Bad Vision Turn Out Your Sockets LP (Adagio830)
Bad Vision’s 2013 debut album came through Yellow Green Red back then, which I found to be overwhelmingly Jay Reatard-esque, and three years later the comparison seems apt as ever. It’s not a bad thing, of course, because who doesn’t love Jay Reatard (besides all the people he screwed over, the people he beat up, every sound-guy he worked with, etc.), and Bad Vision have gotten quite competent at their trade. Turn Out Your Sockets is full of that sharp, tightly-wound punk sound, borne of The Undertones, Buzzcocks and The Adverts and maintained throughout the decades by the select bands capable of such precision, along with a few slower numbers befitting a melodic punk band in at least their fourth year of existence. The vocalist has an odd sort of snotty affectation, as if his tongue is stuck to the bottom of his mouth while he delivers every line, which sounds particularly sharp on the opener (and most likely candidate for a hit) “Very Melbourne”, which comes out more like “very [i]Mel-bahhh[/i]”. I always enjoy songs where you’d never guess what they’re saying until you read the song title, and this is something I’d certainly play if I was doing an hour-long weekly punk radio show. I’m not, but maybe you are, and if so I’m sure you could pull a few tracks off Turn Out Your Sockets and get an aging Briefs fan firing up his or her Spotify search bar.
Craig Bell America Now / Annie 7″ (Violet Times)
The Violet Times label comes around intermittently to offer obscure and unheralded guitar music they deem important, be it New Zealand’s The Cakekitchen, someone calling themselves “The Blimp”, or Craig Bell, he of influential Cleveland powerhouses Mirrors and Rocket From The Tombs. While punk history often neglects the careers of first-wave punk rockers post-1980, many of these musicians actually didn’t evaporate upon the arrival of new-wave, and this two-song live single is a small and sturdy piece of proof. I wish I could hear a proper studio recording of “America Now”, because it’s a fine downtown rocker, the sound of Bell’s band at the time (The Bell System) going for plainclothes success with equal reverence for Lou Reed, David Thomas and Richard Hell (recorded in 1985). “Annie” is an acoustic rendition recorded in 1979, played to a crowd that refuses to zip their lips, but Bell doesn’t care, sounding more invigorated and tough than I would expect an acoustic rendition of a Mirrors song could be. If it were 1999, I’d say a CD retrospective of random live tracks and outtakes would suit Bell better than two unrelated tunes on a 7″ single, but the record business makes zero sense to anyone anymore and it’s simply nice enough that these songs are available in any form at all.
The Bibs From The Fish Houses LP (Soft Abuse)
If you’re anything like me, you’re hoping that a band calling themselves The Bibs is a new tough-guy hardcore project featuring ex-members of Terror and Wisdom In Chains, but sadly it’s not to be. No, this is about as nonthreatening as music played by amplified guitars can be – these songs practically offer up their lunch money before you even start to raise your fist. The Bibs operate within the sun-damaged field that separates Mad Nanna from The Velvet Underground, with a smattering of off-kilter Kiwi pop and a faint whiff of the inside of Beachwood Sparks’ tour van. From The Fish Houses is replete with jangly, noodly guitar that often ventures off to nowhere in particular, organ borrowed from the set of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, and vocals that sat at home during their prom. If my research is to be believed, The Bibs are actually the guy behind lo-fi techno unit Siobhan and a member of Roachclip, and while I can certainly see the Roachclip resemblance (although Roachclip sound like Metallica by comparison), it’s an amusing pairing with an amusing result. Might as well make all sorts of music if you can, and The Bibs most certainly count as music.
Bruce The Trouble With Wilderness 12″ (Idle Hands)
As far as I’m concerned there’s only one musical artist in history named Bruce, and it’s this guy, coming correct with a few new 12″ offerings including this three-song banger. I didn’t expect him to top Steals from earlier this year, and he hasn’t, but Bruce goes in a different direction here. The title track starts off like another murky, virus-infected techno cut until it stops, a man whispers “I will always love you” and some icy synth tones usher in a seductively smooth house cut, albeit always at an arm’s length distance from the center of the club. “Waves (For Yasmin)” is a buzzing, mostly-beatless track that feels like a midnight dip in a moonlit pool in a suburban townhouse development named Huerco S Estates. Yasmin’s a lucky lady! “Summer’s Gotta End Sometime” opens with crickets, a sound I will never tire from hearing as long as I live, eventually brewing into a chirpy groove, the sort of cut I’d expect to hear from Cornelius were he signed to Hessle Audio. This might be Bruce’s Nebraska moment and I invite you all to give it a peep.
