Acrylics Acrylics 12″ (Neck Chop)
Acrylics are a noisy hardcore group out of Santa Rosa, CA, and their debut self-released cassette (not a demo, mind you) was given a nice one-sided 12″ upgrade care of Neck Chop. They’re a Californian group, sure, but musically they’re all Midwestern, channeling the bluster of Chicago’s ’90s noise-rockers (The Jesus Lizard and Killdozer, let’s say) through a knowledge of Chicago’s recent hardcore scene (The Repos and Violent End, perhaps). Almost every track opens with guitar feedback, the vocals are run through AmRep-friendly effects (not quite as cavernous as the current Zouo-worship that continues with other groups) and the lyrics are in the “I’m a deranged normal person” school of thought, but the songs are bashed urgently and carelessly in true hardcore, not post-hardcore, fashion. They’re not the first group to bridge hardcore-punk and noise-rock in the past decade or two, but Acrylics handle it capably, even if I personally prefer bands to be either really great or really bad at it. They’re still a fairly young group, so maybe Acrylics will eventually attain such a high (or low).
Aquarian Blood Warlock Cock 7″ (Pelican Pow Wow)
Aquarian Blood apparently liked the title Warlock Cock enough to use it for their 7″ but not enough to actually write a song called that. Go figure! The two tracks here are “Freek” and “Acid Fascist”, and they’re more of the cluttered, noisy garage-punk I’ve come to expect from Pelican Pow Wow. “Freek” does the aesthetic rightly by being as simple as possible, pounding what I assume to be guitar chords alongside an underwater vocal treatment that repeats the line “I know a freak when I see one” (though they’re no lyric sheet, so maybe they verbalize it as “freek” too). “Acid Fascist” seems to be led by a gnarly theremin that probably isn’t actually a theremin right into a frantic garage pile that has me thinking of the first Nots singles, before they had truly gained control of their instruments. Just did a little research and it turns out that half of Aquarian Blood (they’re a duo, somehow) previously was in Nots, so it all comes full circle. Maybe the woman in Aquarian Blood simply refused to develop some level of finesse with her garage-punk and had to carve it out separately, a move that I can’t disrespect.
Balcanes Carne Nueva 12″ (Humo)
Balcanes’ Carne Nueva cover art immediately had me thinking of Aaron Dilloway’s great Beggar Master LP, and upon the first minute or so, I was digging the sounds it provided as well: miserable and simplistic bass chug with moaning vocalist accompaniment and no drums in sight. I liked how little it offered, but after that first tune, the whole band got involved, and well, my attention started to drift. My reaction remains the same over repeat listens, sadly: this is another entry into the canon of Brainbombs- and Swans-inspired modern dirge-rock and it’s not particularly impressive. For this genre to work, something has to be unexpected, wild, unique or over-the-top, but Balcanes choose to play incredibly basic hardcore-punk riffs at half-speed, with plodding drums and a vocalist who passively screams his way through, as if he’d rather not break a sweat if he can help it. The vocals have just a little bit of echo on them, the songs go on too long with no payoff… I don’t know, stop me if I’m merely a hater, but I can just picture a room full of punks in black band t-shirts standing around sullenly during a Balcanes set, behaving as if they know they should be respectful and appreciative of the bleak nihilist sounds they’re hearing, but really just waiting for the next band to come on and hopefully do something exciting. Balcanes are from Spain, and compared to how outrageously wild some of their contemporaries are doing it (Una Bèstia Incontrolable literally lick their cymbals on stage), I expect and want a little more of something, anything.
Beta Boys After Dark 7″ (Neck Chop)
Through their short career, Beta Boys have already covered some solid ground, kicking around the Lumpy Records scene in the Midwest (Kansas City, I believe) before heading west to Olympia, perhaps the punkest punk scene currently active in America. They’ve got the right sound to please both of those audiences and whoever is left in-between, as they write basic choppy punk songs, nuke everything with flange, wear funny Splatter Punks outfits and have a vocalist who has surely stared at one of those iconic Darby Crash photos where he’s holding the microphone wrong and barking through his broken teeth. I feel like there are entire fests happening these days that are filled with bands that behave and sound similar to Beta Boys, and while I think that’s both a positive and negative development, I am starting to expect bands like Beta Boys to be as good as After Dark is, but not greater, which is a bummer. It’s as if everything is perfectly in place except for the songs themselves, which are sonically appropriate but never stick around my brain once they’re over. Maybe I need to stop listening to records and get to one of those fests so I can figure out who’s really lighting it up and who simply wishes they were.
