Alpha Hopper Last Chance Power Drive LP (One Percent Press / Radical Empathy)
No matter how hard I try, I can’t help but think of a toilet floating through the darkness of space when I read the name “Alpha Hopper” – it’s just where I’m at these days. Anyway, this group comes from the unlikely town of Buffalo, NY, which is as good as any for cranking out thoughtful post-hardcore music. They’ve got a pretty good angle on things: take a Hot Snakes riff and force it into a psychedelic chasm, sneak an At The Drive-In rhythm and hammer on it as though it was written for KARP. And then, a track like “Launch Pad Blues” sounds like Priests aiming for a Load Records contract. It feels as if Alpha Hopper want to write weird and perplexing songs but are so firmly anchored in ’90s post-punk / indie-rock that they’ll still find appeal with even the most conservative of rock-centric door-guys. It’s almost kind of refreshing, in that Alpha Hopper don’t revert to lo-fi noise or hordes of effects to crazy-up their music, but rather write intricate and loony melodies that a vocalist yells confidently beside (I’d tell you her name but in Googling I can’t find a single band-name listing for Alpha Hopper, which is kind of cool). You can do far worse things with your time than taking a ride on this space toilet.
Anxiety Anxiety LP (La Vida Es Un Mus)
Either this website has been around too long or punks are too lazy, as this is the second hardcore-punk band calling themselves Anxiety to be reviewed within these pages. I guess as long as they are as great as this, all punk bands can call themselves Anxiety for all I care, as this Scottish group is a recent favorite. They’re certainly of the modern era, most notably through the oom-pah drumming and general vocal delivery, but they stick out to me for a couple reasons. Most notably, they’ve written some actual songs: tracks like “Dark & Wet” and “The Worst” have lodged themselves in my brain for a few weeks now and I’m content for them to stay there as long as they’d like. Additionally, they cover a lot of stylistic ground without coming across as disjointed – I’m hearing plenty of Rudimentary Peni, but there are also some moments that recall Feederz’s pungent stench (they nail the guitar tone), the noise-laced bleating of FNU Ronnies, the thuggish misanthropy of Toxic State Records and the uncontrolled menace of Sick Things. There’s nary a dud song in the bunch, and while it moves by quickly, there’s plenty of meat to sink one’s teeth into. How pissed are Lumpy & The Dumpers gonna be when they find out some other band wrote a song called “Sewer In My Mind” before they did?
ARIISK Fatal Errors LP (Scrapes)
I was so crazy about the new Hogg EP on the Scrapes label that I decided to pick up the other recent Scrapes release, ARIISK’s debut LP, because why not. After a few spins, ARIISK is no Hogg, I’ll tell you that, but rather a fairly successful dish of instrumental synth-scapes. ARIISK definitely goes the classic John Carpenter / ’80s soundtrack route, avoiding any notion of dance music and instead creeping down the hallways of abandoned office buildings and loading a shotgun behind a desk in preparation for the final zombie confrontation. I feel like we’re just about coming down from Stranger Things mania now, just the sort of overexposure that can spur a backlash, but ARIISK are probably too deep underground to really feel any effect either way. They do a nice overall job, very prepped for bringing any Stephen King novel to life, particularly if he ever wrote about a haunted computer that trapped its users in a bit-mapped hell. Probably won’t visit Fatal Errors too much, as I already have an abundance of this stuff sitting around and nothing here significantly sticks out, but that’s not to say it isn’t a fine example of creepy ’80s nostalgia, ripe for autumnal consumption.
Jay Boivin & Germain Gauthier Pinball Summer – Music From The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack LP (Mighty Mouth Music)
How obsessed with the minutiae of early ’80s rock ephemera do you have to be, not just to seek out the soundtrack to little-known Porky’s rip Pinball Summer, but to put together a reissue? The freaks at Mighty Mouth Music may never reach an end for their first-wave punk-era archaeological quest, and this soundtrack, put together by none other than Jay Boivin and his friend Germain Gauthier, is a particularly amusing fossil. It seems like they’re aiming for punk-sploitation but don’t even have the edge for that – these songs are pure cheese-rock to be filed alongside The Wrestling Album, offering neutered, off-brand songs in the style of Rick Derringer, Billy Joel, Cheap Trick and Ric Ocasek. It’s harmless and stupid fun, like a funnel cake eating contest at your local county’s summer carnival, but ultimately just as much of a throwaway novelty. Unless of course you really care about funnel cake. Call me when someone reissues the soundtrack to The Stöned Age!
