Crystal Stilts Love Is A Wave 7″ (Slumberland)
I checked out Crystal Stilts last year at a beer-soaked frat house party and they were awful. Out of tune, dull, and with quite possibly one of the least captivating lead singers to ever wear sunglasses on stage. It was a sloppy night all around, and time has helped me forgive, so I figured a new two song single would be a safe reconciliation with this widely-admired group. After serious consideration, I can’t say that I hate “Love Is A Wave”; it’s not bad, but at the same time it sorely lacks any big hook or interesting chorus or unusual quirk to make it something special. Instead, there’s just a load of musty reverb applied everywhere and that same stuffy-nosed singer, this time singing slightly more in tune. If that one is the hit, “Sugar Baby” is certainly the b-side, and while I guess it’s gutsy to be a grown man singing “you’re my sugar baby” in 2009, the track goes on too long and grows too limp for me to really care or believe. A couple weeks ago I ended up seeing them on a proper stage and well, they stunk up that joint too. The band has a cool look, but they seem to lack both creativity and talent, and I need at least a little from either column to keep me interested.

Eat Skull Wild And Inside LP (Siltbreeze)
Eat Skull seem to be the true wild card in this whole Siltbreeze lo-fi revolution, in that I never really know what to expect from them, with each subsequent release rendering them harder to pin down. Many would say that the mix of flailing art-punk and subtle hooks found on their ‘Dead Families’ single was their high point, and I would probably agree, but the stripped-down, almost folksy material of Wild And Inside shows a band that is getting even more comfortable with writing songs. Lots of acoustic guitar on here and that surprised me, especially since their first album seemed at times like it wanted to snap completely off of indie rock and make them a claim as hardcore’s strangest group. There’s a couple short-n-speedies on here, but generally I am reminded of one of those sprawling Olivia Tremor Control albums or the first The Music Tapes record, where every song kinda just spills into the next, vibing on some slightly-drugged campfire party where no one is self-conscious and anyone is welcome to share some words or bang along on a guitar. ‘Wild And Inside’ isn’t as cutesy as any of that Elephant Six stuff though; it’s still clearly music played by punky-types pushing 30 without any real career aspirations, leaving each song with a weird grit that I can appreciate. I really dig most of the song titles, like “Cooking A Way To Be Happy” and “Surfing The Stairs”, nice little turns of phrase that don’t make conventional sense but are all the better for it. I doubt I will be coming back to this album too often in the next few months, it’s just not really my bread and butter, but having listened to it a bunch lately I can confidently say that Eat Skull are no pretenders to their throne.

Fresh Meat Leather Daddy 7″ (Fashionable Idiots)
Second single from Fresh Meat and it sticks to the noisy MO they established with their Breathing Problem Productions debut. Three songs here, the finest of the bunch being “Get To Work” on the flip side, if only for the memorable chorus line “do your stinking job” (about a washing machine, I believe). Nice and dopey riff on that one, too. The recording is improved from their debut and it keeps things raw but allows me to actually get a feel for what’s going on. The guitarist makes sure we hear his yodeling feedback as much as he can and it’s a cool effect that works for the life of a single. Still not really sold on the S&M deviant imagery, but I love these paper-thin single sleeves that remind me of early Rip Off Records 7”s like Loli and the Chones or something. Good work, guys.

Joe Grimelight 12″ (Hessle Audio)
There’s nothing like finding a modern record label you can completely trust and when it comes to dubstep, Hessle Audio has got my money into the foreseeable future. Last year’s Pangaea and Ramadanman singles were top-notch but this 12” by Joe (according to, the 47th artist named “Joe”) is the pinnacle thus far. Joe works with a refined set of vaguely ethnic sounds, piecing things together perfectly on “Grimelight”, shaky bass and cranking gears all popping into place to mold a dance track that is as contemplative and weighty as it is club-ready. More of a Martyn slip-slide than a Shackleton chest-thump, if you know what I mean. It’s also probably the first dubstep track I’ve heard that seemed to reach a Villalobian level of precision and craft. “Rut” on the b-side is equally slick and nicely paced with a similar sound selection, but both songs move by so fast I am developing an awkward form of carpal tunnel syndrome flipping this rock solid piece of vinyl over and over. Amazing, highly recommended record that only stokes my desire for more Joe and Hessle Audio.

