Steve Adamyk Better Off 7″ (Red Lounge)
North American, “Spirit of ’77” punk on a European label usually sets off some sort of warning signal in my head, especially when the artist is just some dude’s real name (although I tip my cap to the bassist named “Male Nurse”), but Better Off is reason enough for me to consider ditching that stereotype. “Better Off” is a speedy, tuneful number that sounds like the Exploding Hearts covering Jay Reatard; you know, a tuneful, almost cutesy band playing with an Adverts intensity. Same goes for “Satellite” and “Hit the Ground”, the type of perfectly simplistic first-wave punk rock of which I’ll never tire. Steve Adamyk’s modern take on the sound reminds me of how much I dug the first Briefs album (gotta pull that one out again soon). “Hit the Ground” is probably the catchiest of the three, but there isn’t one false move here. More, please!

Amen Dunes Murder Dull Mind EP 12″ (Sacred Bones)
Amen Dunes (just one guy, I think) lived in North Beijing for a while, and he brought along a couple guitars for the trip (electric and acoustic), sitting in his open windowsill and charming the alley cats long after the sun has set. Sometimes he puts together a real song, such as the title track here, rocking a sleepy, indie troubadour vibe and clearly missing his friends back home. Other times, he neglects to write any lyrics, or even any music, and just jams out his guitars to varying levels of comfort, either quietly contemplative melodies on the acoustic or squalls of amplified effects (the direction possibly depending on whether or not his neighbors were home at the time of recording). If the EP followed only one of those approaches, I’d probably like it less than I do, as the mix of struggling acoustic ragas and sun-bleached drone makes for an enjoyable if not transcendent experience. Maybe if Jandek grew up a couple decades later and joined Facebook before spiraling solipsistically into his own navel, he’d have sounded a whole lot like Amen Dunes.

aTelecine …And Six Dark Hours Pass LP (Dais)
Let’s just get this out of the way: aTelecine is the work of actress and porn-star Sasha Grey, alongside two non-acting, non-porning men. People love to talk about Sasha Grey, as is the fate of probably any woman engaged in provocative and controversial behavior, but let’s just bypass the tabloid impulse and listen, okay? Strolling through side one, it’s evident that …And Six Dark Hours Pass is one weird-ass record – it starts with some sort of brief and distorted radio sample, then moves forward to what sounds like little more than two children on a rusty see-saw (about eight minutes worth), then some creepy, new-age ambiance with minor-note keyboards and grey clouds drifting overhead. That’s how aTelecine do it – without any coherence or logical structure, like Stephen Stapleton at his most enigmatic or Edward Ka-Spel in a deliberately obtuse mood. While listening, I really have no idea where aTelecine are taking me, like I’m blindfolded and drugged in the trunk of a musty sedan, unfamiliar with the sound of the road beneath me. Very perplexing stuff, especially as to how or why these three people settled on the sounds here. Regardless, aTelecine is some of the most unarousing music I’ve ever heard, and for my money, a success.

Mac Blackout Don’t Let Your Love Die / Sometimes 7″ (Sacred Bones)
The impulse to Blankdog is strong. I can’t blame the people doing it, really – sitting down in your bedroom or basement or whatever, and just trying to make music by yourself with keyboards and free recording software is a lot of fun; I’ve done it myself. Context clues inform me that Mac here was also in the Functional Blackouts, and while I recall them as a B+ garage-punk group from Chicago, Mac Blackout steps away from that sound and wraps his head in half a dozen scarves on this short n’ sweet single. “Don’t Let Your Love Die” is peculiar enough – a gloomy, Dark Day-styled tune with alternating black metal and new-wave vocals. It’s nothing if not abnormal, like a Pink Noise song with a big tumor growing inside it. “Sometimes” tells me that Blackout’s probably spent some time with the dollar-bin TVT Records 12″s that litter his city’s record shops, or I’d at least like to give him the credit that he didn’t just get the inspiration from the first couple Cold Cave records. I don’t think there’s anyone out there that needs to own this one, part of the beauty of this music is that we can all just go buy some junky keyboards and a guitar and do it ourselves, but it’s an enjoyable five minutes nonetheless.

