Battle Ruins Battle Ruins 7″ (Rock ‘N’ Roll Disgrace)
My Oi library has a limited depth, high points including Combat 84’s debut 7″ (“Poseur” enters my head at least once a month), the Toughskins LP (best cover art) and the Anti-Heros live 5″ (second best live 5″, thanks to the Wretched Ones) – a sad resume indeed. It’s not that I don’t dig this stuff, it’s that I never really seek it out, but something like the debut Battle Ruins 7″ (comprised of select cuts off their demo) is pretty fierce. This is definitely Oi of the slick, modern variety, tempering their anger with solid musical ability and a backbone of Cocksparrer-styled, almost hard-rock riffage. These four tracks would make for an enjoyable yet unmemorable time if it wasn’t for the singer – he provides a standard, gruff holler on the verses, but for literally every chorus on here, he raises up a register and belts out his words in this impassioned battle cry that has me ready to join his gang (as if he’d enlist me). He nails the melodies every time, kind of like a higher-pitched James Hetfield (or a regular-pitched Dexter Holland – for real), if Hetfield got in street fights every weekend instead of wearing mandals while shopping at Armani. I could listen to “Heart of Fire and Stone” all day because of the singer; he takes a decent musical effort and makes it something righteous and commanding.

The Chinese Restaurants River of Shit 7″ (SS)
More unruly Brooklyn noise-rock, but The Chinese Restaurants aren’t aping Brainbombs, rather they’re indebted to their lesser-known, dollar-bin Blackjack Records labelmates. This is noisy punk the way Icky Boyfriends could be considered such – it’s sloppy, designed for nuisance value, filled with bad ideas and most people won’t like it. In other words, I dig it! “River of Shit” is a boring rock shuffle that samples Obama for roughly three minutes, with the singer doing his best “Wonderful Subdivision” in the background, until Mattin provides his signature annoying cut-up remix for the last minute or so. I can already tell people are going to hate this, especially since that overbearing Obama clip is uncool in basically every underground circle (post-Reagan president references are hard going, just ask that Australian band named George W. Bush). The two cuts on the b-side are less distinct but finish nicely, very much sounding like they were meant to be squeezed into one of those Bulb / Blackjack Records compilation 7″s that had like nine bands a-piece (and consistently remain one of eBay’s finest bargains). I’ll be surprised if my critical peers enjoy this one like I do, but for my money, it’s tickling the same funnybone as last year’s Pillow Talk single.

Cosmin TRG Now You Know 2×12″ (Tempa)
Here’s a banging double twelve from Cosmin TRG, known previously known without the “Cosmin”, the guy that so many upper-crust dubstep dudes have made a name for themselves by remixing. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but this EP has some of the most infectious, insecurity-free dance music I’ve ever heard from the Tempa crew – “Twilight Riddim” is as universally pleasureable as anything from Benny Benassi or David Guetta but infinitely cooler (pretty sure Cosmin TRG has much better odds at a Wire Invisible Jukebox than Mr. Guetta). I’ve been wary of all the new dubstep/funky that relies heavily on early 90s rave sampling (just can’t hang with the Amen break), but Cosmin TRG uses that influence carefully, to the point where he’s created an entirely modern sound that I can enjoy on repeat. If dubstep ever ends up having its own “Let Me Clear My Throat”, Cosmin TRG will be the one to write it.

Deviation Social From End to Beginning Vol. 1 LP (Dais)
What a treat this one is, a tidy, informative and attractive collection of Deviation Social’s earliest work. I am not a cassette guy, although even if I was, it’s highly unlikely that any of Deviation Social’s wildly obscure tapes (both solo and compilation releases) would’ve ever found their way into my home. And even if they did, would I really want to be handling this stuff without gloves? Deviation Social’s Arshile Injeyan wasn’t just an artist, he seemed to live the grotesque imagery his music referenced, from drug abuse to violence and depravity. It’s an interesting story, but my excitement stems from the sounds on From End to Beginning, which are as twisted and cruel as anything I’ve ever heard – Injeyan takes the dystopian sensibility of German Shepherds and channels that into the lucid dream style of Nurse With Wound, manipulating spoken-word samples and synths to his own nefarious ends. Each track is colorful, frightening and ingenious in its own way, and mastered without any unnecessary tape hiss or sound quality degradation. Never have I found an obscure industrial artifact to be so listenable and unique! Really can’t recommend this one enough, in hopes that Volume 2 becomes Dais’ top priority.