The Mayfair Set Already Warm 7″ (Captured Tracks)
On The Mayfair Set’s debut single the sum is lesser than its parts. A co-ed pairing of the brains behind both Blank Dogs and Dum Dum Girls, The Mayfair Set is a cool idea on paper but comes across poorly-planned and hurried on these two songs, as if they both knowingly saved their A games for their full-time projects. Or perhaps something more calculated and prepared wasn’t possible, since my internet research finds each player on a different coast. Regardless, the commanding yet soft voice of Dee Dee (that’s the Dum Dum Girl) still sounds great, and in that vocal trade-off I realized how unappealing the processed Blank Dog monotone sing-speak can be, even though it fits nicely with the Blank Dogs material I’ve heard. The music sounds just as you’d expect, a fuzzy, poppy post-punk romp that adheres to the traditional verse/chorus format. A nice looking record with the gold screen-print and black envelope, but something that could’ve been great with more time and effort.

Menstruation Sisters Samantha (My Wack Panther) LP (Ecstatic Peace)
I don’t know any bigger fans of Menstruation Sisters than myself, and I can’t say I’m surprised. They have absolutely zero manners, the music can be literally painful to listen to and it’s all so profoundly ugly that most anyone who actually does enjoy it probably has to do so away from all friends and relatives. We don’t normally get a new record out of the Sisters but once every few years, so I was quite excited to check out Samantha (My Wack Panther). Unfortunately for me, the same unbridled emotion and inhumanity found on previous releases is replaced with something all too goofy and rote. Rather than splay their instruments across the floor to create new forms of feedback, the simple guitar/drums setup sounds far too much like guitar/drums, plodding along inobtrusively. Conspicuously missing is the duet between their dying alien fetus singer and a squawking parrot, the exact sort of dementia I look to Menstruation Sisters to provide. I heard a while back that this was going to be their “pop record”, and I could see that, as the silly gibberish vocals sound like a Devendra record left in the sun. It’s not a bad record, but this is probably the least painful and distraught Menstruation Sisters record I’ve ever heard, which I can’t consider a success. Please, if you need a record from these weirdos, pick up the No Fun Productions release of their first album entitled Ma, reissued last year. There’s no substitute for it.

Mr. Raoul K Le Karantkatrieme Peul 12″ (Baobab)
Mr. Raoul K strikes again with his longest-titled 12” yet, Le Karatkatrieme Peul. No cover on this one, just a paper sleeve, but the drama contained within this track requires no visual stimulation, just a couple of ears and the ability to give Mr. Raoul K your undivided attention. Similar to his other singles, this record features a long a-side paired by a succinct b-side version for presumed dancehall play. I haven’t heard anyone else fuse African percussion with European tech-house as naturally as Mr. Raoul K, and it’s never been more evident than with “Le Karantkatrieme Peul”, which features Balafon percussion (I had to look it up, you should too) and after a steady build, one of the most haunting vocals to ever conjure the sunrise after a night’s storm. This probably isn’t even techno, it’s more like soul-swallowing Afrobeat running on a Krautrock propulsion system, all organic and breathtaking, but I’d imagine that’s not as easy for record distributors to move. I love when he gets dubby or digital, but there’s none of that here and it’s still just totally captivating. I wish everyone could hear this music.

Naked On The Vague Chitty Chat 7″ (Sacred Bones)
Modern basement-wave is served best by Sacred Bones, a label with a keen presentation and quality feedback rating. That’s what you get with this new Naked On The Vague single, Chitty Chat. I absolutely loved their debut album The Blood Pressure Sessions, as it borrowed from a quality cross-section of early 80s scenes, from downtown NY to Melbourne to Berlin. Since then, they seem to have moved further into a murky, depression-based style, where their drum machine rhythms are not to be danced and the bass and keyboards slowly sink instead of propel. The Sad Sun EP unexpectedly had a Wolf Eyes feel at times, and their Skulltones single was cool but still sounded distant and a little too chilly when compared to the sexual thrust of “All Aboard” or “Mother’s Footsteps” on the album. They’ve gotten some of that back here with “Chitty Chat”, which shows some of the energy they seemed to be ignoring. Nice pulse, love the dual vocals, and after someone eventually turns off the drum machine I am reminded why this is one of the few bands I have consistently left my house to see. “Goodbye Dear Cliché” is another slow drifter, with par-for-the-course cave sounds and a Public Image Ltd. swagger, but it’s a nice come-down from “Chitty Chat”. This single definitely kept my interest up, confirming my excitement for their next LP, whenever that happens.