Calhau! Ú LP ((K-RAA-K)³)
Of all the bands I’ve come across opting for an exclamation point at the end of their name, I think Calhau! might be my favorite. They’re a beguiling experimental-noise duo out of Argentina, and this is my first encounter with the group, who’s been casually releasing MP3s, tapes and vinyl over the past five years or so. It’s right up my alley, I’ll tell you that: their sound is usually based around vocals, both uncomfortably direct and highly distorted, often accompanied by loops, synths, samples, effects and whatever else they can plug into the nearest power strip. Their particular approach leaves plenty of space, which can be a risky endeavor, as two people puffing into a microphone isn’t necessarily captivating by its very nature. But with these two, it certainly is, as frequent vocal provider Marta von Calhau will sing to her own imaginary choir just as confidently as she’ll choke on candle-smoke on the next track. Just check out “Herodes” and enjoy how their dual vocalizations can sound like an aborted Can side-project. Comparatively, I’d say post-Beaches And Canyons Black Dice, Phil Minton’s hilarious jabbering, the junk-shop psychedelia of Avarus and the exotic industrial of pre-breakup Throbbing Gristle all come to play, but Calhau! are distinctly on their own path, one where Anglophile experimental music isn’t the sole reference point.
The Conformists Divorce LP (Aagoo)
The Conformists are a Chicago post-punk / no-wave group so damn Chicagoan that my dish instantly became deep upon listening. You guessed it, they recorded with Steve Albini at Electrical Audio (where else?), and if you are remotely a fan of this style, the sound of grown men unraveling at their navels, I recommend you seek out Divorce post-haste. They’ve got the dislocated riffage of US Maple, the unexpected and extended song structures of Harvey Milk and the miserable drum style of Oxes down pat, and the vocalist speak-sings his way through what is probably a lot of biting, bitter commentary on modern middle-class living, at least the parts I can make out. Their songs weave through interesting little crawlspaces, always teetering on the edge of the band just giving up and finding something else to do with their spare time, although they realize music is the only true calling they’ve ever had. They certainly commit to it, and with their vibe of “going to the post office to buy stamps and picking up takeout is my own personal hell”, I’ll admit that more than a small part of me relates. In modern Chicago terms, they could be the dark flipside to Fake Limbs, the America’s Funniest Video where the punchline is just someone getting brutally hurt on a trampoline, where actual pain becomes the laughing matter. The Conformists see that and shine it right back.
Congenital Death Fucklove: Prophet Of Death LP (Ranch / Hydrogen Man)
At first I thought they were “Congenial Death”, and I enjoyed the image of the Grim Reaper kindly offering some fresh lemonade before harvesting someone’s soul, but “Congenital Death” works too. They’re a Philadelphia-based techy grindcore group, and they serve the genre well with Fucklove: Prophet Of Death. On merit of skills and composition, Congenital Death stand up among the many groups that I’d assume served as influences: Converge, Pig Destroyer, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Daughters, Insect Warfare, et al. The vocals aren’t attributed to any specific band member (although the lyrics are written by guitarist Ryan Fitzpatrick), and it seems like more than one guy does the screaming, although the pitch differential of their harsh bellows is slight. They’re really so technically adept that I’m surprised a “bigger” label hasn’t snatched them up yet, but maybe Congenital Death are fiercely DIY, or perhaps technical grind just doesn’t carry the same weight it used to (it seems like there is more cred given to someone repping Stone Roses than Discordance Axis in the youth-metal scene these days, go figure). Congenital Death appear to be dudes who are more likely to wait in line for Supreme than sew Assück patches onto their butt-flaps, at least, which makes sense as it must be significantly easier to write and perform pummeling triplets and stop-on-a-dime drum fills while wearing Adidas pullover fleece.
Der Stab Tracers / It’s Grey 7″ (Negative Jazz / Elective Affinities)
Der Stab (German for “The Stab”) were a short-lived punk out of Orange County in the early ’80s, featuring Rikk Agnew on guitar, whom had he not existed Californian hardcore would not appear in the same shape as we know it today. For whatever reason (the band-written liner notes never fully explain), this 1982 recording was shelved until now, and in case you already had all the other good OC hardcore from this era, you may want to add this to the handwritten want-list you keep crumpled in your butt pocket. “Tracers” is pretty par for the course, maybe a little more “rock” than youthful snot, including a pretty accomplished guitar solo, and “It’s Grey” reveals Der Stab’s Christian Death connection, plodding around like Circle One and Samhain competing in a voodoo dance. No musical revelations here, and almost understandably a band that never quite made it to vinyl (although they are certainly comp-worthy), but I suppose if I stumbled upon some archive material from a group of classic hardcore dudes and had the chance to stamp it into vinyl for posterity’s sake, the urge to do so might overcome me too.