F Energy Distortion CD (7Even)
Nope, not the Floridian hardcore band famous for their classic You Are An EP 12″, this F is another new dubstep face quick to hit the scene with a growing collection of remixes and originals. His take is similar to that of Ramadanman and Martyn, fusing the old sounds of Detroit with the modern rhythms of Bristol. It’s an incredibly contemporary style, yet the sounds of F don’t do much to really excite me – can music be considered “generic” even if it’s a sound that is anything but? I thought F’s collab 12″ with Headhunter had some nice and heavy feelings, but the majority of Energy Distortion (a CD collection of three vinyl releases) doesn’t have the same presence or chutzpah. Songs like “On The Corner” sound like they’d fit right in on Apple Pips, and they would, I just wouldn’t pay international shipping costs to hear them.

The Figgs Casino Hayes / Another Point of View 7″ (Peterwalkee)
Man… The Figgs. I could spend a week in board room trying to design the world’s least cool rock 7″ single, but I’m sure the end result would still probably be cooler than this one. The cover art is all faux-Vegas (yes, there are dice), in support of the a-side tune, a generic opening-band rocker about a guy who gambles too much. “Another Point of View” has different songwriting credits (I had to check) and sounds like Pavement circa “Spit on a Stranger”, if Pavement were comprised exclusively of Guitar Center employees. Pretty weird split, and neither of these songs are necessarily bad, just incredibly corny. Although I checked, and it doesn’t seem to be the case, I can’t help but assume The Figgs are a bunch of guys who stopped paying attention to music from 1985 through 2005 in order to raise their children and are now buying the Stratocasters and leopard-print guitar straps they always wanted, because that’s exactly what these two songs sound like. It’s not bad music and I am being too harsh, but then again, so are their daughters when they yell down into the basement and ask their dads to stop practicing while friends are over. As long as they’re having fun, who cares what their annoying kids or I have to say?

Folded Shirt Folded Shirt 7″ (Fashionable Idiots)
Fashionable Idiots are like the Lewis and Clark of stupid, venturing into the nicotine- and booger-stained practice spaces of the Midwest in search of the worst punk rock they can find. They hit paydirt with Folded Shirt, who offer four floundering songs on this debut 7″, all performed with a modicum of effort. Seems like they got the band member with the weakest sense of humor to write the songs and the guy with the worst voice to sing, all part of their master plan to annoy even the most hardened Darvocets and Homostupids fans. The vocal hallucination “Crazy Eyes” gives me two for flinching right before I remove this platter from my turntable, over as quickly as it started. Most people won’t care for this record, but like any abusive relationship, I keep coming back to this one in spite of my better judgment.

Fuck Montreal Winter Mange 7″ (Stumparumper)
The unfortunately-named Stumparumper Records has made it their mission to release a wide variety of unknown and maligned bands through its short existence, the most recent being that of Nova Scotian band Fuck Montreal. My political views are staunchly pro-Montreal, yet something about Fuck Montreal’s spazzy attack makes me want to keep this one rather than flip (out my window into Ralph’s Italian Restaurant’s dumpster). An LP would drive me nuts, but the seven songs they squeezed here run the gamut from squirrelly punk rock to introspective, half-baked drone, all with a female singer who sounds like she’s been dying to get a microphone in front of her face since she first learned to talk. Reminds me of all those weirder mid-90s Recess Records bands, like Les Turds or Annie & Candy Clutz or Chickenhead, bands who used punk rock as an excuse to bother their friends and neighbors (a reasoning I applaud). And by the time I noticed that the last track is titled “I Pour Bees On Myself”, Fuck Montreal have won me over.