Capitalist Casualties / Lack of Interest split 7″ (Six Weeks)
Here’s a split that could’ve happened anytime in the past fifteen years, and as a testament to the longevity and quality of the West Coast power-violence scene, neither band has lost a step through that passage of time. Three tracks from Capitalist Casualties, sounding as pissed-off and raw as ever, unwavering from their original template of Heresy and Siege. Real good stuff, but I picked this up because I couldn’t afford to miss out on any new Lack of Interest. Often unfairly written off as Infest clones, Lack of Interest have always been one of Slap A Ham’s most underrated artists, continuing their unflinching brutality here. “Everyone Must Die” is already a modern classic in my book, and with Chris Dodge manning the bass guitar, I wouldn’t be surprised if peak Lack of Interest is yet to come. As a bonus, this split comes with a copy of Short Fast & Loud fanzine, complete with reviews in such tiny print that I needed a magnifying glass to read them. Hardcore will never die.

Channels 3 & 4 Christianity LP (Gilgongo)
If there’s anyone lamenting the declined prominence of the Three.One.G / GSL axis, it’s Channels 3 & 4. This self-described “riot grrl synth punk” group (don’t they know it’s actually spelled “grrrl”?) smacks of Black Cat #13, right down to the cat-headed band members on the back cover and Canadian country of origin. I enjoyed Black Cat #13, even if history writes me into the minority there, but I’m not sure I need to hear a new band taking a stab at the flailing drums, sassy vocals and two-finger keyboard melodies that defined them. Even Christianity‘s cover’s disembodied legs in tights and heels smack of the sassy Spock-core aesthetic that came and went ten years ago. There really isn’t much more to Channels 3 & 4; I can’t even scope out a Neon Hunk influence. Getting down to it, I’d even say that Christianity is less developed artistically than Black Cat #13’s singles. They at least had some affiliation with that Oh No The Modulator guy, you know?

Cosmin TRG Tower Block / Béton Brut 12″ (Hemlock)
I generally associate Cosmin TRG’s name with dubstep geared for the weekend nightclub crowd, the type of music that can move even the least sophisticated rumps while still entertaining those with a Wire subscription. That’s why Tower Block / Béton Brut threw me for a loop, as both tracks pick up long after the celebration has subsided and the confetti has turned to wet sludge on the floor, instead favoring a dark, clicky atmosphere and rhythms with significant bones removed. “Tower Block” reminds me of labelmate Untold, in the way that Untold works economically with his spectrum of sounds, focusing on what one specific blip or squeak can do rather than layering it into oblivion. “Béton Brut” works a similar angle with its skilled dissection of dubstep before eventually expanding into a dimly-lit club banger, unable to deny the urge to shake the crowd after putting his production chops on display. Consistently a favorite of mine, Cosmin TRG can clearly work both sides of the field.

Matthew Dear Black City LP (Ghostly International)
From the moment the languid drums shuffled in on Black City opener “Honey”, I was hooked. Matthew Dear’s debut album Leave Luck to Heaven was a cool and inspiring work for me at the time, but my attention drifted as Dear stopped flirting with pop and entered a serious relationship with it, instead preferring his gritty, saw-toothed techno under the guise of Audion. I think it was the cool artwork that drew me back in, but no matter the reason why I checked it out, Black City is easily one of the best new records I’ve heard this year. It goes like this: the isolated and dark, lunar anomie of Tin Man mixed with LCD Soundsystem’s undeniable pop catchiness (minus the smug self-awareness), plus the visionary studio mastery of Trent Reznor and the cool-as-hell white-boy funk of Beck or Jamie Lidell. Through this equation, Matthew Dear has put together something incredibly complex and unexpected, yet instantly gratifying – all glued by his droopy, distinct vocals, multi-tracked with a chorus of deep baritone and sultry feminine Matthew Dears all cooing at once. The vocal production is a great idea, and it’s the main reason I spent the past two weeks neglecting almost any other music, content to have Dear steer me through the epic “Little People (Black City)” and the swelteringly sexy “You Put A Smell On Me” over and over again. There are few masterworks like Black City coming out these days, so when they do, I hold them close and never let go.