Beatrice Dillon / Karen Gwyer split 12″ (Alien Jams)
Basically anytime Beatrice Dillon commits any bit of her recorded material to vinyl from this point going forward, you can expect me to talk about it here – she’s my current techno fascination, no doubt. That said, naturally I didn’t miss this two-track split EP with Karen Gwyer. Dillon’s track “Curl” is an interesting groove that cooks in under five minutes. It’s a patient, fluid tech-house cut that recalls mid-’00s Melchior Productions or the rubbery techno of Kassem Mosse, a confident strut that’s never too flashy. Karen Gwyer’s track “Common Soundproofing Myths” is three times as long, and it stretches its legs nicely. Hi-hats skip like rocks over the melodic pond, with skittering percussion teasing a beat, until about halfway through when an acid loop emerges and I feel like I’m inside Omar S’s backyard shed, helping him hand-stamp 12″s. Each side of this coin offers pleasant, good-natured techno with an artisan touch, and while it doesn’t explode my mind as many of Dillon’s productions have, I’m dancing just the same.
Margaret Dygas Even 11 12″ (Perlon)
It’s always a pleasure to receive a new single by Margaret Dygas, an America-via-Poland DJ and producer who operates within the world of minimalist techno. On this new 12″, nothing is particularly new or innovative, but that’s fine, as I enjoy her records for their soft, spacious and patient rhythms, not for the next big thing. This is an EP on Perlon, and it truly sounds like an EP on Perlon – both tracks consist of clicky, intricate rhythms that eschew heavy bass or conventional percussion sounds, the sort of minimalist tech-house upon which Perlon built their reputation. Dygas’s last EP from 2014, In Wood / That, offered some playful percussive moments, but Even 11 is more traditional, with the beat darting around like a ghost conjured by Ricardo Villalobos or Bruno Pronsato circa 2006. Some weird vocals permeate the surface of “Even 11”, the speedier of the two, while “Wishing Well” slowly stirs with the dub sensibility of Moritz Von Oswald; the beat has a presence like some sort of meat-eating predator lurking beneath the brown water of a swamp. It all makes for a sumptuous and understated EP, not so much for dancing as sophisticated contemplation, and we all know I’m one hell of a sophisticated contemplator so there you go.
Lee Gamble Chain Kinematics 12″ (UIQ)
UIQ is not only quite similar to the name of a collectible sneaker store here in Philadelphia, it’s Lee Gamble’s new vanity label, and this new four-song EP is a notable entry into his catalog of peculiar post-techno. Techno music is made for dancing, but what Chain Kinematics presupposes is… what if it isn’t? It’s impossible to not feel a slight smarter-than-thou vibe when it comes to Lee Gamble’s music, like his advanced brain could never be satisfied with predictable cadences and tones, and depending on my mood, I either fall deeply under his spell or wish he’d take off his lab coat and just have a little fun. Of course, he’s probably having fun in his lab coat. Even though the title of this EP refers to the physics of robotic programming, these tracks only utilize an impenetrable Autechre-esque sound-bank rather than succumb to it. Thumping kicks are present, and while they are likely to drop out at any given moment (or land somewhere off the grid), Gamble’s attitude seems more pleasant than exclusive. If you’ve ever been curious, Chain Kinematics is a nice way to start following this freak.
Gate Saturday Night Fever LP (MIE Music)
There’s nothing I like more than shop-worn loops with distorted guitars blaring over top, so as soon as I heard about this new Gate album that was based on cut-up loops from the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, I ran to the nearest vendor and placed my order. Even in the worst case, it’d still sound pretty good I’m sure, but Gate’s Michael Morley made it great, a nice melange of hazy grooves, warm amp distortion and muttered vocals. The first cut “Asset” feels like vintage Blues Control before it slips into reverse gear, and throughout the rest of the album, moments recall Oren Ambarchi’s fantastic Stacte Karaoke EP. The closer “Hijack” is my personal fave, as it veers closer to the smudged techno attempts of Richard Youngs’ Like A Neuron, dance music that is produced by a man who can’t help but add a thick layer of smog and confusion to the music he touches. It’s also worth noting that the loops, while serving as the foundation for each of these tracks, shift and morph throughout each track in ways that I can’t fully perceive – Morley’s clearly massaging every aspect of the sound, never content to let anything loop in peace. Fantastic piece of vinyl, this!