Girls Laura / Oh Boy 7″ (True Panther Sounds)
Last year’s Big New Thing is in my record bin with this 7″, featuring a cut off the album Album and an unreleased b-side. Kinda perplexed by this one; if you’d have told me that Pitchfork’s newest darling would sound like some sub-Elvis Costello power-pop act on Epic Records in 1980 (I’m talking wimpier than the Lambrettas), I would’ve spit Pimm’s Cup all over my computer screen. I am a sucker for this sort of thing though, especially when performed as care- and irony-free as Girls, who seem to take no precaution in their wholeheartedness. “Laura” has a reliable hook and the warbly vocal as performed by what looks like Kurt Cobain’s sickly younger brother is enough for my seal of approval. This came out in late January in a pressing of a thousand and it’s still available; I doubt we’ll ever return to a time when newly-hyped indie acts would sell a few thousand singles in a month, huh.

Homostupids Night Deacon EP 7″ (Fashionable Idiots)
Ah, do you smell that? Spring has sprung, and along with the blooming crocuses and daffodils comes Night Deacon EP, the newest 7″ by everyone’s favorite sexual preference-obsessed Ohioans. It’s a short one, and amongst the standard H’stupes burners “R Companion” and “The Donovan (Chop Chop Chop)” we get an uncomfortable Frogs-esque sketch like “Wearing Sammy” and a tasteful string interpretation of their classic “Weekend” (what fool wouldn’t recognize that melody?). By the time this thing wraps up, I’m rubbing my red, itchy eyes and convulsing into sneezing fits, surely caused by the high level of pollen emitted by the Night Deacon EP.

Innumerable Forms Dark Worship 7″ (Hell Massacre)
Good (dark) Lord, Mind Eraser have gone from quality players to the masters of their domain in the past couple years. Innumerable Forms is the solo project of Mind Eraser singer (and all-around Boston hardcore keystone) Justin Detore, taking on death metal with a bloodshot focus and an impossibly heavy sound. “Illusory” comes out of the gates with a weight I thought exclusively reserved for doom metal, just so ripping and heavy that I can almost feel gravity pulling the sound out of the amps. The riff continues but the drums breakdown into some sort of unholy mosh part halfway through; it’s easy to picture Satanic arms being snapped in the pit when this moment shifts. I’ll be honest, I didn’t know death metal this massive existed. Further revealing my lack of metallic depth, the vocals remind me of Assuck’s deep bellowing variety, nearly as thick and wide as the music itself, yet their intensity isn’t clouded by the size. Sure, DIY music is cool when it’s some weirdo in his bedroom coughing into a four-track, but keep in mind that Dark Worship was performed, recorded and released by essentially two Mind Eraser dudes, truly a pinnacle of what independent artists can produce without any outside or industry assistance.

Lamps Niels Bohr Was An Excellent Ping Pong Player 7″ (Dull Knife)
Nice to see some new Lamps records, as they’ve delivered two new singles at essentially the same time (isn’t that how it always happens?). The a-side has as curious a title as any Lamps tune, really drilling home Mr. Bohr’s accomplishments. Guitarist/vocalist Monty Buckles doesn’t work with riffs so much as morse code, hammered out via one or two buzzing guitar strings, and the pattern chosen for “Niels Bohr” is as delightful as ever. You can headbang to this one, how often can that be said for Lamps tunes? “I’ve Been On A Lot Of Camels” is much meaner and maintains the high level of quality. Lamps were always an album band for me, but this one changed that.