Burial Young Death / Nightmarket 12″ (Hyperdub)
It wouldn’t be a holiday season in the ’10s without Burial stealthily dropping a new EP, giving dorks who finish their “best of” lists by the second week of November the conniptions they rightly deserve. In some ways, it feels like I’ve been loving Burial for as long as I’ve been an adult, his music so game-changing and distinctive, of course, but also so intensely pleasing to my ears. This new one is a quick two-track shot, and whereas previously one could hastily define Burial’s style as “the sound of a rave from outside the club, walking home through the night”, this one is more like “the sound of a Burial record from outside the club, walking home through the night”. “Young Death” follows Burial’s cinematic approach that he’s favored over more recent records, almost entirely bereft of beats, instead unfurling like a plume of beautiful vape smoke at a dilapidated bus terminal. “Nightmarket” shows greater signs of rave reflection through a dramatic synth-line that repeats throughout, but ultimately both cuts feel more like atmosphere segues than fully-formed Burial tracks… this is keen soundtrack work for a gorgeously depressing “hopeless metropolitan teenagers in love and on drugs” art film, not so much “songs”. It’s still great, inimitable stuff, but it mostly served as a strong reminder for me to pull out Rival Dealer and Street Halo again, which is never a bad thing.
CC Dust Shinkansen No. 1 / New Ways 7″ (Night School)
It’s startling how the lifespan of cool underground bands seems to have shrunken in the past decade or so – it’s suddenly become common for great new groups to last a year or less before calling it quits, which I find concerning. I am almost certain the economy facing millenials as well as internet-age hyper-boredom are to blame, but that’s a term paper I need to write, not a review of this fine new CC Dust 7″. It will almost certainly be their last release, as the group has sadly parted ways, but it’s a fine way to go out! Their debut 12″ contains some of my favorite modern synth-pop songs period, and these two cuts are excellent as well. “Shinkansen No. 1” is punchy and upbeat, with a great little earworm arpeggio that reaches cruising altitude alongside some Peter Hook-esque bass-work and Maryjane Dunphe’s peerless voice. Suitable for a track about a Japanese bullet train, no doubt! “New Ways” has a moodier feel, like Simple Minds thumbing through Kate Bush’s book of melodies while only having Trop Tard’s modest gear with which to perform a song. I’m sad to see this band go, but at least while I listen to “New Ways” it feels like I’m slowly waving goodbye, over and over again.
Cellophane Garden Illuminations LP (Drawing Room)
Cellophane Garden’s Illuminations is the second in Drawing Room’s “Bootleg Series”, which seems to have the same basic meaning as Demdike Stare’s Testpressing series, which is to say not a bootleg or a test pressing at all, but a limited series of records with presumably lower overhead costs than a standard-edition LP. Cellophane Garden had a tape previously on Drawing Room and I can understand why the label wants to keep working with them, as this is perfectly pleasant, artfully-conceived instrumental music. Cascading ambient chords are ever present, but they frequently give way to chiming guitars, with the pace maintained by steady and unflashy drumming. I definitely pick up some Friday Night Lights vibes here, in the sense that it’s emotional-yet-harmless instrumental post-rock that knows how to set the mood, although Cellophane Garden never builds the intensity to any sort of obvious climax – it’s music for the assumed extra-point kick, not the game-winning touchdown. That’s not a diss, as I appreciate the casual, understated elegance of Illuminations for the graceful little record it is.
Carla dal Forno You Know What It’s Like LP (Blackest Ever Black)
There’s something about the cover to Carla dal Forno’s You Know What It’s Like that sticks out – maybe it’s the red border on a simple black-and-white portrait of the artist in residence, or maybe she’s just special. Whatever the case, it frames her music well. Perhaps you’re familiar with her noisy, collage-based electronic work with Tarcar or F ingers (their weird spelling, not mine) or even Australian inept-twee outfit Mole House, but this album is the first time I’ve heard her music sound like the distinct vision of an artist, as opposed to friends gathering sounds together for fun. The album is half instrumentals, drab and miniature cuts of homespun drone and rhythm, and they work as a nice buffer (rather than filler) for her vocal-based tracks. She sings confidently and without pretense, as if these songs were only meant to be heard by someone she personally trusts. Her vocals often drift within the mix, more of a melodic guide than rooted in the singer-songwriter tradition, although her tune “Fast Moving Cars” is a tender and resonant DIY-pop ballad – imagine Lana Del Rey if she were infatuated with Jhonn Balance instead of The Weeknd. You Know What It’s Like‘s closest Blackest Ever Black compatriot is probably that great Flaming Tunes album from Gareth Williams and Marie Currie, as both are reasonably “experimental” records filled with autumnal-sounding songs that are at once precious and inscrutable.
