Best of 2019

Top Singles of 2019
1. Easter She Is Warm MP3s
2. Yu Su Roll With The Punches 12″
3. Gil.Barte L.I.G EP 12″
4. The Cool Greenhouse Crap Cardboard Pet 10″
5. Cosima Ploaia 7″
6. Paul Jansen & Zn. De Toerisme EP 2×7″
7. An-i + Unhuman An-i + Unhuman 12″
8. Victor De Roo ‘Nachtdichter’ Poëzie Door Alex Deforce 12″
9. Neon Neon 12″
10. Khidja In The Middle Of The Night 12″
11. Kilchhofer Anklin Moto Perpetuo 12″
12. Lo Kindre Chlorophytum 12″
13. Battle Break 2 compilation 12″
14. Jean-Luc Des Litres D’essence 12″
15. Civic Selling, Sucking, Blackmail, Bribes 7″
16. Davy Kehoe The Pilot 12″
17. Phillip Otterbach The Rest Is Bliss 12″
18. Anunaku Whities 024 12″
19. Black Merlin Kode 12″
20. De-Bons-en-Pierre EP No. 2 12″

Honorable Mention:
Exit Hippies Stoned / Stoned Agin 7″
Skee Mask ISS004 12″
Metrist Pollen Pt. 1 12″
Jensen Interceptor The Ultimate Wave Riding Vehicle 12″
Midland The Alchemy Of Circumstance EP 12″

Top Albums of 2019
1. Joshua Abrams Natural Information Society Mandatory Reality
2. Anadol Uzun Havalar
3. Game No One Wins
4. 75 Dollar Bill I Was Real
5. Kim Gordon No Home Record
6. Carla dal Forno Look Up Sharp
7. Zaliva-D Forsaken
8. Buttechno Badtrip
9. Priests The Seduction Of Kansas
10. Deafkids Metaprogramação
11. Meitei Komachi
12. Insanlar Demedim Mi
13. Francisco Davis Two Sessions
14. E-Saggila My World My Way
15. France Ott
16. ISS Alles 3rd Gut
17. Tom Of England Sex Monk Blues
18. Earthen Sea Grass And Trees
19. The Minneapolis Uranium Club Band The Cosmo Cleaners: The Higher Calling Of Business Provocateurs
20. Charly Bliss Young Enough

Honorable Mention:
Extended Hell Mortal Wound
100 Gecs 1000 Gecs
Bad Breeding Exiled
Gong Gong Gong Phantom Rhythm
L.O.T.I.O.N. World Wide W.E.B.

These are my faves for 2019! Thanks again for reading this webpage and sending in your records for me to listen to and lovingly critique. Not sure how long I’ll keep doing this (we’re about to enter Yellow Green Red’s twelfth year!), but I truly love doing it and have no plans of quitting. Honestly, I wish more of y’all would do it too – in this time of automated everything, it’s nice to read an actual human’s passionate thoughts on things, even if I disagree or have no idea what they’re talking about or whatever. Tell me where I can find more of that, so long as it’s not a damn Facebook group! As for my favorite live performances I witnessed this year, old white men were responsible, which is ironic considering my hatred toward old white men is at an all-time high. The collaborative set between Glands Of External Secretion and Orchid Spangiafora promoted by Jesse of People Skills was a joyous outpouring of inscrutable humanity; mostly totally hilarious, partially crude, poignant and stupid-dumb in equal measure. Even the performers were cracking each other up! The other live standout was none other than The Misfits at the Wells Fargo Center, each member their own self-contained spectacle, a true feast of the eyes with some of the most catchy punk rock ever written blaring past endless microphone feedback and smashed basses. I like to think I prefer to look forward rather than behind when it comes to music, but some relics are simply too fantastic and mesmerizing to deny. Onward to 2020!

Easter She Is Warm (no label)
Truly blows my mind that Berlin-based duo Easter only made it to vinyl once, in the form of an early split 12″, because the music they’ve made over the past decade is mindblowingly great. She Is Warm is their latest and greatest – file under “chillwave / left-field / electro” for a basic frame of reference, but these songs are so special and, well, warm, belying the disposable and generic aspects of the genre. Their formula is pretty basic, too: a deadpan Norwegian model recites her vibrantly funny and vivid lyrics over a backdrop of solitary beats suitable for a Too Short rap, Lil Uzi Vert slow jam or Sade love song. These songs struck me immediately, matching extreme sultriness with quirky turns of phrase and instantly lodging themselves in my brain (and the rest of my body, too). “Better” is the romantic hit, “Muscle” is a bizarre screenplay / personal ethos, “Cuppa” is the steamy flirtation and “She Is Warm” is so European it practically auto-corrects flavor to flavour. The peppy post-punk of “Schlechte Laune” is a strange detour (and my least favorite of the bunch), but Easter are creative geniuses and I trust their decisions. It’s silly and moving and tender and pure pop bliss and it doesn’t care if it’s on vinyl or not, so I’ll try not to care too much either!