Locrian Territories LP (At War With False Noise / Basses Frequencies / BloodLust! / Small Doses)
If it takes four record labels to put out one album, so be it, so long as it’s as nicely produced as Locrian’s Territories. Continuing in the spirit of cooperation, this one features a number of guest players, including none other than BLOODYMINDED’s Mark Solotroff on vocals and synthesizer, the type of collaboration any Chicago-based freak would envy. Speaking of synths, Territories has a lot of them, practically dominating the landscape where metallic guitars once reigned. There are still some fierce black metal guitar riffs here, which make for a nice balance, but my money’s on the synth-drone mood pieces; there might be just a little too much china cymbal for my tastes on the thrashing metal tracks. Their metalwork here is better than I am recalling, it’s just that when a track is credited to Solotroff’s synth and vocals, a bass guitar and another synthesizer, how can anything top that?

Martyn Hear Me (Zomby Mix) / Seventy Four (Redshape Mix) 12″ (3024)
Martyn’s Fabric mix has been a fun listen, but the Zomby and Redshape remixes on this 12″ sound even more alive and inspired than that. Zomby tempers his 8-bit fetish on “Hear Me” to the point I always wanted him to, just kind of fluttering about in the background, while the punchy, descending bassline has me tied to its leash. The snare barely seeps out of the soup long enough to get a few taps in and I’m really seeing this not just as an effective ‘floor filler but a successful piece of art, too. Previously unfamiliar with Redshape, but he provides a nice, house-y contrast to Zomby’s funk, taking the track through different suites while maintaining both groove and listener attention. The beat is potent but there are a number of liminal sounds that I’ve only caught after repeated spins; it’s the kind of cut that provides a deeper experience as you move from computer speakers to car stereo to home stereo to club. Martyn may not have been responsible for all the enjoyment I’ve gotten out of this one, but he certainly knows how to choose the right company.

Mental Powers Mental Powers CD (Badminton Bandit)
Mental Powers’ track on their split single with Free Choice was cool but nothing I’d point out to a friend while flipping through the singles bin in a record shop. Glad I got a copy of this CD though, as the three untitled tracks here allow the group to spread their wings a bit and become the freaky ensemble they were meant to be. Their music is generally based around a wild and repetitious drum pattern, played just slightly outside of the drummer’s capacity, which makes for the interesting flub on occasion. From there, the guitarists start chiming in, nice and loosely, sounding like a rehearsed jam. When they get serious (there’s a few minutes of quiet atmosphere on the second track), I am tempted to mention This Heat, when they get silly, with their frantic riffing and hooting and hollering, I am tempted to mention Ponytail. Mental Powers definitely fall somewhere in between, probably closest to Barnacled in the way they get a small handful of people to jam so cohesively and singularly minded. I bet they’ve played at least a couple art galleries where the attendants left thinking more about what they just heard rather than what they saw, which is cool.

Nice Face Immer Etwas LP (Sacred Bones)
I picked up the Nice Face Hozac 7″ because really, Google that cover and explain to me how you can’t. It’s the type of record that you assure the sales clerk “thanks, but I don’t need a bag” and proudly carry around while finishing your daily errands. Spun it a few times but really only recall it sounding like a Blank Dogs formed in the garage (as opposed to the bedroom), the sort of modern sound I can take or leave. There’s more of that on Immer Etwas, with the synth and drum machine turned up to the point where I first thought I put on the Pink Noise album instead. Initially I wanted to dismiss the whole thing as irrelevant to my life, but for whatever reason I’ve been playing it around the house a lot and finding less and less to dislike. I still wish the recording was beefy enough that washing the dishes wouldn’t drown it out completely, but hook-laden, Cramps-via-The Damned songs like “A Minor Altercation” and “Invective” make it worth my while to turn it up.