Haus Arafna Children Of God LP (Galakthorrö)
The Galakthorrö label isn’t one to dwell in the past, but Children Of God, Haus Arafna’s debut album from 1998, was never given their lavish vinyl treatment (or any, in fact) up until now, so it’s nice to finally place it on my shelf where it always belonged. While I can’t accuse Haus Arafna of greatly changing up their aesthetic over the past two decades, Children Of God does display them in a raw, almost feral form at times, with tracks that seep over into the Genocide Organ-esque power-electronics side of their spectrum, with barked vocals that act more as electrical shocks than a human sound. Their classic cut “Last Dream Of Jesus” still sounds powerfully fierce, but I’m particularly chuffed to finally have “The Way You Go” on vinyl – it’s the first Haus Arafna song I ever heard, and to this day remains my favorite, with an unsettling, Frankenstein-esque synth progression and Mr. Arafna’s vocals sung like a lout in the alley behind the bar at 4:00 AM. If I die slowly instead of suddenly, I plan on singing this one on my way out.
Hero Dishonest Liha Ja Teräs LP (Peterwalkee)
Hero Dishonest continue onward with this, their seventh album in sixteen years, in firm position to be the second-generation Terveet Kädet (which presupposes that there will actually be a time in which Terveet Kädet cease to exist). On this US edition, Peterwalkee continues to make Hero Dishonest available for the hundred Americans who are interested in such a thing. On one hand, I’m surprised there aren’t more eager fans (the Peterwalkee pressing is limited to 100 copies), but at the same time it seems pretty clear that most old hardcore people are either hopelessly out of touch and buying Strung Out CDs or are too cool for bands that aren’t the specific micro-genre flavor of the week. Regardless of who else enjoys Hero Dishonest, I sure do – they haven’t skipped a beat here, at their most frantic recalling Gauze were they raised on Lärm or otherwise toning it down for a sort of rocked-out, Murder City Devils-meets-Bl’ast zone. And then there are the tracks that sound like they came off a Southeast Asia CD compilation on 625 Productions with 40 bands, which I might enjoy most of all. Hero Dishonest will keep playing manic hardcore and it’s up to us if we care to tune in.
His Clancyness Pale Fear / Coming Up Empty 7″ (Maple Death)
A moniker like “His Clancyness” seems like it should be reserved for the one and only Tom Clancy, but Jonathan Clancy has claimed that title for his own. It’s the name of his band, who have done time on labels like FatCat, and I can see why, as they’ve got a studied, bad-boy-but-not-really form of cool going on here. “Pale Fear” rides a clunky drum-beat through a very Spoon-like demeanor, sounding like guys who finally became sexy in their late thirties. They even push the tune over to a more traditional drum / guitar style in its second half and it works just as neatly. “Coming Up Empty” is a lonesome slow-dance, two people holding each other up on a dance-floor covered with confetti and streamers that fell hours before. It’s the perfect song for going over to your exes’ house to ask for your Walkmen LPs back. I’m far more partial to the upbeat slink of “Pale Fear”, but there’s an audience out there for both sides of this single and I have no doubt that His Clancyness will continue to locate it.
Homostupids Sleepy Tree 7″ (Richie)
Dwell on this 7″ long enough and you might actually transport back to the final days of George W. Bush’s reign, back when 7″ singles series were popping up left and right and Homostupids were active and on the tip of every garage-monkey’s tongue. Unlike many singles series of that era, this Richie Records Summer Singles Series (2016) arrives all at once and with zero flakery, and this brief chestnut from Homostupids is their first transmission in at least five years by my count. There are three brief tracks here, and I can’t help but notice that it sounds like a gentler, older group this time around – their songs are played notably slower, even if the general picking style and riff arrangement remains the same, and vocalist Steve Peffer (or is it the other guy? I can’t tell) is far from his throat-curdling former self, with lyrics that are actually close to audible and a relaxed delivery that ensures a dry collar. It sounds good, just not as raucous and indifferent as my favorite ‘Stupids material (although they’ve still got the song title game on lock, what with “Sleepy Tree” and “Sneaky Leaker” here, in their usual “nihilistic Shel Silverstein” style). More on the other two singles next month…
Hypnotic Sleep Füörm Hüölertnstruk Maut Mä´n Haut Afniemn 7″ (Hüüpnootsche Platen Un Kassetten)
It’s a relief that I can simply recommend this record to you by writing about it, as there will never be a day in my life wherein I’m comfortable enough attempting that title out loud. The band name, Hypnotic Sleep, is quite easy for a mono-languaged American like myself, and I’ve been really enjoying this strange little two-song single, following a full-length album of which the snippets I’ve heard are equally fascinating. Take the title track here, for instance: it’s built on a rickety drum machine and simplistic bass melody, with the soothing spaciousness of Duster or some other introspective ’90s space-rock indie group that felt solace in Moss Icon’s steely verse. Beautiful tune. The b-side “Dolli” utilizes different instrumentation, what sounds like a pump organ operated with two hands rifling through Medieval phrasing and weepy folklore, like a Current 93 outtake from 1991 that was put aside before being properly finished, or perhaps the bizarre cult-work of Canada’s One Of You (look them up, I’m glad I did!). The a-side’s stronger, but together it’s a wonderful, out-of-time experience. Time to go buy that LP.