Joshua Abrams Natural Information Society Mandatory Reality (Eremite)
Funny that Joshua Abrams and his Natural Information Society named their newest album Mandatory Reality, as it feels like a peaceful, holistic escape from the reality we are all trudging through on the daily. It’s definitely more of an alternate reality than a fictional fantasy, though, as these endlessly long grooves tap into some elemental force that is incomprehensible, soothing and entirely real, like a Fibonacci sequence painted in sharp contrasting colors. Sorry if I lost you with all that – this is just one of those records that is pure comfort food, with tracks that could go on forever (and nearly do) while revealing different nuances with each new encounter. It’s jazz, but also avant-garde minimalism, but also immediately recognizable and easily enjoyed by anyone not deep into either of those scenes. It’s a masterpiece! And what’s more, the actual double LP package feels special. I’m not saying I want to pay fifty dollars for all the new releases I pick up, but every detail of the physical presentation feels strongly considered, as if this wasn’t just another product to throw on a shelf but a lovingly-made package designed to transmit the sound and aura exactly as the artist wishes. In a world where everything is disposable and free and immediately forgotten, I’ll be appreciating Mandatory Reality for a long while to come.

Reviews – December 2019

Anunaku Whities 024 12″ (Whities)
Kinda lost touch with the Whities label over the past year… maybe it’s because the last couple EPs I checked out (Forest Drive West and Pugilist) didn’t do much for me. Anunaku’s debut 12″, however, is prime-time material, the sort of stuff that made me fall in love with Whities to begin with: techno that is inherently future-minded and experimental while also catchy as hell. Three tracks here and none two are exactly alike, but they all succeed at their individual missions. “Temples” is a junglist raver, moving swiftly across break-beats and enhanced by distorted toasting and the melodic leads of some sort of synthetic accordion(?). “Bronze Age” is even better, more of a 4/4 techno cut with absolutely dazzling percussive work. Sounds like tuned metal drums, and they’re deployed in intricate, hypnotic patterns, really stealing the show – think Shackleton at his most precise. “Forgotten Tales” closes things in a playful fashion, bringing more of that fancy drum-work into an uplifting reggaeton bop, recalling Joe at his most sunshine-y. “Bronze Age” is the ace in the deck, but the whole thing is an undoubtedly winning hand.

Jefre Cantu-Ledesma Tracing Back The Radiance LP (Mexican Summer)
File under self-care: Jefre Cantu-Ledesma returns with a solo full-length ready to soothe what ails you. Sure, you could hold up a football-sized conch shell against your ear and zone out to that, but Cantu-Ledesma’s music here is a sophisticated digital rendering of nature’s quietude – it’s not just spring water, it’s carbonated and dashed with an essence of fruit flavor. The opener “Palace Of Time” is a peaceful drift, tones wafting in like good smells from the kitchen and pushed ever-so-forward by the light rattling of percussion. It feels as though Eli Keszler should appear at any moment with one of his dazzling microtonal drum fills, but this one is all drift, like sand on an abandoned boardwalk. “Joy” is the briefest of the three tracks, barely five minutes of church-like bells and rising chords, and assuming you’re fully hypnotized by that point, the fifteen-minute title track zones furthest out yet – don’t be surprised if you start wading out while putting it on and then realize you can no longer see the shoreline as it wraps. I actually had a serious conversation while listening to Tracing Back The Radiance, and it almost made things too overwhelming and monumental, so I recommend harnessing the transformative beauty of Tracing Back The Radiance only when your chakras are appropriately aligned, lest things take a dark turn.

