might just be this decade’s “Fizheuer Zieheuer”, but even if it isn’t, I refuse to leave this party until DJ Fett Burger says it’s time.
Drose Boy Man Machine LP (Orange Milk)
Holy crap, this record right here! Drose is a band helmed by Columbus, OH’s Dustin Rose (hence the band name) and a couple buds, and while I really enjoyed their debut 7″, this album is a real achievement, the sort of thing that doesn’t come around too often. Imagine Slint at their peak, playing only Melvins anti-riffs with the menace of early Swans and you’re close to what Drose are serving up, although they achieve a flavor so distinct that I can really only attribute it to Drose. Or perhaps imagine the best possible Twin Stumps songs without any noise or feedback, just empty space bridging the cavernous drum thuds and single guitar chugs. Or Tool’s Undertow if it was released by AmRep and produced by Alvin Lucier? Rose sings like a pained inmate, like he’s trying to find a high note that doesn’t exist, so he just hovers above the percussion slams and guitars (or total lack thereof), and it’s utterly captivating. You wish for his escape, but then the camera pans out and you realize the stone vault he’s trapped in is three stories high with no ladder. These songs barely exist as songs, so much as moments of extreme emotion and the tension that comes before and after, and I wish there was a Behind The Music where I could witness their creation. Just when I thought the concept of avant-garde noise-rock was fully irrelevant, Drose quietly shows up and shocks my system with this masterful mix of restraint, poise and focus.
Dynamo Dreesen, SVN & A Made Up Sound Untitled 12″ (SUED)
Dynamo Dreesen, SVN & A Made Up Sound released one of my favorite 12″s last year, untitled as it was, so I did a double-take when I saw what appeared to be a new 12″ EP from these same three folks, also untitled, also quietly slipping under the radar of any music media that I follow. Good thing I tirelessly surveil new techno 12″ releases, then, as I hooped to it and snagged this one, on the SUED label that I have an increasing infatuation with. This new one is surprisingly more club-centric than the last, or at least the sounds are more familiar to my ears: the a-side track (three cuts here, all untitled) reminds me of Luciano’s Fabric mix from eight years ago, particularly his Los Updates remixes in the way the main groove is mimicked by the twinkle of electronic chirps, like drinking a lemon-lime soda that someone made for you from scratch using real lemons and limes (one day I hope this fantasy comes true for me). The b-side opener has a similarly sunny-day Cadenza vibe, teasing a 4/4 kick not unlike Villalobos seguing between cuts in a marathon set. The last track manages to drift away from the dance-floor into a syrupy realm somewhere between the purple haze of Actress and Lee Gamble, a pre-programmed Casio snap slowed to the lowest BPM allowable while Tod Dockstader-esque tones float and burst in the ether. Certainly not the 12″ I hoped it would be, but this trio has yet to let me down, what with their six hands patiently twisting knobs and punching pads.
Fried Egg The Incredible Flexible Egg 7″ flexi (Fried Egg Ltd.)
A band that shares the name with one of The Mad’s finest tunes, with artwork penciled by Lumpy, offering three tunes on a one-sided 7″ flexi-disc. Sure, why not! I’ve seen their name popping up on those Texas / Midwestern punk fest schedules lately, and figured I should bend my ear on the chance that they were exceedingly slimy or gnarly. Unfortunately, they’re pretty run-of-the-mill by today’s standards, which is to say quite good, just lacking that special something. The vocals are of the blustery loudmouth style, the riffs are fast and stompy (think Gag or JJ Doll) and everything is perfectly competent, it’s just that Fried Egg never take it a step further. Mystic Inane already own the concept of eating eggs within modern punk rock, and Fried Egg do little to claim it for themselves, even out-sourcing their art to someone who has successfully whittled out his own distinct space within punk’s historical ooze. Fried Egg are skilled players in a field that is already stacked with above-competent musicians; what we really need are a few more rule-breaking individuals with ideas all their own. There’s no denying this is an attractive flexi, though, right down to its silver-embossed label area… it just takes more than silver embossing to make your punk stand out.