Dedekind Cut Successor LP (NON)
I’m not above enjoying a good artist backstory, and Dedekind Cut’s was hard to resist: a dude who used to produce beats for hip-hop artists like Joey Bada$$ changes his alias from Lee Bannon (too close to that Breitbart guy, I agree) to the stranger “Dedekind Cut” and starts crafting left-field soundscapes and harsh noise for the Hospital Productions label, releasing his debut album on the NON imprint which actually has nothing to do with Boyd Rice but is instead an international collective of Afro-futurist artists. I really enjoyed some of his previous material (that Last digital release felt like the tension of a Demdike Stare box-set crammed into four minutes) and I’m really enjoying his vinyl debut, Successor, too. Here, Dedekind Cut operates with beats either in the background or absent entirely, content to unravel sonic tapestries that render in sound the spectacular Northern Lights or one of Montreal’s endless underground tunnels in the dead of winter. Lush chords tremble in the thermosphere and crystallize, a beautiful display until Dedekind jars us back to Earth. Those jarring moments are fewer than I expected, though, as Successor mostly drifts with the grace of Fennesz and Gas rather than the exquisite laptop pyrotechnics of Arca or one of his many followers. I can’t help but assume Dedekind Cut won’t let us stay in this charming snow globe for too long, so I’m going to enjoy my time here and await his next record with open ears, knowing things are very much subject to change in his world.
Demdike Stare Wonderland 2xLP (Modern Love)
I don’t care how much I love the artist – once I’m pushing like half an Expedit cube’s worth of their vinyl, my interest in obtaining new records is going to wain. And yet, hear I am with the new Demdike Stare record, a gatefold double LP, and I couldn’t be happier. I picked it up because I clearly wasn’t going to not pick it up, and I don’t know if my hopes weren’t particularly high or what, but it’s been such a pleasure to listen to, repeatedly so. I found Demdike’s Test Pressing series to be somewhat spotty (although the highs were impressively high), but Wonderland feels like the best of that series refined and edited for album form. That means that the witchy, occult-coven vibe of early Demdike Stare records is mostly a memory, replaced with their dark and corroded takes on dancehall-dub, jungle, break-beat and a solid splash of industrial techno. There isn’t a moment on here where I feel like Demdike are treading water – a punchy electro-dub will segue into a dank drum n’ bass relay and then some off-the-wall recording of them in an airport or giggling in the studio will remind me that their subtle sense of humor is as much of a guiding force as their love of obscure necromancy. Plus, they look damn sharp on the cover, showing off their throat stubble in what appears to be outtakes for an upcoming Gap ad campaign. Good for ’em!
Beatrice Dillon Can I Change My Mind? 12″ (Boomkat Editions)
Beatrice Dillon tried to sneak this one-track, one-sided 12″ release past me at the end of the year, but not so, I’m on it! I can’t get enough of this woman’s singular take on electronic dance (or non-dance) music, and had to see what she was up to for the ten-plus minutes that make up “Can I Change My Mind?”. This is Dillon in her techno-dub mindset, geared up for some form of dance-floor action, and it’s another captivating entry in her steadily-growing canon. The track seems a little slow for 33.3, but that’s the correct revolution rate, and it shuffles onward through various neural pathways, with multiple faked endings and a sense of genuine curiosity. It feels like a slowed and extended edit of one of Melchior Productions’ recent Perlon offerings, with the “have we entered a locked groove?” feel of Locks & DDM, but nothing about it feels too academic; as is often the case with Dillon’s world, fun trumps all. I don’t think she’s done a track like this before, as far as the pads and synth-settings she decided on, but it certainly feels like her music, as “Can I Change My Mind?” bears that same form of inquisitiveness found in all her tunes, as though she’s unencumbered by the same general guidelines that the majority of techno producers unconsciously operate within.