Demdike Stare Liberation Through Hearing LP (Modern Love)
Demdike Stare have quickly become one of my favorite current musical groups. Their mix of dark, gothic atmospheres, middle-eastern strings, industrial menace, cavernous dub techno and horror soundtrack homage are unlike anything else going around, and make for a fantastic mix that’s as distinct as it is open-ended. This approach allows Demdike Stare to release long-form EPs, like the recent and great Forest of Evil, as well as collections of more concise cuts, like the Symbiosis disc, and now, Liberation Through Hearing. It’s a lot of music for such a relatively new group, but the quality remains top-notch here – the sub-arctic bass is as sumptuous as ever on “Caged in Stammheim”, the foggy drones of “Matilda’s Dream” are utterly captivating and the faltering, church-hymn vocal of “Bardo Thorol” is delightfully unexpected. No one else is doing what these guys do, smartly and intentionally compiling the world’s bleakest sounds and crafting something so palatable and entertaining as a result. It’s easy to get spoiled by Demdike Stare, as the vinyl keeps flowing, but this group’s existence is truly something special.

Double Negative Daydreamnation LP (Sorry State)
Heard about but never heard Double Negative before the snarkily-titled Daydreamnation, complete with its silver-embossed, raised-lettering cover that rivals the printing setup of any of my “collectible” early ’90s X-Men comics. Mercifully, that’s where the gimmickry ends with Double Negative, as their riffs come from the same holy book as Raw Power, Ill Repute, Lärm or Poison Idea, you know, any of the hundreds of great hardcore bands who figured it all out before 1984. And unlike some of those bands, I get the impression that Double Negative have a reliable practice space and make good use of it, as each of these thirteen tracks features multiple intricate parts (at least by hardcore’s standards), the type of stuff you have to really work on to nail the way these guys do. I get annoyed by hardcore bands who try to intellectualize the song structure, and throw in all sorts of influences to show some sort of superiority over the standard template, but I wouldn’t accuse Double Negative of that behavior, as their songs flow logically and with aggression in mind, not change for change’s sake. Daydreamnation is nothing I haven’t heard before, but it’s something I’ll always love, and with that sludgy, Landed-esque intro to “Beg To A Vile Nude”, Double Negative have nudged out some room to grow without betraying their gnarly vibe.

The Electric Bunnies Pretty Joanna / I Swear I’ll Never Let You Go 7″ (Sacred Bones)
The emo-comic artwork adorning this Electric Bunnies single is a strange fit for the usually reserved and cult-ish Sacred Bones label, but I guess that’s what you’re signing up for when you work with a band named “The Electric Bunnies”. Their LP didn’t do much for me, but “Pretty Joanna” is a worthy a-side, lots of fuzz and guitar effects floating over a steady bass-line, while the singer does his best rendition of the Butthole Surfers’ “Pepper” over top. I’d play this for a friend. “I Swear I’ll Never Let You Go” never holds me to begin with, though – a limp, sugary pop song with amateurish harmonizing that sounds slightly out-of-tune throughout, not from some cool defiant anti-melody stance, but from a low level of musical chops. The Electric Bunnies bat .500 here, an exceptional average in baseball, but a middling performance in the world of punk singles.

Exiles from Clowntown Around the Corner / Whistling Assassin 7″ (Greatdividing)
They won me over with that name before I even heard them, these Exiles from Clowntown! This band has got to be impossibly stubbly and sour to get kicked out of Clowntown of all places, and after removing this single from its hole-punched and rubber-stamped dust sleeve and giving it a spin, things start to make sense. This is primordal slop-rock to such a degree of amateurish bliss that it makes Watery Love look like international rock stars. “Around the Corner” is a jam on a stockroom bass-line, a would-be instrumental if it wasn’t for some guy muttering in the background a couple minutes in. “Whistling Assassin” lives up to its title with a cheery whistle, complemented with guitar (set on vibrate mode, no ring tone) and a plodding rhythm section. The clear and crisp recording adds to my delightful confusion. What are these Exiles trying to accomplish here? What is the meaning of any of this? Exiles from Clowntown don’t write songs, they write cliffhangers, and I like it that way.