Sébastien Casanova Cloudy Others 12″ (Platon)
So glad I stumbled onto this mysterious new 12″ on the French label Platon, as producer Sébastien Casanova put together four gorgeous tracks of crime-noir house music. Can I will this genre into existence? Alongside Beatrice Dillon’s recent collaboration with Rupert Clervaux, I am digging techno with the feel of black-and-white city streets, fog shrouding the streetlights and a man in a tweed trenchcoat speed-walking into a dark alley. Casanova really conjures those images here, with sensual trumpet, plodding house beats (I’ve had to confirm more than once that this is a 33 RPM record) and plenty of sonic steam wafting up from subway grates. He integrates some acoustic bass quite nicely on “Chaloupe”, but it’s the opening title track that has me wanting to build an entire DJ night / Spotify channel / personal aesthetic around. I can’t stop listening to Cloudy Others, and hope this isn’t a random dalliance but a sign of more to come. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to smoke an unfiltered cigarette as I thumb through a yellowed Richard Stark novel and blast Sébastien Casanova into the wee hours of the night, pondering the perfect heist.
Centre Negative Emotion Is Cringey LP (Ever/Never)
Seemed like only a matter of time before sub-underground, experimental DIY rock music fell under the clandestine spell of internet meme culture, a condition of which Centre Negative seem to be diagnosed. They come from Auckland, New Zealand, a town I wasn’t entirely sure even had internet access, but Centre Negative come packed with post-ironic self-hatred and snarkily choreographed misery, and it suits their tunes nicely. They sway from semi-crusty acoustic jangle-rock to lightweight programmed beats, often led by a chorus of voices both affected and inebriated. Imagine some sort of style clash between The Frogs and Afflicted Man and you’re close, although neither of them quite touch upon the rickety drum programming favored by Centre Negative. Just like memes, there are a lot of genuinely funny moments within Emotion Is Cringey, alongside bad ideas that should’ve never made it out of their room. They’re a strange group for sure, pushing the limits of good taste without feeling like a tossed off waste of time, and I’m glad I spent some time with Centre Negative and Emotion Is Cringey, even if I’d feel a little reticent about letting them spend the night.
Sarah Mary Chadwick This Fits / This Is Familiar 7″ (I Dischi Del Barone)
I Dischi throws us a curveball by not throwing a curveball, as this single by Sarah Mary Chadwick is purely of the song-based musical variety. Chadwick put out an album on Siltbreeze a couple years ago and a new one on Rice Is Nice earlier this year, and offers a little extra here as well, all with the violently-painted pornographic cover art we’ve come to expect. I am a little thrown at just how strongly Chadwick sounds like Cat Power on “This Fits” – it’s a slow-burning after-hours guitar strum with Chadwick singing uncomfortably personal lyrics (be they fictional or otherwise), her voice creaking and bending as though the weight of all the world’s broken relationships is perched on her tongue. Same goes for “This Is Familiar”, and while I am well aware of how lazy a Cat Power reference can be for any female singer-guitarist who plays sullen songs, Chadwick doesn’t just inhabit the same airspace, her voice follows the same frequency with striking similarity, her Australian accent barely peeking through. Nothing about it seems to be an affectation, though – these songs seem to be performed in the only natural way Chadwick could play them. I just need to remember to hide this cover the next time my parents come to visit, lest I get Chadwick’d.
Cheater Slicks On Your Knees LP (Almost Ready)
Here’s a band with nothing to prove, Columbus, OH’s Cheater Slicks. They’ve got over a dozen albums under their belt already (that’s not counting the three or four live albums), and their bad-news garage-punk remains sturdy as ever, as if old age just brought about tougher calluses instead of arthritis. This being the case, there are hours of Cheater Slicks material I will almost certainly never hear, but I’m always happy to check in and make sure they are running smoothly, like with On Your Knees, their newest and second for New York punk mainstay Almost Ready. They still sound thick and solid, like the Cramps high on HGH or some sort of drunken celebration-turned-brawl between Gun Club, Watery Love and Dead Moon. I find myself tapping along with more of On Your Knees than most garage-rock records of its ilk, and some of their lyrics really stick, like the first track’s boast of stomping all over a hardwood floor (who can’t relate to that?). At this point, I’m convinced Cheater Slicks will outlive me, their world-weary bitterness propelling them into the advanced age that sensible diets and exercise never could.
Stefan Christensen American Pastoral Again 12″ (Ever/Never)
Stefan Christensen is one of the New York underground’s most active guitarists, with practically a dozen bands under his belt (you might be most familiar with Estrogen Highs) as well as stepping out solo. Ever/Never is just as busy, and just as underground, so it makes for a suitable partnership here via American Pastoral Again, a soothing suite of noisy and tuneful guitar music. The title track encompasses the a-side, and it’s pretty charming: imagine a particularly moody Moss Icon track where the band was replaced by The Dead C, with Christensen doing his best Jonathan Vance over a back-and-forth melody. There are four tracks on the b-side, and they move in different ways while sounding the same – “The Company Distrust” works a Teenage Jesus rhythm, “Feminist” chimes like a bootleg raga, “Gender” tears a sonic hole like a Forced Exposure-distributed Gate 7″ and “Home” is a dirge that stumbles through a dark foyer, calmly wrapping things up. Separately, these tracks are all nice, but played sequentially in the order intended, American Pastoral Again captivates, a satisfying antipasto of noisy, sun-ripened guitars and the various spaces they can comfortably inhabit.