The Chinese Restaurants Instant Music LP (Ever/Never)
Here’s an interesting paradox: I tend to enjoy music made by musicians who are making music explicitly for their own personal gratification, not that of the listener (ie. me). That seems to be what’s happening here with Instant Music by The Chinese Restaurants, a NYC “group” who first joined the fray in 2010 with a couple of lo-fi, lo-effort noise-punk 7″s on the S-S label, only to disappear immediately thereafter. Nine years later, they’ve surely done some living, and they’ve left their menacing rock moves elsewhere, choosing instead to unleash a modest cornucopia of underground sounds both improvised and pop-based. It’s punky, funky and junky, an insular world where soothing clarinet offers a moment of introspective clarity, a smutty xylophone-accompanied hymn confuses (but wait no xylophones are credited, so what am I actually hearing?), and more than one moment of classic downtown NYC funk ala Fab 5 Freddy or Johnny Dynell gets the party started (or at least sustains one that’s already in progress). This album seems to be teeming with subtle in-jokes, all of which are aimed at any innocent bystander who comes in contact with The Chinese Restaurants. Even as the record starts to really feel like a prank, the band flips into some unexpected moment of poignancy or tenderness, subverting the already subverted until all sense of direction is lost. As far as I’m concerned, the joke’s on them, because I like it!

Dan Melchior Group Ruins 2xLP (Heel Turn)
Dan Melchior inhabits a great and specific corner of the underground, the rare artist who can lay claim to full-lengths on avant-garde labels like Kye and Chocolate Monk as well as split 7″s with The Spits and The Pheromoans’ Russell Walker. Not to be confused with Dan Melchior Band (who also somehow managed to release two full-lengths this year), Dan Melchior Group is Melchior in standardized rock-trio mode. I wish he was backed up by Ruins (maybe that collaboration is forthcoming?), but he enlisted the services of two-thirds of Columbus, OH’s Bloody Show to back him up here, following a productive stint based around the magical Cropped Out festival. Ruins displays Melchior in a more traditionally rock-based manner than I’ve heard from him in recent years, crashing and bashing through familiar and well-worn melodies (see if you haven’t heard “Police Dog”‘s bass-line countless times before), and it’s comforting and pleasant if not particularly creative when compared to his recent solo outings. Nice to know that for as far-out and experimental as Melchior wanders, he still enjoys playing rock music in a rock band.

Disco Junk Underage Punk 7″ (HoZac)
Strange levels of self-awareness at play here from Melbourne’s Disco Junk, a band proudly noting their individual ages on the back cover: 15, 26 and 16. What do you think disco means to someone born in 2004? It’s like the equivalent of my generation positioning itself against Benny Goodman or jug bands or something. And as for titling their EP Underage Punk, I dunno, back when I was an underage punk, I didn’t see myself from the point of view of a fully grown adult, I saw myself as the normal, correct age for being punk, and anyone 21 or older being out-of-touch has-beens. But I digress! These four songs certainly sound like teenage punk as I’ve known it since the mid ’90s or so: scratchy performance of basic pop progressions with yelpy vocals, similar to Sick Thoughts, early Screeching Weasel, The Rip Offs, The Vindictives, LiveFastDie and so on and so forth. Not hearing much uniqueness in these four tunes (most punk bands these days have Aussie accents anyway), but I’d be foolish to expect teenagers playing snot-nosed pop-punk to have a revelatory new spin on the concept. Besides, playing in a dopey punk band with your friends sure beats Minecrafting or TikToking or whatever other useless crap their generation is investing all of its time and energy into!

Electric Chair Performative Justice 7″ (Iron Lung)
Go on, pull the switch: Olympia’s Electric Chair have followed up last year’s 7″ debut with a new EP care of Iron Lung. The cover art and general presentation remind me of labelmates Gag, but for as dryly humorous and belligerent as Electric Chair can get (with one of the best punk EP titles of the year), their music stays true to the classic ‘core sound. The drummer seems to only know one beat (with the exception of the brief Minor Threat-ish breakdown that ends “Double Cross”), but it’s the only one a hardcore drummer needs to know, and the rest of the band slams along in time, performing riffs that aren’t necessarily original but just interesting enough so as not to be completely generic. I might’ve expected at least some sort of stylistic curveball from Electric Chair, based on the fact that they’re an Olympia hardcore band in 2019, but their photocopied collage insert, sonic properties and no-nonsense delivery all smack of classic hardore-punk ala Gang Green, No Fraud, Kraut, you name it. Maybe that’s the trick, that they play it so by-the-books that it’s to be taken as meta commentary on by-the-books hardcore? Or, perhaps in a slightly more likely scenario, they’re just punks who wanna play fast hardcore like their favorite bands did.