Kerridge Fatal Light Attraction 2xLP (Downwards)
Samuel Kerridge is one of those British heavyweight electronic dudes I love keeping up with, and as he keeps the fairly reasonable pace of one album and a single or two per year, it’s affordable and fun, too. His last album, Always Offended, Never Ashamed elevated his monolithic industrial-techno to a higher plane, one conjuring images of endless grey hallways inside post-apocalyptic fascist housing complexes, and while I would’ve been happy for him to dwell on that sound for another album release, he has already moved onto a new direction with Fatal Light Attraction. The title sounds like it should be a My Bloody Valentine b-side or something, but this is easily Kerridge’s most frenzied and aggressive music to date, that live jungle 7″ notwithstanding. He’s traded in the glacial melt of previous work for a rapid-fire gating that is present on essentially every track here. Drum machines pop in and out, synths are set to stun and various industrial creaks and groans come quick and without warning – the album feels like Kerridge flexing his artillery, trading in his thirty-foot steamroller for a selection of crowd-dispersing riot arms, the sort of weaponry used to cause confusion and dispel angry crowds. Unlike actual war, there is no loss at stake with Fatal Light Attraction, just exhilarating jolts of pulse-raising, glitchy techno, and Kerridge continues to fascinate as his sound morphs like liquid steel.
Jared Leibowich Welcome Late Bloomers LP (Sundae)
After three well-reasoned and distinctive albums with his band The Zoltars, vocalist and songwriter Jared Leibowich sets out on his own for the first time with Welcome Late Bloomers. No offense to the rest of the Zoltars, but Leibowich’s defeated voice and soft presence were really the draw of that group, and this solo album continues in the exact same fashion – I presume there are different rhythm players or something, but the music is essentially as soft and slow as before, interchangeable with The Zoltars. Previous Zoltars albums always sounded like the record you put on after some sort of intense emotional turbulence, like an hour after your partner storms out of the apartment for good, or on a lighter note, after wrapping the perfect present for a loved one late Christmas Eve night, sipping coffee in silence. Should I be writing Hallmark Family movie scripts or what? If you’re not already familiar, imagine the most straightforward Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy tunes performed at dusk to an audience of published authors, or some sort of mix of Bedhead and The American Analog Set with your most demanding science teacher singing the blues. It sounds good, I know, and so does Welcome Late Bloomers.
Lutto Lento Mondo Hehe EP 12″ (Transatlantyk)
Couldn’t forget to tell you about the other newest Lutto Lento EP, now could I! I’ve had a great time listening to his fascinating, perplexing take on tech-house in the past few months, and this six-track EP is largely responsible. On Mondo Hehe, Lento comes out of the grimy hiss of Whips and exposes a sense of humor hinted at on Dog Leaf, weaving bizarre samples into potent dance-floor exorcisms. The title track bubbles up some melodic percussion with what sounds like an eccentric tiki bar owner showing you to the VIP hot tub. Make sure you grab a random cocktail on your way! It’s followed by “Til Tomoro”, which pulls a B-52’s sample into something both funky and ethereal, like Powell for the cool-down tent. The rest of the EP boasts mighty grooves, recalling Sis’s playful exuberance and Floating Points’ desire of depth (bookended with beatless intro and outro tracks, just as he did with Whips). Baring any grievous bodily harm to myself or Lutto Lento, I’d say I’m in it with him for the long haul.
Lumenlab Radical 10″ (Aagoo)
Lumenlab is the work of Mexico’s Diego Martinez, who attempts to fuse grindcore vocalizations with abstract noise-scapes and goth-night EDM. No, this isn’t an April Fool’s review to see if I can trick you, this is actually a thing that exists, and it took an indie-punk label out of New Jersey to release it. What a world! “Granola” is the a-side track, a melange of electronic noise and Throbbing Gristle-esque sonic disturbances, with what sounds like a Nine Inch Nails demo cassette feebly trying to push through the mix. That is, until it turns into what sounds like an electro Despise You to wrap it up. If you can work up the courage to flip it over and continue, “Sin Medios” is a buzzing hive of MIDI bleeps and Nintendo warp-zones, eventually joined by a pummeling Atari Teenage Riot-style beat. “Radical” finishes off the EP and sounds like Extreme Noise Terror’s vocalists and Atom’s package, a combination so clearly mismatched that it’s simultaneously amusing and repulsive, like watching someone eat a vanilla ice cream cone topped with ketchup. That’s Lumenlab for you!