Collector Triple Crown LP (Drawing Heat)
Don’t think that Australia isn’t also a suitable home for today’s “experimental” techno scene, as Jason Campbell’s Collector alias churns out a healthy dose via Triple Crown. Campbell favors a calm gloaming atmosphere for his beats without relying on spooky horror motifs – this is techno that welcomes darkness as a friend, not an enemy. He works somewhere between the mechanical groove of early Robert Hood and recent Terrence Dixon, with an atmospheric setting that has me thinking he’s probably familiar with the Modern Love label. Collector doesn’t harness the power of bass so much as smooth it out across all frequencies, allowing a track like “Borrowed Time” to slide through your consciousness, its warning-siren synapse more of a welcome than a caution, and “Shark Tooth Necklace” to cut the BPM in half and coast on puffs of industrial steam. Perhaps it’s Triple Crown‘s understated sonic template that has me appreciating it more than your average technofile upstart, or the fact that Mikey Young mastered it, as I like picturing him bobbing his head along with Collector’s insistent grooves. Either way, it’s an easy one to enjoy.
The Dance Asthmatics Lifetime Of Secretion 12″ (Ever/Never)
Really impressed by the vinyl debut from Christchurch, New Zealand’s Dance Asthmatics, Lifetime Of Secretion. They’ve got a great sound, one that could’ve wedged itself into various scenes through the decades (late ’70s UK DIY, mid-’80s oddball Texas underground (ala Butthole Surfers or Culturcide), early ’00s Load Records scum-wave), but also stands out on its own. A guitar (or guitar-sounding) riff will call to mind Arab On Radar at their most irritating, met by a lead-weighted bass reminiscent of PiL and a vocalist who sounds like Pheromoans’ Russell Walker doing his best John Lydon impression. Their songs are mostly pretty slow, about as relaxed as something no-wavey could ever get, which has me thinking of Satanic Rockers or Sacred Product granted a proper studio recording and proper musicians to flesh it out. The names I’ve checked in this review would make for a mix CD I’d rarely remove from my car, and The Dance Asthmatics manage to stir it all confidently and smoothly, as if their leisurely pacing was the only way a band could ever choose to perform misanthropic alternative rock. Very nice find, from the extensive and well-fed A&R team over at Brooklyn’s Ever/Never.
Albert Demuth Haircare For Assholes LP (no label)
Albert Demuth’s debut solo album came packaged in delicate gold foil paper, the sort of record so attractive and dicey to remove, I winced each time I decided to give it a spin. Demuth makes it difficult for us in a different way with Haircare For Assholes – the very cardboard mailer it’s mailed in is to be turned inside out and fashioned into its sleeve, filled with beautiful and elaborate silk-screens (and instructions for applying velcro tabs – this is what it must feel like to be one of Damien Hirst’s assistants). And as was the case with his debut, the music enclosed within makes all the manual labor worth it, as it’s a gorgeous album of subtle, very-much-solo guitar music. You can practically picture Demuth, a wiry figure hunched over a folding chair, clutching his guitar like a life preserver as he wrings his sad post-balladry out of a small practice amp and microphone. Picture a barely aware Leonard Cohen recording for Corwood Industries, or Bill Callahan cast as the music director for the next season of True Detective, where the entirety of the series is just King Dude gazing into a pile of diner pancakes, running through flashbacks of life’s little tragedies. The harder you stare into Haircare For Assholes, the more you cannot escape it, not that you’d ever want to anyway.
Ectoplasm Girls New Feeling Come LP (iDEAL)
I can’t get enough of this new album by Sweden’s Ectoplasm Girls, a sister duo who boast similar hair and sport matching denim jackets. The name Ectoplasm Girls has me thinking of turn-of-the-century neo-no-wave acts that’d appear on 31G or Troubleman, but their music of Ectoplasm Girls isn’t remotely grating or antagonistic – rather, they’ve crafted some wonderfully disorienting early-industrial soundscapes for us to enjoy. Throughout New Feeling Come I’m reminded of early experiments by Nurse With Wound and Throbbing Gristle, as well as the bristly collages of Black To Comm and the slow-building metropolitan menace of Shadowlust. It’s worth noting that there seems to be none of the antagonistic, shock-you-into-reality aesthetic that often comes attached to industrial music, however – Ectoplasm Girls create music with all sharp edges sanded down, like a box of poisonous snakes who’ve been defanged and rendered harmless. Rather, New Feeling Comes dances on the edge of perception, with sounds that filter in from all angles, not with a sense of foreboding so much as bewilderment. It’s easy-listening industrial for those who want mysterious darkness without the violence or pornography it often comes packaged in, and I can’t get enough.