FRKSE Desecration Anxiety I LP (Divergent Series / Auris Apothecary)
Experimental, industrial-leaning techno seems to mostly be made by two camps: folks with a dance music background who are looking for something more extreme and direct, and current- and ex-punks who decided to turn to noisy electronic beats for their musical expression. And then, there’s wherever FRKSE comes from: estranged from any pre-formulated musical scene, crafting their own script entirely and hoping someone out there enjoys it. I proudly enjoy FRKSE, and was delighted to see a new album come through my door. It’s great, and I might as well get to explaining what it sounds like: imagine the earliest Demdike Stare recordings devoid of bass or club knowledge, Kapotte Muziek and Nocturnal Emissions in industrial loop mode, or the “outside of the club at 4:00 AM” feel of Burial, if the club Burial was standing outside of only played Coil and Nurse With Wound. Desecration Anxiety I is industrial music without the bludgeoning effect of extreme bass or piercing feedback; if traditional industrial-techno works with laser-sharp fang bites, FRKSE is the massive python that swallows you whole over the course of ten hours. It’s passive and never too loud, but the trick is in FRKSE’s choice of sounds – a priest’s ceremonial bell is paired with synthetic thunderclaps and a menacing synth stab just before a crackly sample of voices comes in so soft it’s like it’s not there. FRKSE is always distinct and a welcome voice for a scene in grave danger of homogeny.
Jenny Hval Blood Bitch LP (Sacred Bones)
I’m probably one of the last music “bloggers” to talk about Jenny Hval and her Blood Bitch album, and that’s because I checked it out only recently, but I’ve been enjoying Jenny Hval all year. Her Wire cover story was fascinating and insightful, as she truly operates under her own philosophy (and might be the wittiest Wire-sanctioned electronic artist performing today)… every other interview and feature seemed to offer some new detail or consideration that left me feeling happy that I read it. And now, with all the year-end accolades pouring in and conceptual hot-takes, I’m a little surprised to find out that Blood Bitch is the soft, easy-listening album it is. Her voice is far more angelic and downy-soft than it was when I saw her perform live, and Blood Bitch‘s musical backing tracks could surprisingly work for Dido or The Postal Service, I swear. I went looking for the harsh-edged take of producer Lasse Marhaug, but Blood Bitch is mostly quite uplifting and jubilant, if also starkly intimate and vulnerable at times. I like the record a lot, I just expected to be shaken up a bit, but perhaps that’s what all those amusing interviews are for. If I could soothe the savage world with my beats and voice like Hval, I’d probably opt to do that too.
Lutto Lento My Number One High / Take Me Down The Dunes 7″ (Dunno Recordings)
Following a string of increasingly-strange 12″ EPs, Lutto Lento takes to the 7″ format in an unexpected twist. Of course, I should’ve learned to expect the unexpected from him now, which is reinforced by these two unusual tracks, stepping further away from house or techno and instead toward beat-oriented sample-delica, if I’m allowed to say “sample-delica”. “My Number One High” feels like an extended Madlib edit, as bells and strings from some old Nat King Cole or Frank Sinatra cut are stirred into a hypnotic brew, soon to be layered by what sounds like a “real person” halfheartedly praising music itself. I’m reminded of the amusingly chintzy feel of People Like Us’s plunderphonic experiments around the turn of the century. “Take Me Down The Dunes” is a rougher edit, a mangled radio transmission that feels like an experiment The Haters or The Gerogerigegege would’ve spat out on a split 7″ in 1994 – it’s a beatless collage of befuddling human voices that would be perfectly ripe for release on the I Dischi Del Barone label, a sonic postcard from an unnamed American street (via this Polish sound artist). I prefer Lutto Lento’s dance tracks, but that doesn’t mean I’m not sitting here smiling away as this weird 7″ plays.
Liquids Hot Liqs LP (Drunken Sailor)
Quickly following their vinyl debut (a 7″ EP on the Brazilian Yeah You! label), Liquids drop an album stuffed with their distinct form of NWI punk on the British Drunken Sailor label. Are there no American labels beating down Liquids’ door to put out their records, or is this band just really into the idea of overseas shipping charges? Anyway, this album offers no surprises if you’re already familiar with Liquids’ hi-octane attack: rapid closed hi-hats, frantically down-picked riffs and compact punk songs filled with tight little changes. They almost sound like an evil-gnome version of a standard punk band, as if each band member is roughly three feet tall, covered in coarse body hair and playing their instruments a half-speed faster than any normal punk band would. They cram it all in here, with minimal breaks or reprieve, and depending on my mood, Hot Liqs has felt like an exhausting blur that all runs together or a speedy-punk masterpiece. I’m used to my Liquids in small doses, but if they keep writing tunes like “Trashcan” and “Speed”, their name might soon be uttered in the same breath as Mentally Ill and Feederz.