Emptyset Blossoms LP (Thrill Jockey)
The restlessly-creative Emptyset are always at it, and while I tend to enjoy their brutal electronic bludgeoning more than their tense and heavy ambient material, Blossoms isn’t really either. Apparently, they developed their own AI (along with Holly Herndon, is this the next frontier for electronic music?) and played a bunch of percussion for it to somehow interpret, which results in these warbling, repetitive passages of thick and gooey digital sound. Knowing that these tracks were actually created by artificial intelligence rather than the members of Emptyset themselves adds a heightened level of creepiness, as this music sounds like a voice desperately but ultimately unable trying to form human words. When Westworld shows flashbacks to their earliest, not-quite-humanoid models, I’m picturing their strained attempts at language replication to come across quite similarly to the production of Blossoms. Is it something you’d want to listen to over and over again? Perhaps not, as it’s more of a pure experimentation than something you’d ever play in a club (or while hosting a dinner party), but the results Emptyset gathered here are chilling, engaging and oddly soothing, depending how willing you are to accept your new robotic overlords.

Extended Hell Mortal Wound LP (Media Disease)
Wow, here’s a megaton warhead hardcore inferno blast from Brooklyn’s Extended Hell. They’re new to me, and trust me, I’m discerning when it comes to modern-day Brooklyn hardcore too, but this is the real deal. Even among a very strong crowd of contemporary hardcore punkers, Mortal Wound stands at the top of its class in brutality and rawness, but a more elusive quality is repeat playability, of which Extended Hell excels. They remind me of Shitlickers, Code 13, Impalers and Krömosom; fine company for sure, but much like Impalers, Extended Hell seem less concerned with adhering to the specific songwriting templates previously laid out for them by decades of raw d-beat crust, and have instead chosen to seek their own path. That means that they write catchy hardcore songs with the fired-up feeling of Crucifix, the steamroller noise of Disclose, the heavy non-metallic technicality of Blood Pressure and plenty of other twists and turns not as easily identifiable. I’d direct you to check the last song on the record first – “Dissident” features saxophone (yup, that’s saxophone) and one of the most anthemic, fist-pumping hardcore choruses of the year, a song that sticks in your head long after hearing it and is no less primal or furious because of its catchiness. Mortal Wound is the cure for “listen once and file” hardcore!

Foster Care El Abuso LP (Total Punk)
A fascinating melting pot of hardcore styles here on Foster Care’s latest full-length. What to make of this NYC group? They’re quite nearly too stylistically hardcore for Total Punk, the unnerving cover art seems to feature a guest cameo from City Hunter (or so my imagination has led me to wonder), the singer sounds like Raybeez, the drummer plays with a Framtid-level of energy, and sludgy, noisy interludes are located throughout. I mean, it certainly works, it’s just an interesting concoction they’ve got going here! The riffs are probably the closest thing tying them to the Total Punk roster, suitable for hardcore as well as fast garage-punk, but El Abuso is undeniably meant to be filed in the hardcore section, closer in sonic spirit to a Radio Raheem reissue than the lo-fi snot-punk 45s this label built its reputation on. If I close my eyes and simply listen, I’m hearing similarities to The Abused and The Mob – if you can do a band that sounds like those two, why on earth wouldn’t you?

Gil.Barte L.I.G EP 12″ (Neubau)
My favorite Neubau recording artist returns with a new solo EP, and if you loved the relaxed-fit industrial skank of his prior work, L.I.G will not disappoint. This one feels slower than ever, coasting on a rising tide of toxic sludge, a persistent kick and a woodblock clap, although of course there’s always more to Gil.Barte’s story. Gil.Barte knows how to set things in motion while ensuring it remains an interesting trip, painting the walls with screechy tones, radio interference and the ghosts of acid past. Really an ace cut! Lamusa II gets the honors of remixing “L.I.G” on the flip, enhancing its supernatural properties for nocturnal club-goers, which I find to be a perfectly acceptable redux. “AGH” is the final cut, another Gil.Barte original, and it goes in an impressive new direction, reappropriating Lil Jon-era crunk beats for something far more sinister and deviant. Is it possible to twerk in slow motion? “AGH” seems to be our best hope for answering that question. It grinds spiritedly, true to the nature of Gil.Barte but not a repeat of anything else he’s done. If you’re wondering if it all means that this 12″ EP is essential listening, the answer is yes.