Avalon Emerson Whities 006 12″ (Whities)
Whities is a new-ish UK dance label that I’ve already put on high alert, based on the tasteful and distinct sides they’ve released this year and last. My favorite of the bunch is this one care of Avalon Emerson, with two impactful and uplifting techno cuts and one beatless redux. “The Frontier” opens with a kinetic beat, tumbling forward with infinite energy, and that alone would be enough for me, but then Emerson lays this gorgeous, heart-melting melody over top. It’s as if the track itself is a morning jog through a nature preserve and its synth melody is the unexpected migration of some beautifully rare egret, taking your breath away with its strength and grace. The melody is so simple, easily playable by one finger, but it makes for a perfect combination, a melodic password that gains entry into my soul. “2000 Species Of Cacti” takes hold on the flip, and it opens with a nimble volley to resemble Ricardo Villalobos playing racquetball. It’s a fun little Perlon-suitable jaunt, and then a minute or so into it Emerson drops another pristine lead, crackling open like light through the blinds of a very expensive hotel in a faraway land. Before I can catch my breath, there’s an abbreviated version of “The Frontier”‘s synth lead to wrap things up. I want to live in these songs, in the hopes that dancing, rather than walking, becomes my primary mode of transportation.
Nicolas Jaar Sirens LP (Other People)
Man, does Nico Jaar know how to release an album! There’s a deluxe “scratch-off” cover (complete with an authentic twenty-five cent piece, practically flaunting Jaar’s ability to waste money) for an album that has its own exclusive domain name (that’d be sirensss.com), and when you get past all the ostentatious luxury of the packaging, Jaar makes you wait a full minute before any music or sound occurs on the album. It’s like he’s taken the concept of prolonging the beat-drop to a new level, as Sirens‘s silent opening forces the listener to shut up and sit at full attention, to realize the importance of what is about to happen. In the hands of anyone else, I might hate all this, but there’s something about Nicolas Jaar’s unabashed pretentiousness that works perfectly with his virtuosic talent as a producer of left-field electronic art-pop. I’ve been waiting for the follow-up to Space Is Only Noise for a while now, particularly as Darkside came and went and I feared he was exclusively going the route of avant-garde cinema soundtracking (which is pretty cool in its own right). Sirens is all I could’ve hoped for, and it’s truly great: there are plenty of other-worldly keyboards and pianos, slow-motion ’80s montages from alternate universes, and boppy electro-pop with his youthful Mark Knopfler-esque voice rapping along. Even a little drum n’ bass action, right on-trend with the British dub-techno experimentalists who are also trying to give it a modern update, and a track that features what seems to be a conversation between Jaar and his (famous artist) father, recorded when he was a boy, pushing all the right buttons for any Boards Of Canada fans in need of a little hyper-blurry childhood nostalgia. And “Three Sides Of Nazareth” is the best modern Suicide rip I’ve ever heard! All these influences flow effortlessly and beautifully under Jaar’s scrutiny, and it never feels like the pastiche of trendy styles a lesser producer would provide, but rather his own personal and detailed world of music and art. I’m just thankful he still allows regular folk like us to peer in once in a while.
Barry Knoedl Baby Don’t Give Up 7″ (Frodis)
The reissues just keep on coming, like an overflowing hot spring that no one actually wants, this time in the form of Barry Knoedl’s sole release, 1978’s Baby Don’t Give Up on Death Records (who really had one of the coolest center sticker templates in history). “Baby Don’t Give Up” is a pure shot of limp power-pop sweetness, like a candy cigarette laced with Diet Coke. I can’t help but think of David Cassidy rollerskating through the credits of some late ’70s high-school sitcom when I listen to “Baby Don’t Give Up”, just so wimpy and completely devoid of the bite that came with punk rock and even glam, and I have to say, it hits the spot nicely for me. Sometimes you just need a taste of the Starland Vocal Band masquerading as rock n’ roll, and Knoedl had the magic touch. Flip it for “I Just Want To Make You Happy”, which echoes Christopher Cross or Steely Dan, definitely stepping into the ’80s with a different kind of coke on the mind and just as slick, if not quite as sweet. Baby Don’t Give Up is one of at least four forgotten power-pop singles that Frodis Records has reissued this year, and I like to think they’re nudging at least one of those annoying Record Store Day Barry Manilow Super Mario Bros. Theme Song picture disc orders back a few weeks when they send their “digital remix” masters to the plant.
Kyo Aktuel Musik LP (Posh Isolation)
Posh Isolation has done a particularly keen job of transitioning from bleak noise (not unlike a Danish Hospital Productions) to avant-garde techno and experimentalism, and if they keep putting out records like this Kyo LP, I’m all for it. Kyo features Hannes Norrvide (Lust For Youth’s frontman) alongside Frederick Valentin (he of a project called “Complicated Universal Cum”) and they’ve put together a gorgeous selection of airy jazz fractals and beautiful post-noise somnambulance. This sort of stuff almost always sounds dark and foreboding, particularly in the hands of anyone remotely in Posh Isolation’s orbit, but Kyo sound downright optimistic and cheery at times, as if each track offers a fresh sunrise rife with possibility. The use of what I assume to be live horns and piano works wonderfully over their slow looping pads and patterns, at times calling to mind Circle’s ambient-jazz delight Tower. It’s the softest way to warm up your day, and yet Aktuel Musik avoids entering hokey “new age” territory by virtue of its sophistication and texture, like something Nils Frahm might produce if he were forced to hang out with Marching Church for a weekend. Recommended!