JJ Doll JJ Doll 7″ (Katorga Works)
All the punks with their ears to the streets have been talking about JJ Doll in the last year or so, the band that quickly formed out of the ashes of the short-lived Ivy (who mostly came from Brown Sugar – I love punks that can’t keep a band together for any reasonable amount of time). I thought the JJ Doll demo sounded cool, but this new 7″ offers a clarity in both sonic quality and songwriting style that I find most appealing. Musically, they are speedy, grody hardcore-punk not unlike Patsy (or to an obvious extent, Ivy) or any given snippet of Not So Quiet On The Western Front, a standard I don’t take lightly. It’s solid stuff for sure, with a tasteful use of oom-pah drumming and a particularly subterranean guitar tone, but it’s the vocals of Sara Abruna that make JJ Doll a standout (let’s face it, the vocalist is at least 75% responsible for the success or failure of any given hardcore band). She shouts but rarely screams, sounding more bemused or taunting than enraged, and it’s a nice fit – I’m reminded of the short stint of Drunks With Guns material when they were fronted by a teenager named Melissa, NBJ’s “Dead Porker” (there I go with Not So Quiet again!) or a less new-wave version of CCTV’s Jennifer Giba. On the whole, JJ Doll have certainly found their mark with this single, and if they can’t keep it together for another record, I look forward to their next slightly-different incarnation just the same.
Le Villejuif Underground Le Villejuif Underground LP (SDZ)
Nathan Roche is the man behind Le Villejuif Underground, a musician and poet whose records and general underground presence I’ve enjoyed in the past, but never quite to the degree I’m enjoying Le Villejuif Underground’s self-titled debut. It’s a simple, goofy-happy rock record, the sort of product of which there are already an infinite amount, but few carry this level of effortless cool. It’s like what I assumed Girls were going to sound like before I heard them – some accidental confluence of Lou Reed, Jonathan Richman and Elvis Costello presenting itself over a bopping rock group that recalls The Clean or Scott And Charlene’s Wedding. It’s an obvious style choice, but simply the way Roche pronounces the name “Shannon” is enough for me to follow this guy off a bridge, pied-piper style. No idea where in Australia he was raised to have such a cool downtown NYC accent, but I want to visit that town and talk to the locals. Le Villejuif Underground is a great record, the sort of thing I would expect Pitchfork to fall over themselves to cover, at least back when they were all about What’s Your Rupture? and Captured Tracks instead of Drake and Yeezy. The fact that they’re called “Le Villejuif Underground” certainly isn’t helping their ability to connect with prospective fans, but I don’t plan on talking about them much anyway – this band is so cool and righteous that I plan on keeping them to myself.
Lumpy And The Dumpers Huff My Sack LP (Lumpy)
Like so many seminal hardcore-punk bands before them, a great singles band like Lumpy And The Dumpers finally put together their debut album, with somewhat mixed results. I am certainly a Lumpy fan (both band and label); they brought slime to punk rock prominence in the 2010s, not to mention the reigning best modern punk YouTube video clip, “Boy Hit By Fireworks In NYC”. I was ready to love Huff My Sack, but I dunno… something is slightly off. I can’t locate the instantly memorable anthem that I was hoping for (nothing close to “Gnats In The Pisser” or “Sex Pit” at least), and their sound is a little muddier than before – a slight step-down in sound quality similar to Hank Wood’s slide from first album to second. And while I appreciate Lumpy’s fascination with testicles throughout Huff My Sack – his lyrics are strongest when focusing on bodily functions, macabre gross-outs or anything generally yucky – the grossness here doesn’t seem as genuine somehow. The lyrics of “I’m Gonna Move To New York” kinda miss the mark when one considers the wealth of material that clueless trust-fund hipster-punks provide (a Thurston Moore jab in 2016 feels particularly flat), and an anti-cop song doesn’t feel ragingly righteous when followed by a track called “Pee In The Pool”. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a solid slice of garbage-pail punk, but something about Huff My Sack feels like a band impersonating the things that Lumpy And The Dumpers do rather than Lumpy And The Dumpers themselves, as if they are now aware of their underground fame and trying to do the things they think people want them to do rather than simply letting their most bizarre tendencies lead the way. You thought it was impossible to be serious about Lumpy And The Dumpers, but look at me over here.