Grass Widow Past Time LP (Kill Rock Stars)
Been hearing all sorts of good things about this San Franciscan trio, who have moved up from the nascent Captured Tracks scene to opening for Sonic Youth and beyond. I never got around to checking them out, except for that roughshod split cassette with Rank/Xerox (which I think was mainly live and doesn’t really count), so I was looking forward to Past Time, their Kill Rock Stars debut. Been spinning it a bunch, and my reactions are mixed – there’s no denying these three women are excellent players and have a special way with melody, I’m just not entirely sure that what they do with all that talent is something I particularly crave. I was expecting something a little more primitive, I mean they do cover the Urinals on that tape, but each song on here has multiple guitar licks, intertwining melodies and most notably, multiple singers constantly singing. Their voices are great, but when I’m trying to concentrate on the snappy drumming, plucked guitars, violin choir, poppy bass AND three sets of vocals singing different things, I start to tune out a little. It’s not a record filled with hooks, more like various sets of interesting ideas, and it’s often a bit too impenetrable for what I’d hope to hear. I think Grass Widow are real cool, I just wish they’d write their music a little more sparingly, in order for me to truly listen, not just hear.

Grave Babies Gouge Your Eyes Out / Traumatic Visions 7″ (Skrot Up)
Skrot Up put out an FNU Ronnies tape last year, so they’ve already got one up on almost every other label in existence. Interesting choice then that they inked a deal with Grave Babies, a Seattle-based duo who probably don’t wait until their black nail polish has completely dried to go outside and smoke. Goths by design, dirtbags by nature, that sort of thing. “Gouge Your Eyes Out” doesn’t gouge so much as softly poke, thanks to a slow-motion drum track and a guitar-line plucked from The xx. Then the vocals come in and kind of disturb the whole thing with a loud, gothy, maudlin drawl that’s a little too overwrought for my tastes. “Traumatic Visions” is less distinct, falling into that giant Blank Dogs vat where all the colors of the rainbow swirl into a greenish gray. Not a bad track, and it fits well alongside the more sprawling a-side, but it’s over in a blip. All in all, a glum little single, proof that it still rains all too often in Seattle.

Hiroshima Rocks Around / Bipolar Bear split LP (Kill Shaman / No=Fi)
Nothing if not a fitting match, here’s two sides of noisy post-punk, courtesy of Rome and Los Angeles. Hiroshima Rocks Around are up first, running through a large handful of songs that complete their checklist nicely – frantic ping-ponging guitars, bass that sounds like an emergency alarm, poorly played saxophone for annoyance value, a song that’s little more than dicking around, grown men throwing a tantrum in front of the microphone – it’s all there. I could waste an evening in a far worse way than by listening to Hiroshima Rocks Around. Maybe I haven’t tuned into Bipolar Bear in a while, but I’m hearing a pretty strong No Age influence here, in the way that their pummeling drums meet naive vocals and chiming guitar. “Cidade” has kind of an A Frames vibe, thanks to that mechanical bass-line, but I can’t shake the image of No Age as I continue to listen. All in all, an adequate pairing that is destined to be lost deep within the recesses of my split LPs, never to be heard from again.

Knife Fight Isolated EP 7″ (Painkiller)
The previously dormant Knife Fight are back with seven new hardcore cuts, as American as a bald eagle choking on apple pie. Isolated EP could really stand as a textbook example of undiluted American hardcore – in the tradition of The Fix, Straight Ahead and Poison Idea, Knife Fight fly through their songs in a minute or less, drilling their repetitive riffs and occasional breakdowns into your skull. No vocal effects, no extended solos, no dirges, no melodies, just straight-forward hardcore without lofty purpose or ulterior motive. It’s nearly impossible to break down Knife Fight and their Isolated EP any further than that – either you connect with it or you don’t. I like my share of fancy music that makes no sense, but when I want a greasy serving of meat-and-potatoes hardcore, Knife Fight fill that void perfectly.