Machine Woman For Sweden 12″ (Peder Mannerfelt)
“Machine Woman” sounds like it should be some lost Italo classic on the ZYX label or something, but that’s just part of what attracted me to this 12″. The very-cool Peder Mannerfelt releasing it on his own label was the other reason, and I’m glad I scoped it out as this is a fantastic EP of vibrant techno machinations. It comes in a variety of entertaining conditions: well-oiled (opener “Very Kind Human Being” feels like “Shake” Shakir at his most industrial) or brittle and distraught (“Yes 10.06.15” is the sound of a factory press slowly taken off life support). Machine Woman (real name: Anastasia Vtorova) has a real knack for locating unmusical snippets and thrusting them into a mechanized holding pattern, at times recalling a fully gray-scaled Actress or Shed at his most playful. Six varying tracks on For Sweden, all of which stand proudly alongside Ikea and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo as notable national exports.
NASA Space Universe 70 AD 12″ (Feel It)
As if their name didn’t give it away, NASA Space Universe are certainly of the more eccentric hardcore outfits of the past decade or so, but never to the point of sacrificing their sound to other genres. It’s my understanding this is to be their last record (although I swear they’ve already broken up before?), and it’s a fine send-off, a tight n’ tasty ten-song 12″ EP. The drums are almost consistently galloping, with riffs that recall vintage Poison Idea and even the menacing stature of Die Kreuzen (a comparison I don’t take lightly). That’s probably also due to the vocalist’s kerosene-soaked vocals, which chemically irritate each track in short bursts. They’ve got just enough in the way of unexpected song-structuring to call to mind Double Negative as well, while remaining firmly planted on hardcore-punk’s hallowed ground (the guitarist doesn’t alter his tone once on the whole record, as far as my ear can discern). Only makes sense that a band that sounds this combustible has burnt out (even if their eight-year tenure outlasted the average lifespan of most hardcore groups), and I hope they succeed in whatever further exploratory missions their vessel pursues.
Oaf Cheat To Survive 7″ (Deranged)
Pretty good name for a hardcore band, “Oaf”, don’t you think? It offers a nice mental image, particularly as I spin these four songs, previously released digitally by the band, now offered the stamp of vinyl approval care of one of Canada’s most lauded (and hated, depending who you are speaking with) modern hardcore labels. My enjoyment of Oaf extends beyond their name, as they play a very clunky form of heavy hardcore – imagine Hoax with even more Rat distortion pedals (check the mosh breakdown to “Jewel Of Africa” and tell me I’m wrong), less musicality to their riffs (chords alternate, descend or ascend in the simplest of ways) and a vocalist who has a similar snarl to Hoax’s Jesse Sanes, with just the right smidge of echo-distortion to make it snap. Ildjarn’s riffs played by hardcore kids has yet to sound bad, as far as I’m concerned. I had hoped the title was about using the Konami code to beat Contra, but from the lyric sheet it’s about doing heroin, ostensibly glorifying self-destructive behavior (hardcore’s current trend of “being bad” is starting to get a little tiring) while the rest of the lyrics take a macroscopic view of modern life’s burdens. Even oafs have bad days, after all.
Pact Infernal The Descent [Chapter II] 12″ (Samurai Horo)
Okay, so you might remember me complaining my way through purchasing half-a-dozen or more Demdike Stare 12″s over the past couple years, but it’s been a while since they’ve put anything out, and well… I miss them. That’s probably why I picked up this record, the second 12″ by “mysterious” experimental techno group Pact Infernal. Whoever these folks are, they’re doing it the Demdike way, with five ominous dub-techno horror-soundtrack cuts that borrow from a broad range of styles to create something that just might be blacker than Blackest Ever Black (and that’s black, baby!). Foghorn bass meets Bollywood drums and the elevated chants of a Buddist monk colony gone rogue, and as you wait to see The Emperor lift his hood to reveal his grotesque visage to Lord Vader, it turns out he was actually just Moritz Von Oswald the whole time. Beautiful vinyl presentation on this one too, as the a-side features a white splotch in the center of the record, solar eclipse style, which amazingly doesn’t bleed through to the b-side. A nerdy record no doubt, surely appealing to anyone who proudly collects Headless Horseman records, and I’m not too insecure to admit that Pact Infernal greatly appeals to me as well.
Ploy Sala One Five 12″ (Hessle Audio)
Hessle Audio has been quiet as of late, after releasing some of their least-acclaimed 12″s (which were also some of my personal favorites – I’m looking at you, Elgato and Joe). I’m glad the crew is back, though, particularly as this new EP by the mysterious Ploy serves up some potent, crème de la crème progressive techno. “Sala One Five” sets it off quickly, a deep cut of modern tech-house with depth charges, morse-code percussion and ambient washes of sound all working together like underpaid Amazon employees getting you your toothpaste eight hours after you clicked your order. Flip it for “Move Yourself”, which takes hold of the dance-floor with total confidence, looping some hand percussion while the bass note pours outward as if you opened the bathroom door after the tub flooded. Closer “Helix” is no slouch either, with a sense that it’s “Move Yourself” played backward through a rainforest mist, beautiful and full of danger. I’m impressed not only by the user-friendliness of Ploy, how he comes across as an easily-digestible take on the sounds of Hodge, Batu and Alex Coulton, et al., but also by the way he manages to utilize each frequency to keen effect: the bass, highs and mids are all carefully rendered. Recommended!