Machine Woman Genau House 12″ (Where To Now?)
Where To Now? has quickly become a “buy on sight” label for me – they’ve released mind-boggling 12″s from Lutto Lento and Beatrice Dillon in the past year, and this new one from Machine Woman is equally fantastic. I reviewed Machine Woman’s For Sweden 12″ a couple months ago, a six-track EP brimming with ideas, but she slims it down with Genau House, comprised of two originals and one remix. “I Can Mend Your Broken Heart” is a gorgeous and sensual dip into Machine Woman’s flotation tank, working a chilly ambiance and crackly glitches into an all-night groove, topped off by her disaffected, looking-elsewhere vocals. If this song was a muffin I’d eat the whole dozen and sit there smiling stupidly, chest covered in crumbs. “Friday Night” has a similar effect, with swerving kicks and codeine-dipped vocals to imagine a Paranoid London track that can’t feel its own face. Nice choice in bringing in Kassem Mosse to remix “I Can Mend Your Broken Heart”, and his bass goes beneath the foundation and rattles the earth’s crust while he slowly dissolves Machine Woman’s original cut like a drop of red food-coloring in a bowl of chilled vodka. Pretty much everything is right about Genau House, and while I’m eager for more from both Machine Woman and Where To Now?, I’m content to linger in this pool well beyond the pruning of my fingers and toes.
Mosquito Ego Glomb LP (Ever/Never)
Mosquito Ego’s Glomb comes with a strikingly beautiful cover painting, replicated even larger in fold-out poster form as an insert, the sort of thing you’d want to hang up in your toddler’s bedroom until you start counting the penises and anuses that are subliminally rendered within. It’s a busy, colorful grab-bag of craziness, which extends to the sound of Mosquito Ego as well. My first thought was “this sounds like a band that would have a split record with Melt Banana”, and I’m sticking with it – if you’ve collected Melt Banana records like I have over the years, you’re used to the zany noise-rock, digital grindcore, spastic funk and occasional ska-punk bands that shared vinyl real estate, and Mosquito Ego float somewhere between all that. I’m reminded of the psychotic noise-funk of Mercury 4F, of course the Boredoms, maybe a touch of Dazzling Killmen and Nisennenmondai too. Elastic noise-rock riffs will meet synthetic animal noises, break-beat samples skitter past inorganic drones and everyone involved seems to be having a marvelous time. All this from a German band featuring ex-members of ’90s somber hardcore outfit Cluster Bomb Unit. The world is a beautiful place.
Mulan Serrico Discret LP (Crudités Tapes)
Crudités Tapes is a small label under the umbrella of SDZ Records (perhaps my favorite Parisian experimental post-punk label going today), focusing more on the electronic / dance side of things, and Mulan Serrico is their latest export. Do punks really not buy dance records unless they are on a dance-specific sub-label? I’ve never understood the need for that differentiation, but alas. Anyway, Mulan Serrico is the work of one Nicolas Murer, who I enjoyed as a member of smash n’ bash noise-punk duo Gueule Ouverte a couple years ago (seek out their LP, it’s cheap!), now out on his own with a couple keyboards, a pack of smokes and surely a pair of tinted sunglasses ready to land on the bridge of his nose. I’m strongly reminded of the simplistic synth-wave sleaze of fellow Frenchmen Scorpion Violente, although Mulan Serrico is mercifully free of lecherous imagery. Discret plays out somewhere between early Chris & Cosey and the Excitebike soundtrack, with basic acid movements and throwback melodies not far from the first Veiled album, much of which is joined by sonically-affected male vocals. Nothing particularly exciting, but if you’re throwing a dungeon dance-party and the bar is only serving red wine, you might be wishing you had a copy of Discret nearby.