Marching Church Telling It Like It Is LP (Sacred Bones)
Depending on your point of view, I’ve been a fan or a sucker for Elias Bender Rønnenfelt in practically all his musical forms – most notably Iceage, who have yet to put out an album I didn’t heartily enjoy, but also his side-project-turned-full-band Marching Church. I felt some smug form of solitude in my enjoyment of the first Marching Church album, which awkwardly channeled Here Come The Warm Jets into a rollicking post-punk fever, so I was excited to jump into Telling It Like It Is, which amazingly utilizes a rare unflattering photo of Rønnenfelt behind two generic fonts. I’ve been listening to it a bunch, and not because I’m particularly enjoying it but because I want to wring some sort of enjoyment out of it. I’m just not finding it, though – these songs ring uninspired, as though Marching Church thought a full studio production could subvert a lack of strong musical ideas. I read that Rønnenfelt intended Telling It Like It Is to be his first record to truly utilize the benefits of a studio, working in dozens of overdubs and backing tracks, but it’s not even particularly lush or enthralling musically – it mostly just sounds as if Bright Eyes’ Fevers And Mirrors was given a lightweight Euro-disco makeover rather than whatever second coming of Nick Cave’s From Her To Eternity they were aiming for. I’m gonna chalk it up as a mulligan and hope a new Iceage isn’t too far down the line.
The Nods Chromatic Recollections / Public Eye 7″ (Hail Atlantis)
The Nods (not to be confused with Nodzzz) are a new-ish group out of Salt Lake City, making their first appearance on vinyl with this 7″ single. If you told me they were from London circa 1983, opening for Echo & The Bunnymen, The Cure and Duran Duran on tour, I’d have no trouble believing it, as they approach their dark n’ steamy post-punk with flair and vigor. “Chromatic Recollections” cuts through a shadowy backstreet nicely, with a chiming guitar lead and vocals that are restrained but in a way that makes me like them more rather than less. “Public Eye” is a bit tougher, and offers some strong evidence that The Nods are a band that exists today, with a harder edge to the riff and a sustained tension that has me thinking of a band whose name is only one letter off, Nots. Neither track blows me away, but they’re a new band who are clearly enjoying themselves and putting their pieces together, so rather than be an old guy who wants to rip things apart, I’ll give them a passive thumbs up and hope that they continue forward as a group.
Oneida & Rhys Chatham What’s Your Sign? LP (Northern Spy)
Only makes sense that the old old-school guitar-centric avant-garde of New York City (Rhys Chatham) would eventually cross paths with the new old-school guitar-centric avant-garde of New York City (Oneida), and they do so in fine form on this collaborative LP. If you’re remotely familiar with the works of either, not much of What’s Your Sign? should come as a shocker, but rather a pleasant affirmation of experimental post-punk guitar-rock. I get the feeling that they shot from the hip with most of these tracks, operating on an initial idea and stretching it out for five or eight minutes through intuition and resolve. They’ll take a rattling motorik groove and digitally rinse it down after a few minutes before building it back up into a chiming spiral of sound. I’m reminded of some of Laddio Bolocko’s most out-there experiments, or perhaps what Cluster and Harmonia would’ve sounded like had they been subjected to the fiery menace of no-wave in the early ’80s. I prefer the more raging material here, specifically the opening tracks of each side, but I can get down with some whistle-y drones, synthetic squelch, free-improv splatter and pitter-patter percussion just the same. You can take the Other Music out of New York, but you can’t take the New York out of Other Music, or something.
Ov / Diego Perc Song (Chords) / Crack 12″ (Future Times)
Always nice to receive a new transmission from the Future Times network, an American techno label with global aspirations. At first, I thought this was by an artist named Ov Diego (cool name, right?) but it’s actually two different folks making similarly-minded dance music. Ov’s “Perc Song (Chords)” is a herky-jerky house cut, as if “Axel F Theme” was stirred into a cocktail to be served at a Ghostly International house party. Diego’s “Crack” is a little calmer, with big soft kicks and snares that smack like a luxurious pillow to the face. They both sound great, but “Crack” has an undeniable groove with remarkable breaks, the sort of music that can’t help but put people in motion. Regardless of who you prefer, this split isn’t a competition so much as a celebration of the uplifting, retro-futuristic Future Times vibe. As is the case with basically all Future Times releases, I can easily envision both Ov and Diego DJing these tracks with a parrot or toucan resting comfortable on their respective shoulders – it’s always that kind of a party with Future Times.