Prison Moan Prison Moan 7″ (Negative Jazz)
I literally had to do some Googling to determine the name of this band (looks like Prison… Menu? on the cover), but I have nothing but respect for the tiny empire of Negative Jazz so I harbor no resentment. I won’t be forgetting this band’s name anytime soon after listening to this EP anyway, as they’re one of the many utterly gnarly modern hardcore bands coming around these days, and particularly taut in their execution. Just throw on opener “Parasite Hole” and tell me everyone in the room didn’t stop talking in the middle of their sentences. I’m gonna dare to say that Prison Moan rage in that feral, unhinged sort of way that made Mecht Mensch so instantly superior, and even as many bands are aiming for (and frequently succeeding, at least on technicality) this sort of sound, Prison Moan never revert to easier or less-aggressive measures for the duration of this 7″. They’re a Cleveland band, so I was waiting for that one moment of willful stupidity to kick in, but there are no songs about eating boogers, or hilarious samples, or poorly-scrawled porno art to connect them to the city of Bad Noids and Homostupids. Nah, Prison Moan are only interested in the basest essence of violent hardcore music, bless their souls.
Red Hare Lexicon Mist 7″ (Dischord / Hellfire)
After watching Burn knock the crowd unconscious last month, I am a now a firm believer in the abilities of semi-famous hardcore dudes over forty when it comes to kicking ass, and it’s with that recent memory that this Red Hare single sounds both urgent and familiar. It certainly doesn’t seem to be under the influence of any hardcore post-1996, but rather indebted to the majority of Red Hare’s previous existence as Swiz, alongside bands like Verbal Assault and Soul Side, who either you were there to experience firsthand and will cherish forever or might be able to will yourself to enjoy if only hearing for the first time today. The riffs are upbeat and not entirely removed from Kid Dynamite’s more mature offerings, with spoken / sung / occasionally-screamed vocals that fit the bill nicely. Plus, these songs have titles like “Silverfish (Ungodly Grace, This Is Our Curse)” and “Faced (The Root Of My Confusion)”, which no hardcore band in their right mind under the age of 25 would consider using. And to wrap it up, they cover a Lungfish tune on the b-side, as if they weren’t already Dischordy enough. I’m not saying you have to love your elders if you exclusively listen to Zouo and were born in 1994, but Red Hare makes it clear that you’ve gotta at least respect them.
Katsunori Sawa Secret Of Silence LP (Weevil Neighbourhood)
I came across Katsunori Sawa on a recent mix Kerridge put together (of music that essentially sounds like Kerridge), and Sawa’s sound was distinct and crafty enough that I had to seek out more. Lucky me then, that he just released his first album last December and it’s a durable and impressive record indeed. Sawa’s music is undoubtedly hard techno with flourishes of both dub and industrial, but his knack lies in the mix of both organic and inorganic sounds, deftly revealing the similarities between both. A kick straight out of Audion’s sampler will lock a track into place, but the sound of a refrigerator door slamming on your fingers quickly joins it; perhaps the hissing steam from an engine mixes with a nimble, plunging groove that has me thinking of something Surgeon would release if Ostgut Ton approached him for some tracks. A cut like “Immediate Awareness” isn’t anything new, per se, but even after severe industrial-techno exhaustion has set in, I can’t help but feel invigorated by its luscious swells as it goes from up-tempo slammer to crunchy dubplate headbanger and back. I have to say, I hadn’t spent any time checking out Japan’s experimental industrial-techno scene (it has to have one, right?), but Katsunori Sawa and his Secret Of Silence might very well be my gateway drug.