Kim Gordon No Home Record LP (Matador)
Whatever I expected a solo Kim Gordon record to sound like, it’s not No Home Record. Noisy, artsy rap-rock? Sign me up! This is a weird one for sure, but not in an intentional and self-conscious way, nor does it sound like the same strain of “weird” that everyone else is trying out. It’s really quite great! Gordon plays her noisy guitar with abandon, heaving chunks of it over Suicide-style drum machines, sound effects, distorted bass, all sorts of cool trash – “Murdered Out” sounds like Death Grips sampling a Rage Against The Machine bass-line, for example, and it totally rules. She speaks, sings and speak-sings over these songs, her voice apparently utilizing its own alternate tuning, not unlike Leslie Winer on her recent Jay Glass Dubs collaboration or Kilynn Lunsford of Taiwan Housing Project when the strangulated vibrato kicks in. More than anything, I’m reminded of another rock star’s solo project, Julian Casablancas & The Voidz, in the way that No Home Record is overstuffed with digital instrumentation, clashing frequencies, unexpected influences and a bewildering charm all its own. There’s a serious one-two punch from the noisy no-wave grunge-pop of “Air BnB” into the trap-hop of “Paprika Pony” sounding like it came off a seasonal Hyperdub compilation, but the whole album bears frequent repeating.

Hand & Leg Lust In Peace LP (Slovenly / Black Gladiator)
It’s a weird post-punk bass/drums duo out of Athens, Greece, so you know it’s coming to you from the label that scours the globe in search of punk that no one else is showcasing, Slovenly Records! This is Hand & Leg’s second album, and I am fairly certain that I at least heard the first one (it came out in 2017, but it’s been a long two years), but Lust In Peace sticks out nicely. I’m reminded of the funky neo-no-wave that showed up shortly after Y2K, bands like Ex-Models and Coughs and Die Monitor Bats, but played interminably slower than any of those groups. It’s like no-wave without the acute angular speed, so I dunno what you’d call it (slow-wave?), but it’s not half bad. The bass is fuzzy and thick, the drums are primitive and rudimentary, and the vocals relay the melodic hook (or lack thereof), but it’s all so unrepentantly sluggish… imagine Ed Schrader’s Music Beat performed at Kilslug’s narcoleptic tempos and you’re close. When they hit a cool idea, I’m reminded of Seattle freak-rockers Stickers, but when they miss the mark it just kind of drags, which is still moderately entertaining. They picked a good style of music to play, because even when you kinda suck, you still sound pretty good!

Holy Shit! Not My Tempo 7″ (Snuffy Smiles / Vinyl Smash)
So many strange details coming together on this one: a Milwaukee hardcore-punk group that uses a Simpsons font for their band name on a Japanese label I had previously associated with ’90s pop-punk. I’d say they should’ve named this EP What The Fuck!, but that’s what they called their first 7″ from 2005! Anyway, confounding details aside, Holy Shit! play a pretty tried and true form of spastic-but-not-macho hardcore, reminiscent of Adrenalin OD, Fat Day and th’ Inbred, with a sprinkling of blast-beats for good measure. Not sure if anyone remembers Haymarket (I used to constantly listen to their tracks on the Fucking Noise Terror compilation CD that Sound Pollution put out), but I’m picking up their vibe on here as well, which warms both heart and mind. You know it’s good hardcore-punk when you’re reminded of a CD comp from 1996, and although Holy Shit! are decidedly out of step with today’s hardcore trends, it only makes me appreciate them more.

ISS Alles 3rd Gut LP (Sorry State)
No one pillages the obscure histories of punk quite like ISS, one of the most interesting and entertaining punk acts not just of their home state of North Carolina but much of the east coast and probably the country (perhaps even the world?). At least in the group’s earliest days, their songs were cobbled together from samples of classic punk, hardcore and associated records, and I’m not sure if that’s still entirely the case, because they are so skillful at weaving these samples together that new songs emerge from their old parts. Like a hardcore-punk Avalanches, a tag I’m sure they’d be repulsed by! The cover art repurposes Einstürzende Neubauten and the first Beastie Boys 7″, there’s a “track” called “Fletcher From Pennywise”, and they’ve hidden at least a few dozen other punk Easter eggs that reveal themselves to the nerdiest of punk nerds upon close examination. Nothing is safe from ISS’s keen skewering (even Sheer Mag and Tiny Desk receive lyrical mentions), but it wouldn’t be all that effective if the songs were dull – good thing then that Alles 3rd Gut is fantastic, ISS’s finest outing in an already exceptional discography. “Elevator Shaft” is an inexplicable dance-punk hit (featuring the vocals of Warm Bodies’ Olivia Gibb) and certainly the track I’d recommend, but the rest of the album snakes through flailing hardcore, stompy punk, snide post-punk and cut-and-paste dementia with gusto. You can tell that ISS cracked up a lot while making this record that they’re completely serious about, a truly commendable approach to punk rock creation.