Nothing People Soft Crash LP (SS)
Figured it was time to give Nothing People another go, as the internet has repeatedly told me they are great, and I had previously only heard their debut 7″ some years ago (it stunk). Rather than hold the suspense any further, I’ll get right to it – Soft Crash is pretty cool. A lot of the modern signifiers could probably apply here (lo-fi, weird noises, synths, vocal effects, reverb), but Nothing People don’t really remind me of the current crop (maybe only distantly Gary War). They are a full band, which certainly helps, as they traverse a pretty wide palette of rock sounds, from brooding melodies that could be freshly picked from some Shadoks reissue to the alien effects Chrome liked to transmit. And then there’s a song like “Marilyn’s Grave”, which sounds like Fu Manchu’s singer orchestrating a neo-hippie gathering in the grass. Nothing People can sound like Wooden Shjips in one track and Debris in the next, but it’s never deliberate or annoying, it’s really just the result of a band with a lot of taste and an ability to do their own thing in spite of it. Can’t say for sure I’ll be remembering to put this one on in a couple months, but the basis for all their praise is now understood.

The Pink Noise Birdland LP (Sacred Bones)
For as broad of a spectrum as Sacred Bones covers, I feel like The Pink Noise essentially defines the label’s sound: home-recorded, noise-laced post-punk that is as indebted to early Rough Trade weirdness as the pre-No Wave CBGBs scene. Unlike many of those early bands who could only hope to see a 7″ or two during their existence (I’m looking at you, Boris Policeband and File Under Pop), The Pink Noise are on their way to surpassing Suicide’s discography in only a few short years. Birdland is their newest album, and if you are looking to pick up the newest batch of Sacred Bones releases, this is probably the one you can skip. Within these fifteen tracks, The Pink Noise get sloppier than I remember them in the past, focusing less on interesting hooks and more on the different sounds their bedroom studio can muster. That’s kind of my problem with this one – it’s much easier to come up with a weird guitar sound and program the drum machine and just let ‘er rip than it is to create a substantial song and consider the sound effects at a later time. Pretty much every song on here seems to be written that way; it comes across more like fifteen parts-of-songs than fifteen fully-realized tracks. I don’t need polished songs to enjoy myself, but Birdland isn’t willing to meet me halfway, instead content to just get by with an established name and some new pedals.

Sightings City of Straw LP (Jagjaguwar)
It’s time again for a new Sightings album (number nine by my calculations), a cause for celebration that seems to happen once every eighteen months or so. I’ve been a huge fan from that first disorienting, self-titled mess onward, but their upward mobility really spiked on Through the Panama, stepping into a realm inhabited only by themselves. City of Straw remains in that same tilted universe, with Mark Morgan’s vocal snarl both drunken and coherent, toeing the line between the unmedicated rants of To Live And Shave In LA’s Tom Smith and the snotty sneer of whoever sang for “New” Terror Class. Morgan’s guitar acts as a soldering gun for most of the record, as he bends the strings at unnatural angles and forces his amp to overheat, Keiji Haino-style. I particularly enjoy when the guitar is accompanied by drums that sound like jagged minimal techno and bassist Richard Hoffman’s scribbly, repetitive rhythms. There’s that moment in every Sightings set where Hoffman is just headbanging along to his own performance, seemingly unaware of the other men on stage; it’s always my favorite part. There’s lots of cuts on City of Straw that enable such behavior (“Saccharine Traps” in particular), although I was a little disappointed that a song I heard them play live where drummer Jonathan Lockie unleashes this massive electronic explosion via drum pad didn’t make it on here. That’s neither here nor there though, as Sightings have once again crafted an album that is diabolically entertaining from start to finish and without peer. I just hope people are wise enough to appreciate and follow this band now, as music this fantastic, strange and reliable is too often taken for granted.