Nones XOXOXO Sue LP (no label)
Chicago group Nones move from the stable housing of HoZac to a self-financed residence, offering their second full-length album, XOXOXO Sue. Been listening to it for a while, not so much because I’m loving it but because I’m hoping to find something to say worth reading about it. Nones play a very basic form of mid-paced punk rock, with debt to both the ’90s Touch & Go scene and the ’00s HoZac scene (which is to say, strong flourishes of moody indie-rock and snarky garage-punk). Maybe a touch of Wipers in there too, although referencing the Wipes halfheartedly is about as useful as saying a band sounds like rock music. Vocalist Brandon Bayles has kind of a stilted, well-enunciated delivery, and there’s even a song where he assumes the perspective of a woman named Sue who wrote him a letter, singing her lyrics in a higher register, which was probably amusingly awkward to witness in the studio. Definitely not a record I’ll be coming back to much, but I’d imagine they have a small-but-dedicated crew of friends who come out to support them and sing along to songs like “Too Old To Die Young” and they surely matter more to Nones than whatever I might have to say.
1-800-BAND High Beams LP (Amost Ready)
Either you’re willing to acknowledge a band named “1-800-BAND” or you never will be, and for those on the wrong side of the line, I’m sorry you hate fun so much! High Beams is my first interaction with the group, and it’s a solid dose of buttery rock n’ roll comfort. I’m hearing sky-high Cheap Trick hooks on basically every track, with an affable mainstream new-wave sound that recalls The Records or The dB’s or one of those other bands that you ended up buying an album by because you really didn’t want to leave the record store empty-handed and it was fifty cents and looked vaguely punk. (Maybe I’m projecting – do any of you own Tuff Darts LPs?) 1-800-BAND sound so insanely confident in their heart-on-sleeve ’80s commercial power-pop that their songs almost instantaneously transport me to a place in time I never truly inhabited: skipping out of detention to go chew gum and make out under the bleachers before hitchhiking to the big city to see Tom Petty perform on his Full Moon Fever tour. If you ever heard Kid Rock’s “All Summer Long” and wished it was cool, go get yourself some High Beams.
Posset Fanzine Ink Dries Like Black Blood / Slurpy Slurpy Creep Creep 7″ (I Dischi Del Barone)
The I Dischi Del Barone singles just keep on coming, this one from Joe Murray AKA Posset, a sound artist who’s been committing his experiments to tape for almost a decade. Can’t say I’m familiar with him previously, but not knowing anything is often part of the fun of the I Dischi Del Barone experience. “Fanzine Ink Dries Like Black Blood” is a quickly-cut assemblage of vocal wheezing – some deep asthma is explored here, to be sure. Took me a while to determine the record speed, considering the unusual tone of the human voice being applied, but speed determination is the other fun part of the I Dischi Del Barone experience. “Slurpy Slurpy Creep Creep” certainly slurps and creeps along, meditating on what sounds like a sun-melted Walkman attempting to play a Pork Queen cassette from 1995. It’s like a glass of water with plenty of backwash, both viscous and gross. Nice move, Posset!
Primetime Going Places 7″ (La Vida Es En Mus)
Primetime were one of the best punk bands (maybe the best?) I saw live last year, and not because they all did backflips into their gear after every song or anything crazy like that, but simply because of the songs themselves. Each new tune was beautifully dumber than the last, inexplicably catchy to the point where you assume they are classic obscure punk covers you need to go home and research. They’re all Primetime originals though, and the opener here, “Pervert”, is probably their pinnacle thus far. It has the same delightfully rudimentary charm of Delta 5’s “Mind Your Own Business”, but with the best sex-themed punk lyrics since Good Throb’s album – charming and sloppy and hilarious all at once. Actually, if vocalist Claudia Serfaty just sang “da da da” instead of actual words, the stop-start riff makes it an unforgettable tune regardless of anything else – truly a song for the ages. The other three tunes are fantastic as well, sweet and goofy and memorable in a way that Eddy Current could’ve went instead of becoming grandiose and introspective. If anything, Going Places is over much too fast, but I can’t think of a better way to develop carpal tunnel than flipping this one over and over. Top recommendation!
Rough Kids Rough Kids LP (Sorry State)
Rough Kids sounds like the name of a fictional band to rival The Nasty Bits on HBO’s Vinyl (RIP), and it suits this LA quartet, what with their attractive black-and-white portraits on the back, band member Luis seductively taking a pull from his cigarette as if he has no idea they cause cancer. Musically, they work pretty well as a “grown-up serious punk adults” unit – I’m hearing the tuneful power-pop of Exploding Hearts channeled through a scowling, unhappy set of songs befitting No Hope For The Kids or The Observers (and one track that cribs the “Rockin’ In The Free World” riff). Very classically-inspired stuff here, with hooks about their “TV screen”, denim jackets with just the right flair (is that an original Bags pin I spy on Tsubasa’s?), images of the band standing in front of an empty lot with a chain-link fence backdrop… it’s a nostalgia that goes down incredibly smooth for anyone who ever wanted to pump their fist at CBGBs while wearing ripped jeans. Rough Kids don’t add to the lexicon, but they certainly studied it well, and if you’re looking for a group of bad boys (which I guess is an exact synonym for Rough Kids) to bring you back to a time that most of us are too young to have experienced firsthand, they’re ready and able.