Poor Lily Dirt On Everyone LP (TV-Mayor)
You may have heard of concept albums, but I doubt you’ve heard of something like this before: old-dude pop-punk group writes fourteen songs about the NSA and the US surveillance state, recording the half-hour-long album live from start to finish without interruption. Actually, maybe Green Day have done something similar by now (I haven’t kept up post-Dookie). I have to say, I admire Poor Lily for tackling a topic worthy of such scorn and artistic critique, but listening to Dirt On Everyone is still a little jarring. Musically, they sound like a mix of Minutemen and Guttermouth, with a vocalist who clearly admires Jello Biafra, and the lack of breaks between songs makes it feel like two fifteen-minute jumbles of pop-punk drumbeats, interchangeable riffs and a lingering funkiness that fills me with unease. They’ve got the right attitude and mindset, and I sure as hell am glad these adults aren’t singing about taking their sweetheart to the diner for milkshakes, but they lack Propagandhi’s songwriting prowess or Hüsker Dü’s melodic finesse. Whatever the case, I hope they’ve triple-protected their email accounts by now.
The Powder Room Lucky LP & 7″ (Learning Curve)
Has anyone tried to define this genre of rock groups yet? The ones who are clearly informed by cool underground rock of the ’90s and ’00s (bands like Queens Of The Stone Age, Drive Like Jehu, METZ, Dinosaur Jr., Melvins, Sonic Youth, White Stripes, etc.) but also quite clearly want to be the next Foo Fighters or Kings Of Leon? Bands that are paying to have their Facebook show announcements “boosted”, who participate in battle-of-the-bands contests on sites like UnsignedArtists.com or MusicSubmit.com, and generally do anything they can to claw themselves to the top of the heap besides just focusing on crafting songs that a rock-loving audience will immediately gravitate toward and playing tons of shows (aka the Sheer Mag strategy)? That’s the vibe I’m picking up from The Powder Room, a group from Athens, GA who are definitely “going for it”. That’s not a knock, for the record: I appreciate bands who consistently put in zero effort as well as bands who come out fully-formed before they’ve even played their first gig, and The Powder Room seem proud of Lucky and eager to share it. By my count, it’s a decent if fairly uninspiring album – they seem to shoot for a mix of Rick Froberg-ish guitar negi-grooves, post-emo pop-rock (At The Drive-In and Jimmy Eat World) and just a hint of major-label embarrassment rock (Three Doors Down, Puddle Of Mudd and Nickelback come to mind). They’re definitely polished and well-rehearsed, and surely have a wide audience of folks waiting to hear such a particular rock cocktail (dare I say rocktail?) that I can’t help but root for The Powder Room, or at least root for the idea that in this modern social hellscape random new bands can still be located by the audiences who’d like to hear them.
Quilt Boy I Am Somebody 7″ (Sophomore Lounge)
Quilt Boy is the work of one Chris Durham, who you might recognize from time in Roachclip and The Bibs (as well as the All Gone label). Apparently he just can’t stop making weird crappy music no matter where he is or who he’s with, so he put together five tunes for a vinyl EP as Quilt Boy care of the always-busy Sophomore Lounge label. It’s a bunch of crazy lo-fi childish chatter, and I tend to enjoy it, just by virtue of the spirit that seems to guide it, all carefree and loose. I’m reminded of a more aggressive take on the early Microphones’ singles, Teddy Fire’s entire discography (whatever happened to him?), or maybe R. Stevie Moore recording over his friend’s band’s demo in 1986. It’s too poppy and tuneless to really fall into the category of “punk”, but it’s plenty DIY and just as likely to clear a room as any Television Personalities record. At the very least, I’m glad I heard “Love Letter To You”, my favorite of the bunch: it’s like a 4th grade bully taunting you for having a crush while Royal Trux practices in the garage across the street.