Slices Cruising LP (Iron Lung)
Slices debut LP is the type of top-shelf rager that will render the Iron Lung name more familiar as a label than a band. These Pittsburgh guys have been at it for a while, but Cruising is my first experience with them and a fine way to start. Could’ve sworn I saw these guys years ago when they were a two-piece grind band (?), but this Slices is a nasty four-piece delivering short bursts of hardcore and longer passages of tense and frustrated guitar. They have a noisy, guitar-driven sound like so many other bands these days, but Slices temper their aggression with riffs meant for circle-pitting, just the right amount of fast. Reminds me of Cold Sweat in the way that they are clearly a hardcore punk band without any blatant references yet also lacking a distinctly unique sound (although “Guide To Incest” starts off with such a severely Black Flag-sounding guitar crunch, more than any other band compared to the ‘Flag in the past ten years). Their uncomfortable musical asides never overstay their welcome, although if “Mike’s Insane Problem” is about drummer Mike Oven’s uncanny resemblance to the Family Guy dad and son, I would really consider that more of a blessing than a problem. Hope these guys make the trek across Pennsylvania soon, Cruising is the type of thing I want to witness in person.

Ulaan Khol III CD (Soft Abuse)
Ulaan Khol is the guise of one Stephen R. Smith, whose mile-deep discography hits all sorts of natural and psychedelic touchstones along the way. No matter how lightly you tread, expect to get some mud on your pant leg, you know? Ulaan Khol is one of his more recent projects, focusing on sun-baked guitar, both electric and acoustic. Reminds me a lot of Hototogisu or the friendlier Skullflower material, where the multiple guitar tracks congeal like an airy fog, all those tiny droplets of condensation working together to obscure your view. This sort of thing doesn’t really work on a 7″, but I appreciate that Smith never drags any of these tracks past the ten-minute mark either; you can get by on III with a glass of wine, no carafe needed. Puts my brain in the same warmly introspective space as Agitation Free’s Malesch, which is a place I like to be.

Vile Gash Vile Gash 7″ (Youth Attack)
Of the new crop of noisy hardcore bands, I’ve determined that Vile Gash are my favorite. First off, this is a ten-song 7″, perhaps the perfect song to inch ratio, and an appropriate answer to the trend of two-song hardcore singles that require flipping before I’ve even made it back to the couch. Secondly, where other Youth Attack bands apparently feel obligated to show off how deviant or sociopathic they are by adding noise interludes and dicking around, Vile Gash simply deliver their hardcore as directly as possible (no solos), sounding like a mix of Poison Idea and Negative FX with Die Kreuzen’s demonic frontman on the mic. I swear they’re that good. They end with a dirge, ala Infest, but the tempo reduction seems more like a necessity for avoiding mental breakdown than any artistic pose. Speaking of art, my only gripe with Vile Gash is the fact that this nicely-designed 7″ cover and inner-sleeve features the same font choice, grainy black-and-white mental hospital imagery and typeset as every other piece of recorded music in their peer group. If Youth Attack does all the design in-house, I guess I understand, but I wish these guys would take the opportunity to add their own style to the rich lineage of hardcore punk artwork rather than opt for the generic modern template.

Zola Jesus Stridulum EP 12″ (Sacred Bones)
After last year’s excellent The Spoils and the attention it garnered, it only makes sense that Zola Jesus has taken things in a bigger and bolder direction with Stridulum. At this point, there is essentially nothing tying her to the lo-fi ladies she roomed with on XXperiments, as the six cuts here are full-on cinematic torch songs, free of any tape hiss or homemade reverb. The opener “Night” is the hit, I’m warning you now to not get angry when this lands a spot on the next Twilight soundtrack. It’s almost like she’s just crooning over a lost Enigma track, especially when the artificial tribal drums kick in. The rest of the tracks are nearly as good, with an epic and sweeping atmosphere that reminds me of Tamaryn in a way, although Zola has a deeper set of lungs and seems to improve at harnessing their power with each sucessive record. I kind of cringe when she sings the line “it’s not easy to fall in love / but if you’re lucky, you just might find someone”; I only take that sort of advice from Chet Baker or Mark Kozelek, but all is forgiven when the chorus sweeps in. Really fantastic EP that continues her upward trajectory and has me wondering which mega-indie is sending her flattering emails and buying her plane tickets right now – 4AD? Matador? Rough Trade? My money’s on all three.