Lucy & Rrose The Lotus Eaters 12″ (Stroboscopic Artefacts)
Lucy and Rrose are two of the more intriguing artists to come out of the avant-industrial techno boom of the early ’10s, so I was interested to hear what they’d come up with in the form of a four-track collaborative EP. These four lengthy tracks are out to test the patience of anyone but the most dedicated of devotees, which is surely by design, and I’m on their side with this move – if you can’t handle a twelve-minute drone experiment or seven minutes of alarm clock-chirp, these dudes don’t want you around. The EP opens with that aforementioned smoke alarm, steady at first, then warped through various sonic holes and filters, eventually making it safely to deep space where previously depleted oxygen levels are augmented and a cozy sleep pod awaits. The inner two tracks (A2 and B1) utilize normal techno rhythms, albeit with the same twitchy feel, as though some grand technology of the future is about to malfunction and you’ve misplaced the user’s manual. As I listen, I enjoy wondering if it’s Lucy’s more esoteric and occult interests pulling Rrose toward long-form sound experiments, or if it’s Rrose’s avant history (his resume includes work with Bob Ostertag) causing Lucy to drift from the dance-floor (or whose idea it was to forgo much in the way of brutal bass treatments). It’s a murky, undefined relationship, and The Lotus Eaters is a fine result.
Magnetic Ghost Loss Molecules LP (Magnetic Ghost)
An endless brown horizon, undulating toward infinity, greets the owner of Magnetic Ghost’s album Loss Molecules. Depending on your point of view, the music of Magnetic Ghost renders a similar sensation to that of the cover image: perhaps profound and deep, perhaps kinda boring and brown. Magnetic Ghost is mostly the work of one man named Andy Larson, but the sound he conjures goes IMAX wide, combining shoegaze, drone and post-rock in a pretty reasonable formula. It’s music that seems to have Explosions In The Sky, Radiohead, SUNN O))) and Sigur Rós in its Spotify history, but would also work as a gateway group to Band Of Horses fans who are looking to take the plunge in something more epic and avant-garde, the sort of heavy beauty they can immerse themselves in while grading papers in a coffee shop. Larson does a fine job with things (and when he sings, he displays a tunefulness that any indie-but-aspirational group would be lucky to have), so if you’re not actively trying to avoid this sort of music, why not queue up some Magnetic Ghost?
Ryan Martin & Joachim Nordwall Trance Below The Streets LP (iDEAL / Robert & Leopold)
Trance below the streets… ambient in the sheets? Ryan Martin, co-owner and operator of Dais Records, seems to have amassed a collection of vintage analog electronics to rival NASA circa 1969. Rather than keep them to himself (this is what I’d do, taunt my friends with pictures and brag about how cool they sound), he has been releasing a number of records in the past couple years, this one teaming up with Joachim Nordwall of The Skull Defekts (among many other projects). Trance Below The Streets is a great title and it sets the stage nicely for these four meaty excursions into electronic hardware. As the album begins, deep sonar gusts keep inaccurate time as crackly sine-waves and blissful static intermingle, all while the title has me picturing a molten rave attended only by sewer crocodiles. “Retrace / Reverse” follows, a track that could just as easily be Terry Riley performing a piece for cargo trains as a lost Maurizio Bianchi spool. Two different but suitable excursions follow on the flip. Not only do I enjoy listening to these two young men twiddle and patch their vintage processors, Trance Below The Streets makes me wish I was right there twiddling along with them, an effect that certain forms of great music tend to have on me.
Messrs Messrs LP (Heel Turn)
A pairing as suitable as Hawk and Animal, Columbus, OH’s Messrs team up with Columbus, OH’s Heel Turn Records for their vinyl full-length debut. The cover displays the band’s name rendered in various cuts of meat, and it’s not a shock, as Messrs sound like the kind of band that would list “bacon” in their social media interests. They fall closer to hardcore than garage-rock, but mostly split the difference with belligerent noise-rock vibes that recall The Jesus Lizard and Cows, bands who thumbed their nose at anything they couldn’t eat, snort or hump. They even get a little Nirvana-Bleach-y with a track like “Slop Meat”, although Messrs’ vocalist insists on slurring through his vocals as though he were failing a sobriety test and well-aware of the fines to be levied. I’m not entirely convinced that Messrs have pushed through the hordes of groups offering up a similarly hardcore-informed noise-rock sound, but I do know that if I saw them storming through the crowd near me I’d give them a wide berth, lest I catch E. coli.