Pig Heart Transplant Hope You Enjoy Heaven LP & 7″ (What We Do Is Secret)
What a gorgeous package Hope You Enjoy Heaven is, from the expertly screened hardstock cover to the black 7” sleeve and inserts. I truly appreciate this labor of love, but the fact that this package contains some of the most Swans-esque dirge noise accomplished by any modern group puts it over the top. The guys involved are prominent members of probably every notable Pacific Northwest hardcore group except Sex Vid, and while I enjoy those other efforts (Walls and Iron Lung especially), I always wished they’d just stop humoring all those annoying kids who need a recognizable fast drumbeat to enjoy brutality and instead simplify this ugly music to its base elements. That’s what Pig Heart Transplant is all about – the tempo is sluggish at its fastest, with track after track wringing out some nasty Filth-era Swans torture sessions. That’s the second time I’ve mentioned them, but this is no rip, as Pig Heart Transplant works with a thick, modern and heavy recording and gargled vocals to drive their point home. Some tracks nearly sound like that brief Wolf Eyes period where they got menacingly heavy but had yet to start messing around with horns. The band name might be kind of awkward, but “I Video Tape Your Diet” is one of the best song titles I’ve ever heard so all is excused. Really a fine, crucial slice of modern misery that I can’t recommend enough. Pretty sure it’s limited, so I just hope those that need this sort of fix are able to obtain it.

Sa Bat’ Machines Evry 12″ (KHI Music)
It seems like you can just lay that super-heavy dubstep bass warble over any style of music and it’ll sound good, and that’s basically what Sa Bat’ Machines do on this new 12”. A-side “Evry” works around a nicely swaying ragga beat with some vocal clips and dubby guitars before soaking it with that heavy bass glaze. Not insanely heavy, Sa Bat’ Machines understand nuance and never fully clobber my stereo. “Sylvia” is even nuttier, as the main vocal hook comes from some roaring-twenties diva that I don’t recognize (I hope it’s not Amy Winehouse and I just punked myself) and the music skips along on a beat that borders on ska. It’s a great and strange track, the type of thing I could just as easily hear slipped into some Hessle Audio podcast as the background music of a low-calorie dessert commercial aimed towards women. Sa Bat’ Machines definitely come at dubstep with a different mindset, one where anything is possible, and judging from this 12” they could probably sample “Weird” Al Yankovic and produce something heavy and intriguing.

Super Wild Horses Six Song EP 7″ (Aarght!)
Those Aarght! guys are on a tear lately, and in this case, not just from releasing their own bands! Super Wild Horses are a cool female-led Aussie duo, of which there is no short supply these days, but the Horses opt for a ramshackle, dirtied pop sound, kind of like if one of those nutty Foot Village drummers backed up the Times New Viking girl on some basic garage nuggets. Six songs here, which all work as a pretty good introduction. They are probably influenced by their friends in Eddy Current and UV Race, which aren’t bad places to start, but something about their form of attack recalls one of those fearless late 70s DIY girl bands like the Foams or the Petticoats, playing their simple songs with a determination and ferocity that is at once disarming and raw. I saw a photo of their recording space on MySpace and it looked like they were playing in the bottom of a giant empty swimming pool, which sort of explains things. Good job all around.