Mammoth Grinder Obsessed with Death 7″ (Hell Massacre)
I’ve enjoyed a variety of Grinders in my day: Carcass, Scrotum, hell, even a Rumpelstiltskin. Might as well add a Mammoth to that prestigious list, and what better way to start than a Hell Massacre release. “Obsessed with Death” cuts right to the point, as it’s a fine slice of hardcore-tinged death metal, complete with gruff vocals and a brief Kerry King-style solo. Pure catnip for the Relapse Records staff. On the flip, Mammoth Grinder take on what is undoubtedly Venom’s most famous song (probably the most famous greeting in all of metal, too), slowing it a touch and thickening it out, although improving upon the original is undoubtedly an impossible task. Could’ve gone for another original Mammoth Grinder song instead, but it’s not a dealbreaker. They’re already my second favorite Grinder (well, third if you count Grinderman) and I’ve only really heard one real song.

Motor City Drum Ensemble Raw Cuts #3 & #4 12″ (MCDE)
Don’t get confused – Motor City Drum Ensemble is not a drum ensemble, nor from Detroit. Instead, it’s the work of a young German guy named Danilo Plessow who looks like a member of Sigur Rós (which is actually the polar opposite of what a Motor City drum ensemble would look like). Clearly looks can be deceiving though, as both of these “raw cuts” are house music of the highest order, with sweet keys, thumping bass and undeniable grooves. “Raw Cuts #3” works the ’70s soul vocals nicely into the mix, an anthem that works for packed Manhattan loft and backyard barbeque alike. “Raw Cuts #4” does the same thing, just pure vibrant house that recalls Theo Parrish and Moodymann’s deepest moments. The pitch-perfect production and spacious vinyl grooves on here would make any sound system sound expensive. Raw Cuts #3 & #4 is proof that a solid groove knows no racial or national barriers; I hope there are more on the way.

San Francisco Water Cooler II LP (Sun Sneeze)
Even if San Francisco Water Cooler neglected to designate a city in their name, it’s pretty clear that this music was made on the West Coast – II is filled with the type of swirling rock psychedelia and flower-picking playfulness that could only be rendered in California, the sunny state where burritos are free on every corner and the title of “musician” is considered an actual occupation. The ‘Water Cooler keep things light and grooving throughout, sticking to the pop-song script even as their guitars start to levitate and the drugs take effect. It’s lo-fi, not unlike Sic Alps or Psychedelic Horseshit’s more coherent efforts, and like those two, San Francisco Water Cooler don’t forget that there should be an actual song underneath it all. The tone-deaf singer harshes my mellow on occasion, like one of those “so bad it’s funny” American Idol rejects hollering into the air, but he never brings the party to a halt. The rest of the band is surely having too much fun to notice, and there’s certainly something to be said for that.

Ty Segall & Mikal Cronin Reverse Shark Attack LP (Kill Shaman)
It’s simply impossible to ingest today’s constant deluge of garage punk vinyl, it makes the BP spill look like a drop of pee in a swimming pool by comparison, but I’m willing to make time for Ty Segall. I know he’s on the “one single a week” strength training regimen, so I’ve stuck with the albums, a plan I strongly endorse. Reverse Shark Attack teams Segall with Mikal Cronin, filling out the lineup nicely with bass guitar and drums that aren’t just played by Segall’s feet. The a-side gets fast at times, almost like The Oblivians at moments, although I prefer the Cramps-y nuggets like “I Wear Black” and “Bikini Babes” the most; Segall’s greasy vocal is best enjoyed at a Link Wray pace. The b-side is filled entirely by “Reverse Shark Attack”, and while I was hoping these guys were just gonna jam on some sleazy garage riff for like fifteen minutes and yell “reverse shark attack!” over top, I wasn’t too disappointed by the suite of garage-y laments, drum solos, surf shredding and rock improv that actually comprise it. Good thing it’s already September, I’m not entirely sure I feel safe in the water anymore.

Skream Outside the Box 4xLP (Tempa)
There have been a lot of dubstep albums dropping lately, and like the majority of them, Skream’s Outside the Box is a mixed bag. Undeniably one of the godfathers of the genre, which is kind of funny seeing as he was just a teenager at the time, Skream has hit big over the years, and now, riding the wave of notoriety following his killer La Roux remix, he’s poised to go even bigger. It’s with that reaching-for-the-sky attitude that Skream approached Outside the Box, leading to some of his most pop-oriented material yet, like the killer “Where You Should Be” and Benny Benassi-esque “How Real”. Those are my picks of the litter, as they have two of the strongest vocal performances, nicely robotized by Skream and chopped briskly into some sort of sexy cyborg hash. Unfortunately, when Skream steps out on his own here, I find myself getting bored, as he plays things a little too safe, or on the Murs’ collaboration “8 Bit Baby”, the corny, bragadocious West Coast rapping gets in the way entirely. Even La Roux’s contribution to “Finally” sounds more like an Evanescence remix than anything as star-powered as “In For The Kill”. Outside the Box is not without it’s high points, it just suffers from it’s hefty size. Maybe eventually a dubstep album will be put together that truly explains this music to the rest of the world, but it hasn’t happened yet.