DD Owen DD Owen LP (12XU)
Caught posing: I didn’t realize DD Owen was responsible not just for Sick Thoughts, but also LSDogs and Chicken Chain, the latter of which is my favorite of the bunch, a mess of grotesque and confounding hardcore-punk. Apparently Owen also finds time to record songs under his birth name (Dunkin’ Donuts Owen, I presume) and toss them off to 12XU, proudly offering zero tour dates for their generosity. There are eight songs here, and they follow a familiar path of anti-social, pop-driven punk, much in line with Jay Reatard’s less garage-y material and Buck Biloxi. Owen adopts Joey Ramone’s inflection for many of these tunes, albeit slathered in electrical fuzz, and my favorite is probably the opener “I Should’ve Been Aborted”, uncharacteristically turning the knife on himself. There’s a tune called “Shattered” that has me thinking of Jay Reatard (and not just because his label was called Shattered Records), and a surprising number of moments that had me thinking of Nobunny’s harmless, half-naked fun. I figured someone with Owen’s nihilistic world view would write songs that sound meaner and more chaotic (if “Degenerate” isn’t already a note-for-note Screeching Weasel song it should be), but I guess GG Allin always toed the line between hair-metal pop-rock cheese and wild-man punk-rock perfection. Owen has some large toilets to fill if he wants to live up to the greats.
Pessimist Baklava 12″ (A14)
A14 is a new-ish sub-label of Blackest Ever Black (Greyest Ever Grey?), geared toward electronic dance music of the dark and serpentine varieties. Figured I might as well scope out their recent offering from Bristol’s Pessimist, and while I’m glad I am now familiar with it, I can’t say I’ll be returning too frequently. “Baklava” sounds like a Burial production reduced to its spinal column, with the occasional sound of an alien teleportation to add just the tiniest splash of color. Pessimist throws in lots of breaks, as if to imply something might change, but nope, the beat returns, almost defiantly the same. “Orphic” takes the b-side, and it follows a similar pattern, although it eventually works into a frantic jungle rhythm, aided in atmosphere by a keyboard’s “ghost” setting held down throughout. I’ll admit, if I were to accidentally stumble down some greasy cement stairs into an underground club illuminated only by the exit signs and Pessimist was blasting over a state-of-the-art sound system, I’d probably be the happiest boy on Earth, but listening at home, even on a daringly loud setting, leaves me scratching my head, wondering why Pessimist didn’t put together something a little more substantial.
Powell Sport 2xLP (XL)
Powell’s debut album might’ve been my most anticipated release of the year, and while it doesn’t surpass my super-fan expectations, it remains one of the most entertaining records I’ve heard in a while. Powell’s MO remains intact: huge neon-fart synth lines with clunky drum samples and no-wave / punk / rock snippets peppered throughout. I’m surprised there aren’t more Powell imitators, but that might be because he’s so distinct and strange that any aesthetic theft would be immediately obvious. Sport, then, is both a great entry point for someone unfamiliar and a wealth of new material to sink into for an obsessive like myself. There are a number of brief sample-based tracks that act as curious intermissions for the bangers, such as “Gettin’ Paid To Be Yourself (Al’s ‘Kick Ass’ Mix)”, “Frankie (Feat. Frankie)” and “Her Face”, my personal favorite of the lot. The tracks featuring HTRK vocalist Jonnine Standish are surprisingly electroclash-esque (“Jonny (Feat. Jonny)” could’ve been one of Peaches’ ripest offerings circa 2002), and they have me wondering what would’ve happened if the electroclash movement worshiped the discographies of Lust/Unlust and ZE instead of drifting off in search of newer trends. Powell always seems to be having the most fun of any electronic producer out there, with a wicked sense of humor that ensures he’s the only one in the room who gets all the jokes, and Sport is a wonderful debut, at once sinister, catchy and debaucherous.
Rosali Out Of Love LP (Siltbreeze)
Rosali Middleman (going by her first name here) is one of I think nine siblings, and it is evident in her music once you know that – this is a woman who has gone through life loving at least ten other people simultaneously (I’m counting both parents). Don’t let that album title fool you – she’s a tender soul, but as soon as she starts singing alongside her acoustic guitar, it’s self-evident anyway. It was nice of Siltbreeze to give her the platform to get her humble and soothing tunes out there, but don’t let the label’s association have you thinking there’s anything bent, avant-garde or lo-fi happening here – Rosali is a folk-rock purist through and through. I’m picking up a little Joni Mitchell here, maybe some Iron & Wine, and it’s hard not to associate her with ex-neighbor Meg Baird, although Rosali’s tunes come from more of a personal ’70s private-pressing folk vantage point, not a classicist’s traditional folk style. Gorgeous, melancholic, almost shy music that waits for you to find it, so go on and find it!