The Kiwi Animal Mercy LP (Digital Regress)
As it’s impossible for any underground label to exist these days without dipping into the reissue game, at least Digital Regress is doing some particularly cool stuff, homing in on New Zealand with repressings of Maxine Funke, Alastair Galbraith and now The Kiwi Animal. Digital Regress has pressed up both Kiwi Animal albums (1984’s Music Media as well as this, 1985’s Mercy), and why not – these are cool records that aren’t turning up randomly, and still sound pretty fresh considering today’s general “all styles all the time” attitude. Which is interesting to consider, since The Kiwi Animal certainly weren’t creating their sounds thanks to having the entire musical universe at their disposal on Spotify and YouTube, but rather summoning their own style mostly out of thin air. This album is tense, creepy, pretty, and strange, reminiscent of the tenderest Velvet Underground songs, Gareth Williams and Mary Currie’s Flaming Tunes, Comus, early Bright Eyes home recordings, The Black Heart Procession, and so on, and it’s really on par with all of those as far as quality of song is concerned. Mercy benefits from its clear studio recording, allowing foreboding horns to creep up in the background alongside whispered vocals, cello, guitars and shortwave radio, even dipping into some tasty DIY minimal-synth with “Woman And Man Have Balance”. Recommended!

KRGA Mysterious Lady / Don’t Ask Don’t Tell 7″ (Hoser)
Sure, you like power-pop, but how about mysterious power-pop? Not much info can be gained from searching the web (both dark and deep) for information on KRGA, but it comes on Hoser Records, which apparently bears some affiliation with HoZac, so who knows. My guess is that it’s a new artist desperate to appear old, and well, these tunes certainly help make that happen. “Mysterious Lady” is an unhurried guitar-pop gem, clearly deep in the mindset of Big Star and Milk N’ Cookies. Pouty vocals (complete with moans of either pleasure or distress) complete things nicely. Very, very simple, but just as effective. “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” relaxes even further, aided by acoustic guitar and heartwarming piano in its mission to dry the tears from your eyes as you watch the final episode of That 70’s Show. Very well could be that this is an archival ’70s recording, but wouldn’t we all have heard of KRGA by now and already be wading through their (his?) reissued material? The music certainly feels authentic enough, and there’s not much fault to be found in these two starry-eyed tunes. To be fair, though, if it ends up that this is some funny side-project put together by Mike Sniper or Daniel Dimaggio I’m going to feel disappointed in myself.

Larma Larma 12″ (Beach Impediment)
Name your band “Larma” and you know it’s gonna be filed next to Lärm, so you better be ready to kick some ass! Larma are a new Swedish hardcore band (some call the style “käng”, but I’ve yet to hear anyone say it in person) and this is their debut, on the highly reputable Beach Impediment (with Danish release care of Adult Crash). I know from my many trips to Ikea that meat and potatoes are a standard Swedish meal, and this is pure meat and potatoes Swedish hardcore, with the requisite nods to Totalitär, Skitkids and the like. I’m also reminded of a group much geographically closer to myself, Tear It Up, in the way things rage ever forward with a heavy hardcore sound that touches upon both thrash and “old school” (how come no one calls it “old school hardcore” anymore?). All the proper boxes are checked to verify that yes, this is raging hardcore, but I’m missing that certain magical element that keeps a hardcore band lingering in my mind long after the record has stopped spinning – 100% functional hardcore-punk music here, but not particularly of note, by my humble estimation. It’d probably sound wilder if I had a lip-full of snus leaking nicotine into my brain while listening, but I’m not quite ready to make that accommodation.