Soft Gang Soft Gang LP (Sophomore Lounge)
New York City’s Soft Gang, featuring ex-members of Dichroics and Sapat, arrive with this self-titled album on Sophomore Lounge. If all I had to go on was sound alone and I didn’t have the handy promo sheet in front of me, I still would’ve guessed that this album was the work of grown adults, probably closer to having teenaged children than being teenagers themselves – this is experienced avant indie-rock. Soft Gang play a moderate, plaintive form of post-punk, reminiscent of the smarter-than-emo bands out of DC like Lungfish, or maybe Bluetip or Unwound’s milder tunes. The songs are far from energetic, but purposeful, as though each lull or guitar dropout was thoughtfully considered. Vocalist Kaori Nakamura’s soft, quaintly mumbled prose that seemingly ignores the song structure behind it calls to mind Deerhoof’s Satomi Matsuzaki, although the manic energy and child-like giddiness of Deerhoof is nowhere to be found on Soft Gang, even though both bands are probably roughly the same age. Soft Gang prefer to pensively skulk through their tunes, to the point where you can’t tell if they are suppressing an explosion of sonic intrigue or just really tired. I suppose that’s what it means to be a Soft Gang.
Tackle Benzedrine 12″ (Another Dark Age)
Australia’s answer to Blackest Ever Black, Another Dark Age, comes correct with the debut 12″ EP of Tackle, an artist working in the realm of metallic and frightening industrial-techno. It’s a genre that has certainly passed its ideal weight by now, and the trope of using a prescription drug name as a song title to infer some sort of sinister darkness is a bit played, but I made it past my reservations and was pleased I did. The title track is pretty interesting – instead of taking metallic pings, live-wire shocks and crunching machinery and laying it out over a bass-soaked 4/4 grid, Tackle treats it like Doormouse or Venetian Snares circa 2003, whipping up a fierce and minimal drill-n-bass workout. Picture Chris Corsano as an X-Men villain, laying over the slain bodies of Blue Man Group as he pummels a chemical factory with his drumsticks and you might catch my drift. The b-side offers other interesting takes on negative-sounding modern industrial: “Stung” sounds like Fieldy from Korn caught in a Saw death device, his only way out by joining Moebius and Plank in their sessions for Rastakraut Pasta (others might say it sounds a hell of a lot like Powell). Final track “AGR 003” is the least interesting but still quite enjoyable, hitting like an Ed Banger remix of Emptyset, with monotone static bursts snugly snapped into Mr. Oizo’s template. It all makes for a wonderful, optimistic take on evil electronic dance music, one that 2016 certainly needs.
Writhing Squares In The Void Above LP (Siltbreeze)
My city has a musical duo that play bass guitar, drum machine, flute and saxophone, does yours? They’re called Writhing Squares and it’s only appropriate that their debut album is released by Siltbreeze, one of the vanguard labels of international underground music. Writhing Squares are quite cool, bringing their own particular ideas and instrumentation to tried-and-true rock. Most songs operate around the nimble bass lines and drum machine accompaniment, providing the flute, saxophone or whatever else plenty of room to soar around, kite-like through their psychedelic skies. Both members of the group are clearly accomplished players, so don’t expect any skronking or tuneless-for-tuneless’-sake squealing; rather, Writhing Squares play with melody and bounce ideas off each other to the point where it’s hard to tell if these songs are righteous mind-melded improvisations or fine-crafted compositions. The music has me thinking of some sort of Hawkwind and Huey Lewis collaboration, but with all guitars extracted and just the melodic bones loosely dancing together. There’s certainly the feel of Americanized kraut-rock action too, like Neu! and Can aren’t far from Writhing Squares’ personal turntables but it’s actually ZZ Top and The Ramones that are embedded in their DNA. The album really gets cooking by the second side – I’m reminded of the earliest Wooden Shjips records, where it was clear the group struck gold by building their sound from a few distinct sonic ingredients (and both groups have similarly echoed / unintelligible vocals). I can only assume Writhing Squares will continue their upward journey into and through the void.