Stick Men With Ray Guns Property Of Jesus Christ LP (12XU)
12XU are truly doing the Lord’s work over there in Texas, following the Austin record shop End Of An Ear’s vinyl compilation of Stick Men With Ray Guns studio recordings with two Stick Men live shows, each on its own slab of wax. There’s Property Of Jesus Christ, taken from a 1984 gig on the Rock Against Reagan tour, and 1,000 Lives To Die, a 1987 Dallas gig. The 1987 show reveals a bloaty, stuffy-sounding Bobby Soxx, full of hatred and bile but ill in health, whereas this album showcases Soxx and the gang in their prime. His voice is feral and unrestrained here, not unlike what you’d expect a human-sized sewer rat to sound like if you tried to steal its cheese. You can’t go wrong with the opening trio of “What Am I?”, “Christian Rat Attack” and “Grave City”, truly pushing the expectations of hardcore-punk into a realm far darker and slower than any of their contemporaries – it’s amazing to think that a set this misanthropic and grotesque would be followed by the thrash of MDC and DRI, almost quaint in comparison. Fans of the Stick Men will be familiar with most of these tracks from their 2002 Emperor Jones CD compilation, which in my opinion remains the defining Stick Men document, but we all know how cool CDs are (not very), and it’s nice to hear this set in full uninterrupted fashion. Otherwise, I would’ve missed Bobby Soxx shouting “fuck everybody but me!” leading into “I’d Rather Throw Up Than Grow Up”, God forbid.
Torture Chain Wasting Syndrome LP (Darkest Heavy)
Torture Chain is a semi-anonymous American metal project, responsible for a host of cassette releases and now this debut three-track LP on the 540 Records-affiliated Darkest Heavy. Don’t be prejudiced against a three-song metal album, assuming funeral-doom or glacial guitar drone, as Torture Chain take the opportunity to run through a history of aggressive underground metal in three numbered installments. There has to be at least a dozen parts per track, and they run the gamut from Sabbath-y doom to the metallic grind of Earache Records’ earliest history to bone-chilling black-metal in strains of both Northern European and modern domestic. I’m no encyclopaedia metallum, so feel free to correct me with more appropriate references when I say that I hear a Manilla Road riff give way to a Cryptopsy technical breakdown, transformed into an Asunder march that eventually leads to a traditional Death blast. I can’t even imagine the amount of time and practice necessary to put together three constantly-changing tracks like these, each one filled with maniacally perfect soloing (often at the hand of American metal master Arthur Rizk, who also recorded an undisclosed portion of Wasting Syndrome). To my ears, this is the pinnacle of “parts instead of songs” metal songwriting, masterful epics you can easily lose yourself within. What is metal if not a necessary escape from reality anyway?
TV Crime Hooligans / Wild One 7″ (Static Shock)
The Automated Punk Band Name Generator never gets a break, this time coming up with “TV Crime” (I suppose you could relate it to Black Sabbath’s forgotten 1992 tune “TV Crimes”, but I’m not sure that’s what happened here). The hell’s a “TV crime” otherwise?? Regardless of moniker, TV Crime are a sturdy and upbeat punk group out of Nottingham, offering two succinct and dirty gems for our enjoyment. “Hooligans” comes storming in somewhere between Protex and Dillinger Four, a nice non-wimpy form of power-pop that’s simultaneously inebriated and optimistic (the vocalist really gets a lot of mileage out of his vowels). Same pretty much goes for “Wild One”, which takes a slightly more pop-punk route (check the boppy guitar lead), not far from Exploding Hearts and nearly on their same holy level. I can’t imagine there will ever not be an audience for music like this: energetic songs with easily recognizable melodies and changes, roughed up by a band of people who probably know the words to at least a couple Discharge songs. Next time I’m in Nottingham, I’m going to drunkenly skank down Robin Hood’s wooded lane in honor of TV Crime.
Uranium Orchard Unapproachable Light “LP” (Cold Vomit)
First off, big caveat here: while I am listing this as an LP, it’s not entirely accurate. Unapproachable Light looks and feels like a normal LP, until you pull out the vinyl to notice that it’s actually not vinyl at all, but rather a smooth pegboard disc, edges shaved to perfectly replicate the size and shape of a 12″ vinyl record, complete with center hole. To hear the music, you follow the paper insert’s instructions to a secret URL that features links for the album in MP3 format. If there’s one group of merry pranksters that can get away with such a move, it’s Uranium Orchard, and I did my duty and downloaded the things and listened, even ceremoniously spinning the imposter “record” in its honor (I drew the line at dropping the needle, however). I’ve written about the strong correlation between Uranium Orchard and Sun City Girls in the past, and while releasing an anti-record certainly fits the bill, their music has taken a turn in a different direction, at least for four of the six tracks – imagine if college-rock was spawned from lite-jazz rather than underground punk in the early ’80s and you’ve got a feel for what Uranium Orchard are going after. Some of Unapproachable Light feels like a strangely neutered combo of Tool, Sponge and other early ’90s buzz-bin offal, or perhaps not neutered so much as vasectomied – there is a definite complicity to their experimental alt-funk excursions, including a slow-core cover of Naked Eyes’ “Always Something There To Remind Me”. Of course, that’s all blown up by the album-closing title track, which sprawls across twenty-two minutes and takes the shape of The Dead C channeling one of Yes or Rush’s concept albums; truly glorious music. Turns out they’re out-Sun City Girls-ing the Sun City Girls after all.