Sheer Mag III 7″ (Wilsuns / Static Shock)
Has there been a more meteoric rise in underground rock than that of Sheer Mag in recent times? They barely scuffed their amps on the cement-dusty basement floors of a West Philly punk house before Rolling Stone was requesting their rig rundown and Pitchfork was marveling at their lack of a publicist, and while I’m sure their haters are eager to hate, I can’t find a fault with Sheer Mag – they’re a great rock band that sounds both classic and new, and this new 7″ EP continues to showcase this fact. Four more tunes here, and they don’t deviate even slightly from Sheer Mag’s winning formula of Thin Lizzy and Budgie riffs scraped down into power-pop formation, as though The Speedies and Nasty Facts got into denim and corporate beer instead of makeup and spiked bracelets. If we want to get nitpicky, I thought the second Sheer Mag EP went a little too far into tin-can lo-fi territory, really pushing the limits of what constitutes a public-ready recording (particularly for a band whose songs deserve to be properly heard), but they scale back on that here, hitting the sweet spot that sounds like a distant AM radio station played through a hand-me-down boombox, some sort of special transmission from yesterday that only now has arrived. Of course, this review is entirely subject to change if photographic evidence appears of Anthony Kiedis wearing a Sheer Mag tee at a Lakers game.
Strutter Strutter 7″ (Beach Impediment)
What do you do with your spare time if you’re a dude in Austin, TX who plays in a hardcore band? You play in other hardcore bands! Strutter features members of Vaaska, Impalers and Glue, and if you were to listen to this above-average debut 7″ EP, I can’t imagine you’d be shocked to learn of this particular family tree. Strutter, from the KISS-inspired band name to the combustible songwriting, seems to come with a level of snotty antagonism not necessarily found in their other bands. A large part of that is due to the vocalist’s slightly-echoed sneer – it’s impossible to hear this whiny scream without imagining his mouth in deep frown formation, and it suits the punchy, in-and-out tunes nicely. I’ll admit, I was expecting at least some sort of musical nod to cock-rock from the band name (maybe a swiped Ace Frehley riff or two?), but this is more fine modern hardcore from a group of people (and respectable record label) that clearly know it well.
Tang Soleil Outboard Sensory Median Response LP (Dusty Medical)
As you might’ve noticed, I’ve sampled a ton of garage-rock bands over the past few years, and I’m sad to say that in many cases, the bands don’t give off the impression that they are particularly having a lot of fun. You can hear the difference between a band that is truly excited to be alive and one that is simply recording their songs as a means of documentation (or simply because they think it’s what bands are supposed to do), and I’m happy to report that Tang Soleil are the former, a band that exudes glam-rock attitude as they shimmy and shake through a mostly-empty room. They’re like a scatterbrained Big Star at their best, sacrificing huge hooks for kooky interludes but not to their overall detriment. Classic proto-punk garage songs can only be written so many times, so it’s great to hear Tang Soleil approach those same riffs with the careless / carefree attitude of Los Cincos. They’re almost like the rambunctious modern companion to Spacin’, as both groups look to the past but infuse it with a working knowledge of three-plus decades of experimental DIY basement psychosis, where you can take a Sweet or Milk N’ Cookies melody and slap it upside the head with R. Stevie Moore’s quirky sensibility and Madlib’s ADHD. Sounds messy, but Tang Soleil are wildly competent at this distinct brand of incompetence, and I wish half the attention aimed at safe and respectable genre-revivalists landed on these lovely dopes instead.
Tyrannamen Tyrannamen LP (Cool Death)
From the records that I come upon, Australia seems like this last great vestige for rock bands, where all sorts of young men and women gather together in groups of three, four or five and practice their guitars, basses and drums together, as if Diplo and Skrillex were never born. If I’m wrong, please don’t spoil my fantasy – I want to imagine bands like Tyrannamen getting together after their day-jobs as baristas and journeymen carpenters to rock out the way Mother Nature intended, in the name of The Replacements, The Monks or The Reatards, as the case may be. I mean this guitarist’s name is Angus Lord for crying out loud! They are a strongly capable band for the task at hand, often slipping further into power-pop shoes (think Tours or Purple Hearts) than punk boots, but it suits them well, clearly grown up enough to no longer mosh but not too old to fondly reminisce. I don’t hear any particular huge hits here (“Ice Age” probably comes closest), but they’ve got a good thing going nonetheless, especially if you’re stuck here in the United States with a co-worker who insists on blaring Deadmau5 for hours on end. Give ’em a denim cleanse care of Tyrannamen.