Soft Shoulder People Problems 7″ (Gilgongo)
Generally speaking, I dig most music that gets hit with the infamous “anyone could play that!” criticism. Soft Shoulder are certainly a band ripe for that sort of derision, as their form of ape-like rock is by no means an impressive feat. No, any gathering of slugs with a guitar, microphone, borrowed amps and busted drums could make this sort of racket. In the wrong setting, like the middle of a six-band basement show where I’m waiting for the band I came to see, or on a long car ride while trying to sleep, I’d hate Soft Shoulder as much as any God-fearing citizen, but in the form of this cruddy, grayscale 7″ single, I’m happy to oblige their noisy, simplistic view of the world. File it among your Lust/Unlust records and see if anyone notices.

Jason Urick This Is Critical / Invisible Map 7″ (Fan Death)
Here’s a nice double-shot of digital noise from Baltimore’s gray-haired maestro, Jason Urick. A few years ago, I caught a Wzt Hearts gig, his previous group, and their electro-acoustic improvisation left me hanging (not every guy with a cool necklace and a couple Chris Corsano records is cut out to be a free drummer), but cutting out on his own, Urick is pretty righteous. “This Is Critical” is a nice ebb and flow of rapidly deteriorating creaks and moans, like a digital violin decaying beautifully as its strings shred from the friction. It’s an overloaded track and succeeds for it. “Invisible Map” is my noisy play-of-the-week though; it sounds like the ambient-techno of Gas run through a subway station PA system while the earth’s crust melts, a really beautiful declaration of peace and love in the face of total armageddon. Not sure why I haven’t heard any Gas-inspired noise before, it’s a really palatable combo, so I hope Urick keeps cutting tunes like “Invisible Map”. People keep finding new ways of getting high; it’s only right that the music keeps up, too.

Vaccine Human Hatred 7″ (Painkiller)
It’s ironic that this brutal power-violence band is called Vaccine… ‘cuz this record kills me every time I put it on! Hey, if these grown men are allowed to be straight-edge, I’m allowed a bad joke or two. Seriously though, there’s no remorse in these ten tracks, just pure blasting hardcore ala Despise You or Scapegoat – grindcore played with a hardcore mentality. It’s fantastic stuff, avoiding anything slow or corny, and just completely annihilating with speed and vigor, written with a tumbling complexity that reminds me of the Charles Bronson full-length. The lyrics for “Limited Edition” and “Cheap” tug at my nostalgia too, recalling a time when topics like collectible vinyl and scenesters were the most troubling issues facing the middle-class hardcore youth. We didn’t know how good we had it.

Gunnar Wendel 578 12″ (FXHE)
There is nary a more confusing universe than that of electronic dance music singles. See, this is a 12″ by Gunnar Wendel, the real name of Kassem Mosse (which I didn’t know was an alias until now). These two songs are two different, unlabeled remixes of “578” by A.O.S., aka Omar S, and the vinyl plays from the inside out. As if techno wasn’t a hard enough world to understand when just what the hell you were listening to is clearly labeled, these guys take delight in making it even more impenetrable. Thankfully, I’m up for the challenge, and these two mixes are just the sort of electro-fire that gives me the courage to soldier on. The synths on “578” are pure-bred Kraftwerk, the type of robotic techno-funk that made Computer World the paradigm-shifter that it was. Wendel’s got an infectious riff here, modified and tweaked in real-time in the way that only Omar S can. In a way, the sheer effort needed to understand FXHE and its releases is rewarding, a far cry from the way in which I can download every Can or Drexciya or Slayer album in ten hours without blinking an eye (or paying a penny). Nice to see someone still wants to make me work for it.