Vanity Don’t Be Shy LP (Katorga Works)
You’d be forgiven for assuming this is a new album by the group Soccer Tavern, but that’s simply the bar that Vanity, upgraded from a two-piece studio project to a full quartet, tends to frequent. On their debut album and subsequent 7″ EP, they were the best All Skrewed Up tribute band I’d ever heard, so the drastic stylistic departure of Don’t Be Shy took some of the wind out of my sails. Apparently they’ve set their sights on a different form of underground British rock, namely ’90s Brit-pop, and even more specifically, Oasis. I’m not sure who was singing before and if they’re still singing now, but they aren’t nearly as vocally equipped to tackle Liam Gallagher’s disaffected whine as Ian Stuart’s frothy croak, at least by my count. Vanity’s songs are still mostly uptempo, which isn’t the best platform for delivering thick and memorable Brit-pop hooks – these songs speed by, but they feel long, and the hooks they’re delivering aren’t fit for the tail end of The Masterplan. I will say that the more I’ve spun Don’t Be Shy, the more I’ve grown accustomed to it, and even started to truly enjoy their hard-rock party-pub vibe, although I’m still thinking back wistfully to their one two fwee foah days. I just really hope they continue pillaging British music of the past and sound like The Prodigy on their next record.
Violent Change 3 LP (Melters / It Takes Two)
Violent Change are one of the more fascinating bands playing or not playing in basements these days, and not because they have some fantastical back-story about being twins separated at birth or wild drug histories or something that has nothing to do with their actual music. I am intrigued and delighted by Violent Change solely because of their music, specifically their approach to recording, as it doesn’t sound like any other band on Earth. It’s safe to say that by most accounts, 3 is a poorly-recorded lo-fi album, but those who disregard it based on conventional metrics are missing out on the mystifying sounds within, which seemingly defy how a record can be made. There are a few tracks on the a-side that I swear are slowed down or quite literally melted (as the label name would imply) – just check “Marvelous Tones” (great title) and tell me this isn’t a case of severe equipment malfunction. On certain tracks, the bass sounds like it was recorded direct sans amplifier while the vocals are transmitted from a World War 2 submarine; on others, the vocals are surprisingly audible, it’s the guitar that crumbles like week-old coffee cake. This isn’t the sort of recording that happens by chance – no four-track tape or GarageBand file would create such a disjointed cacophony on its own. It mutates these short, upbeat pop-rock songs into new beasts entirely, although a tune like “Marble Mansion” has the sweet taste of Big Star no matter how much dirt they bury it under. 3 is the lowest form of high art and I recommend you take it for a twirl.
Wolf Dem Hydrophobia 12″ (Great Circles)
I’m always excited for a new transmission from the Great Circles bunker, this one the vinyl debut of Philadelphia’s Wolf Dem, a new-ish duo that I hope to see perform soon. They’ve already developed a strong, distinct sound over the course of these four tracks, which seem take the EP’s title to heart, sounding as though their techno is pulled by deep currents, pressurized by the ocean’s weight and quick to disorient anyone who isn’t a fish. The first two cuts opt for classic drum-machine sounds mangled into something resembling reggaeton, which is then splattered, smothered and covered by various loops and melodies of different narcotic shades. Wolf Dem are happy to pile up the sounds, but it never feels overstuffed. “Tin Procession” opens the flip and might be my favorite, a down-tempo take on Rabih Beaini’s Ra.H material with what sounds like troubled breathing, fits of laughter and an endangered woodpecker adding color to the subterranean groove. “A Cruise Down The Styx” wraps things with the most minimal beat of the EP, each percussive hit warbling like their precise tuning was worn down after years of use. There’s a rich history of aquatic techno, from Drexciya to Scuba Death and Newworldaquarium, and Wolf Dem’s Hydrophobia is a fine canonical addition.
Woodboot Black Piss / Into Your Skull 7″ (Total Punk)
Just when I assumed all of Total Punk’s singles roster was caught in a race to the self-destructive bottom, Brisbane’s Woodboot show up with two righteous snot-attacks of, well, total punk. They called the a-side “Black Piss” (how is there not a band called Black Piss on Total Punk already?), and it plays like the stupidest Dead Boys tune they never wrote, with a recording so perfectly fuzzy, I’m reminded of the orange juice that’s served at a crappy hotel’s continental breakfast, the kind that stings as it goes down, 80% chemical powder mixed with 20% tap water. Pretty sure there’s barely more than one part to “Black Piss”, but who needs it when you’ve got such a perfect part? “Into Your Skull” picks up right where “Black Piss” left off, with a classic progression one might expect from The Buzzcocks, with vocals so acidic it’s as if they swapped antifreeze for the tap water in the aforementioned OJ recipe. Both tracks are over in a blip, just as they should be, and now I’m wondering if I stashed that Woodboot LP from earlier this year somewhere around here, as I don’t remember them being quite this wonderful.