Soundwalk Collective & Jesse Paris Smith featuring Patti Smith Killer Road 2xLP (Sacred Bones)
Would you expect a vinyl album featuring Patti Smith, in tribute to Nico, released in 2016, to be anything but lavish? It arrives in a solid gatefold sleeve with a meaty booklet featuring interpretations and ruminations on the work within, glistening as though it was meant to be displayed in MoMA’s gift shop. I’ll admit, the sharp presentation nearly tricked me into thinking the music featured across these four sides was profound and divine, but I have to say, I’m not really feeling it. The first LP is a studio session, featuring Patti Smith reciting Nico’s poetry and lyrics over strange and minimal sound-worlds, with light queasy drones, bells, clickety-clacking and various statics flickering like a dying halogen bulb performed by her daughter Jesse Paris Smith (and the “Soundwalk Collective”). The second LP (a live performance) is quite similar, although the ambiance seems more clearly created by recognizable instruments, but it’s a damn fine live recording, Smith’s voice as clear and present as her studio sesh. That said, this is a form of hip artsiness that does little for me – Smith’s words are alright, and the creepy soundscapes are fine, but it never transports me beyond my room, nor does it strike me as particularly impassioned or, well, interesting. Maybe if the last words Smith uttered were a booming “vhat a klon!” into a mic drop, the whole thing would snap into focus for me, but there is no humor here, just the unflinching seriousness of professional artists. If I was completely cynical I’d think this album was just a way for Sacred Bones to sneak their name into the echelon of the NY bohemian elite, and if I was totally naïve I’d say this is a devastating work of emotional reflection and atmospheric manipulation directly pulled from the abyss of the soul, but Killer Road is probably somewhere in-between.
The Suburban Homes …Are Bored E.P. 12″ (Total Punk)
Oh dear, I hate to be the one to have to tell you, but get this… The Suburban Homes are bored! What a disaster. They’re one of those currently active British groups opting for a classic UK DIY post-punk sound, falling on the side of the traditional and shambolic versus synthesized and strange. Desperate Bicycles are a clear antecedent, but The Suburban Homes play it less jaunty and with typical punk drumming as opposed to rigid snare-centric pounding. It’s pretty fun, if admittedly low-stakes punk rock, with multiple songs about boring suburban life (go figure) and one song called “I-Phone Suicide”, which I find particularly endearing because everyone knows it’s spelled “iPhone”, duh. It’s poppy and upbeat without having the slightest resemblance to pop-punk, which I certainly appreciate, and these six songs move by with the speed and economy of a 7″ EP, my favorite being “Paranoia + Frustration = Constipation”, if mainly because it uses the same melody as Not Your Friends’ “Why Are You So Mad”, which is one of the first local-band punk 7″s I ever bought. Hopefully …Are Bored is one of the first punk 12″ EPs some young punks are buying in Kent and the glorious cycle of discovery continues.
Teach Me Collector 7″ (Volar)
Volar continues to bring us new bands featuring dudes who used to be in other bands, for better or worse, and are now offering the vinyl debut by San Diego’s Teach Me. The music they play is a style that I hear (and review) so frequently, but I’m not really sure it’s been recently defined as a genre just yet – it’s that mature form of noisy-but-intelligible, upbeat-but-controlled, garage-acknowledging modern post-punk where you can never quite tell if the band is actually enjoying themselves or just kinda going through the motions of “being in a band”. Surely influenced by the Hot Snakes and all the other bands in that orbit, as well as Ty Segall and METZ and Pinback or Slint. What do we call this stuff? For the most part, I think it’s perfectly acceptable music, Teach Me included. “Collector” is taut and speedy with a defined chorus (something many bands of this ilk lack), whereas “Pup Pup” has more of a sleazy bounce; both sound pretty good to me, probably because vocalist Jeremy Rojas is more charismatic than most of these bands’ vocalists (and he realizes that in the lyric department, less is often more). If you’re wondering if these guys have tattoos, sorry – I’m gonna keep you guessing until you get your own copy and look at their insert photo.