Kurt Vile / Steve Gunn Parallelogram LP (Three Lobed Recordings)
This hand-crafted and limited LP was issued as part of a mammoth five split-LP set by Three Lobed, and while I believe you had to purchase them as a set initially, individual copies have wafted out into the general public like weed smoke in front of these artists’ respective practice spaces, and I was lucky enough to catch a sniff. You might’ve seen this one and thought, “Eh, probably some tossed-off b-side material by these two going-for-it professional artists”, and while I can’t say you’re wrong, it’s a record I find myself enjoying nearly as strongly as any of their marquee releases. Kurt Vile takes to Randy Newman and John Prine covers with his usual breezy confidence, as well as a new variation of his “Red Apples” tune and a song called “NPR Reject” consisting of his voice, his banjo and Mary Lattimore’s harp. This is Kurt as I love him most, picking up different instruments as he feels, covering the tunes of others, covering his own, channeling the music in his mind freely and with little studio interference or big-budget consideration. Steve Gunn drops a gorgeous Nico cover on his side (with Vile adding guitar and synth) and follows it with a ten-minute long “Spring Garden”, which feels like classic Red House Painters if they had an intense Grateful Dead infatuation and weren’t led by a weird bully. There’s a reason these two American white-guy guitarists are getting some dap while thousands of others ain’t, and it’s a true pleasure to have the opportunity to check in with them like this.
Waveless Spirit Island 12″ (Deranged)
Sure, there is a glut of hardcore bands today who are very good yet very forgettable, but I often think it’s gotta be more fun to be in one of those bands than the shoegaze band that exists among them. At least you can jump around and don’t have to be sad and introspective all the time (or worse, pretend to be sad and introspective), right? Waveless might have difficulty escaping the “token shoegaze” tag with this Deranged release, but these five songs are really quite attractive and enjoyable no matter how they were financed to vinyl (although a split release on Scion / Vice might test my tolerance). Even the strong American Tapes vibe of the artwork (did John Olson do the lettering?) can’t conceal the luscious dark-chocolate they’re playing, as Waveless do an exemplary job of putting songwriting first, production second – these are songs that could be covered by other artists, tracks that I’ll hum no matter how many effects they do or don’t employ. In that way, I’m reminded of their contemporaries Wildhoney, which is nice, as well as oldies like Medicine or Ride, particularly on a track like “Dark Day”, which cuts the gloom nicely. Certainly recommended for anyone who owns more than one Nothing colored-vinyl variant, but those who simply appreciate moody, disaffected indie-rock won’t be disappointed either.
Why The Wires Flame Failures LP (One Percent Press / Jetsam-Flotsam)
Picture this: a bearded man in a band t-shirt, tattoos on his arms, clutching a saxophone as he screams along with the lead singer in a catharsis as emotional as it is sweaty. If you’ve attended “emo-core” shows and can recall a time when the term “scenester” was used in place of “hipster”, you can probably picture this man well. In this case, he’s a member of Ithaca, NY’s Why The Wires, a band that boasts an average band member age of 37. That certainly makes sense with the scope of this band, who recall a rough form of underground rock, before distinct boundaries were formed between emo-core, indie-rock, post-rock and punk. As I listen to their sincere and forceful songs, I’m imagining Sweep The Leg Johnny if they did an album for Donut Friends, or perhaps some sort of mish-mash of Bluetip and Drive Like Jehu. I appreciate this band’s commitment to performing music they all clearly enjoy without aspiration of capturing the underground zeitgeist or becoming rich or famous (or even breaking even financially or obtaining four figures of social media followers). They perform their music with commitment and passion, an honesty that this particularly strain of music requires and for which all bands should strive.
Woodboot Crime Time LP (Space Ritual / Erste Theke Tonträger)
I keep having to remind myself not to type “Workboot”, because that seems like a comparatively natural term (and better band name, if you ask me), but these party-punk maniacs are Woodboot. They’re Australian (who isn’t these days?), and they use the Shatter font for their band name, which is practically its own sub-genre of punk at this point (Shatter-core?). They look humorously drunk / evil on the back cover, and carry that vibe to their songs, co-opting the classic Killed By Death poise that mixes cynical humor and cartoonish hatred, as evidenced by songs like “(I’m Gonna Push You In Front Of A) Car”, “Spike Bat” and “Suicide Solution” (nope, not a cover somehow). Musically they veer as garage-influenced as The Time Flys and as hardcore-influenced as Germs, but lacking the eccentricity or over-the-top attitude of either. Even the song titles seem to aim for Buck Biloxi’s level of petty nihilism but miss the mark slightly, never quite attaining the wild menace for which I assume they’re striving. Still, perfectly fine punk record for party animals of both the poseur and self-destructively-life-shortening varities, that much is true.