Timmy’s Organism Squeeze The Giant 2×7″ (Sacred Bones)
The double 7″ release is a peculiar one, not often seen, but it’s a format that has documented some excellent releases in a way no vinyl alternative could – Inflatable Boy Clams, Men’s Recovery Project and Bone Awl all are testaments to that. Timmy’s Organism is next in that fine lineage with this debut double single set. If you don’t know, Timmy is the main guy in Human Eye, and his Organism is the chunky audio he served up himself. If you know and dig the outer-space stylings of Human Eye, there’s a lot to love here, as Timmy’s Organism follows pretty closely to that formula, just without the more standard rock moves. All five tracks here are actual songs, with lyrics, choruses and riffs, so go ahead and exhale. You get a closer view of Timmy’s vocals here, which kind of call to mind that recent troubadour King Darves, real deep and almost soulful if he wasn’t nibbling on some ectoplasm at the time of recording. After a few listens, Squeeze The Giant is just as accessible as Human Eye and just as great, if only a little more spacious and fried. I could throw around the usual adjectives like noisy, weird and lo-fi, but Timmy’s Organism is working on a far different plane than most of today’s folks. Probably the most rocking thing Sacred Bones will release this year and my screened cover version looks as sharp as I could’ve hoped.

Wartech The Rattle Snake 12″ (Freakz Of Nature)
No, Yellow Green Red hasn’t started reviewing Xbox games, Wartech is just some other dude obsessed with the same heavy, cone-popping bass that Ed Solo introduced to me last month. “The Rattle Snake” is simple but great, working that massive bass sound into some sort of Nintendo arpeggio reminiscent of those unavoidable moments when you accidentally fall off a cliff and lose a life. It’s split nicely with some crazy murder sample that is equally hilarious and disconcerting, like an MTV cartoon that was deemed too real to air. The b-side works a similar pattern, only the bass has kind of a Benga hop-skip and the sample isn’t as compelling. I keep finding more guys doing this really macho, Doritos-dusted bass music and I haven’t stopped enjoying the hell out of it yet.

Wooden Shjips Dos LP (Holy Mountain)
Everyone’s favorite San Fran mid-life psychers are back with album numero dos, picking up right where the self-titled debut left off. It sounds a heck of a lot like that first album, same clean and level recording, with only a little of the fuzz that shook up their first few singles. The first two cuts are quicker, punchier and shorter than most everything I’ve heard from the Shjips before, and it’s a nice change of pace, especially that groovy bassline on “For So Long” that involves nearly a dozen notes, surely a new record for the band. They follow that with two extended pieces, both so incredibly similar to the first album that my well-trained ears are having difficulty noticing any deviation or change, for better or worse. The last of the five tracks is by far the worst thing I’ve ever heard from them though, mainly because it’s so out of character: the happiest/worst two-chord riff on guitar and organ that sounds like something I would’ve heard on the tail-end of a Lookout! Records CD sampler from 1996, just a wimpy lame riff that is striking when grouped with a set of otherwise cool ones. It’s over ten minutes long and I saw them close out the three live sets I saw them play last year with it, much to my chagrin. Way too flower-power for these dudes on their motorbikes, and try as I might, I just can’t stomach it. Stick with the first four tracks on here and you’ve got the same Wooden Shjips that are so consistently rocking. “Fallin'” aside, I’m definitely thankful for this new set of tunes.

Fat Possum Records Sampler compilation 7″ (Fat Possum)
Not sure it’s fair to review a Record Store Day giveaway sampler, but seeing how so many people are willing to throw their money at some of these freebies on eBay, here goes. The a-side holds a desperately poppy cut from Crocodiles who are really pushing the Jesus and Mary Chain angle to an almost embarrassing degree, but the song itself is effective enough. It really seems so desperate to be liked in a way I can’t totally place, though. Thomas Function’s track is not really my bag, like something Television would’ve demoed but thrown out before the album was recorded. The b-side opens with Wavves and “No Hope Kids” is their official polarizing anthem, which will probably sound best once summer really hits and you have no choice but to wear shorts. Preacher Man ends things with a spoken-word field recording, kind of like Wesley Willis without the keyboard or charisma. It’s pretty much the definition of a superflous throwaway 7” release, with it’s generic red vinyl and lack of a picture sleeve, but as far as something to receive for free just for doing what I normally like to do on a Saturday afternoon, it’s not bad at all.