Violence Creeps Soul Narc LP (Digital Regress)
In last month’s review of Violence Creeps’ The Gift Of Music 12″, I shared the incorrect tidbit that Violence Creeps had called it quits, when in fact they are just replacing their rhythm section (and let’s face it, what rhythm section isn’t replaceable?). I guess I couldn’t help but get into the spirit of the times by disseminating my own misinformation, but I can confirm that their full-length LP, Soul Narc, most certainly exists. They’ve got ten more chunks of brazen, unscrupulous hardcore-punk, songs that find your finger with the hangnail and dig right into it. They’ve got more of a unified sound going on here, as the guitar tends to sound the same from track to track, and they even get a little calm and reflective at times, taking a title like “Sewer Baby” and applying it to the slow-burning Christian Death-esque song they wrote. If I’m judging their records, which is clearly all I do here, I’d say that I prefer their Total Punk 12″ in that it sounds more feral and unhinged, but that’s not to say that Soul Narc isn’t full of rotten, amateurish hardcore anthems. Long live the Violence Creeps!
Zoomers From The Planet Moon 7″ (Mighty Mouth Music)
I sure as hell hadn’t heard of the Zoomers and their sole 7″ single until Mighty Mouth Music unearthed it – maybe I need to spend a little more time with those now-digitally-deteriorated Hyped 2 Death CD-rs. In any case, it was worthy of the reissue treatment provided here, even down to hand-painting the cover, just as the original was back in 1981. “From The Planet Moon” is a gem for sure, a nonchalant mix of DIY aesthetics, Lou Reed’s unflinching coolness and a smidge of proudly oddball behavior that would’ve fit right in with the Gulcher roster. Musically I’d be convinced it was a track off the Desperate Bicycles’ Remorse Code if you swore to me it was, but Zoomers vocalist George Barr has such a calm and unbothered delivery that it’s clearly the work of a special and different band (yep, the Zoomers). “You’ll See” sounds great too, with touches of J.T. IV and Jonathan Richman, whereas “Somatic” closes on the strangest note of all, a barely-there collage of rock instruments (and piano) that surely had the studio engineer scratching their head. Great obscure punk or punk-ish single for sure – I’m not sure I’d be willing to pay $350 for an original copy like someone else did on Discogs, but I certainly tip my hat to them.
Battle Break compilation 12″ (PRR! PRR!)
This is just the sort of thing I needed, a 12″ compilation of ostensibly-French weirdos operating under various outrageous monikers to produce junky, stupid, outlandish techno / break-beat / gabber / nonsense music. I loved the An Ultimate DJ 12″ from PRR! PRR! over a year ago, and this one operates on a similarly oddball level, with the addition of a scatterbrained enthusiasm that I find particularly infectious. The artist names include Evil Grimace, Tough!, DJ Dee Kay, B-Ball Joints (which I believe is an underused alias of Low Jack) and Venderstrooik, and they randomly cram in all sorts of sounds to include mutilated drum machines, bizarre ’80s VHS detritus, generic acid-house tropes and in the case of Bischepiehls’s “Dancemix 2016”, a barely-remixed edit of the Clarissa Explains It All theme. It’s an overstuffed mess, but Battle Break plays out with an extreme jubilance, as the Battle Break crew throw the rule book out the window and do all they can to crack each other up with zero consideration toward Soundcloud likes or retweets. It’s like a French techno bastard child of Sockeye and James Ferraro, and if I ever get invited to spin records publicly again, you’ll be hearing Tough!’s “Die Hard Domination Pro (Iron Club Theme)”, no doubt.
Thank You, San Francisco! compilation LP (SmartGuy)
SmartGuy is a label that has quietly existed for nearly twenty years, offering some genre classics (the first Clorox Girls album, Total Control’s Paranoid Video, etc.) and generally just doing what they want out of personal excitement toward underground punk-centered music, regardless of social pull or popularity status. My hat’s off to them, and they seem to have commemorated things with this sharp compilation LP, roughly based around San Francisco (although I cannot truly understand how, as only one of the artists calls it their home). Intentional or not, Thank You, San Francisco! defines SmartGuy’s sonic parameters, while simultaneously making it seem like one of the smartest, sharpest labels around: there’s the rowdy punk of Out With A Bang and Clorox Girls (do either of them still exist?), plenty of slick Aussie characters like Leon Stackpole (Ooga Boogas) and David West, as well as the debut of Pate Snot (Mikey Young and James Vinciguerra of Total Control going electro-loopy). Oh, and the moody, autonomous irk of songwriters like Billy Childish (under his CTMF moniker), Dan Melchior and Bill Direen is accounted for. SmartGuy has clearly turned over all sorts of stones in search of the best mangled pop and subterranean punk across the globe, this compilation being a fine place to either start or continue in one’s SmartGuy appreciation.