Leather Lickers Leather Lickers 7″ (Cool Death)
Nice to get a little fast hardcore outta Melbourne, as is the case of this debut EP from Leather Lickers. I’m told to believe that they feature members of Civic and Geld, two bands who manipulate various strains of hardcore to interesting new results, but Leather Lickers are directly, defiantly generic. Which, for hardcore-punk, isn’t necessarily a flaw! These songs follow the same rage-filled melodic progressions you’ve heard countless times before, and they are led by a squawking vocalist whose vein-popping pitch falls somewhere between Charles Bronson-era Mark McCoy and Michael Berdan. Not really the sort of thing that would make waves a couple cities over (or across an ocean or two), but the sort of band that every town, big or small, absolutely needs at least one of. When writing these reviews, I assume to be speaking mainly to an audience of listeners who are interested in seeking out the cream of the hardcore-punk crop, but if you’re a hardcore fanatic who loves everything from Gay Cowboys In Bondage to Nine Shocks Terror to Pretentious Assholes to Government Warning and simply cannot get enough ‘core no matter what, you’ll probably want to buy this Leather Lickers EP and call me a poseur. I can take it.

Neon Neon 12″ (Square One Again)
Wild horses couldn’t keep me from smashing the PayPal button the moment I saw that Neon’s debut record came out – this is the kind of punk rock I like! Single repetitive notes, endless 1-2-1-2 progressions, scratchy guitar, pretty much anything that sonically emulates the sensation of a pebble deep within your sock or a mosquito in your ear, all with a constant stream of Grace Ambrose’s vocals, her voice particularly hoarse this time around (I guess a stint in Mozart will do that to you), clearly utterly exhausted by the continually rotating piles of BS that make up modern life. Her delivery often reminds me of Katie Alice Greer on Priests’ early EPs – the cadence and pitch of schoolyard taunts are repurposed for punk songs and improvised vocal melodies bring these bloodshot, sandpapery tunes a contrasting splash of (neon) color. No finesse, no groove, just cheese-grater punk noise akin to Maniax, The Silver and Foams. And while verbal nonsense works perfectly well for this sort of sound, Ambrose is intent on dissecting and dismembering all our misguided intentions and status quo ideals through her lyrics – I feel personally attacked while listening, but it’s a curative whupping that will surely do me some good. The music stings, so the words might as well sting too!

Power The Fool / Give It All To Me 7″ (Feel It)
Was pleased to see that Feel It released this 7″ single by Melbourne’s Power, as I’d heard good things about the group but hadn’t yet given them a listen. My expectations were high, hoping for some diesel-fueled, hard-rockin’ heavy metal somewhere between Crushed Butler and Tank, and “The Fool” makes good on that, screaming forward with fast pounding drums and epic riffing. “Give It All To Me” takes the tempo down from a road race to a bar-room boogie, with more of a shout-along chorus and a sense of cigarette smoke wafting through the air. Pretty cool tunes, but the recording is raw and blistering in a modern hardcore-punk way, which unfortunately swallows up the vocals. It’s acceptable for noisy d-beat, but if you’re playing a revved-up take on NWOBHM, I wanna understand the singer, or at least hear their voice loud and clear. Singer-guitarist Slimy Williams seems to have a voice up to the task, but I can’t properly appreciate it due to the way these songs are mixed. That said, these cuts are certified rippers, and I’m fairly certain Power were the first band to popularize the ridiculous throwback mullet look down-unda (which has since made its way to the States), so I’m interested to hear more, preferably recorded by Albert Productions next go around.

Skee Mask ISS004 12″ (Ilian Tape)
Munich’s Skee Mask has asserted himself as the master of the post-modern breakbeat – sometimes it seems as though he could take a worn copy of “Funky Drummer” and edit it into something as fresh and forward as anything from Hessle Audio or Whities. The opening track off his latest Ilian Skee Series 12″ backs up my assertion, as “Juug” weaves the same seven beats through various modifications. I never knew a break could be so blatantly, stupidly catchy! “Slow Music” misleads with its title, as this is more Ginsu-sharp techno power, akin to Objekt’s club-minded productions or a particularly irritable Shed cut, and then “RZZ” kicks off the flip with a masterful tech-house production, like one of those recent Burial bangers with the atmosphere sucked out via industrial vacuum. Five tracks total and not a dud in the bunch, nor any signs of creative stagnation or dwindling imagination. I’m gonna figure out how to set “Juug” as my morning alarm and start back-flipping out of bed to start my day, or at least hurt myself trying.

Soga Demo 12″ (Iron Lung)
I don’t necessarily think of Iron Lung as a “demo pressed to vinyl” sorta label, but they clearly heard something special in Mexico’s Soga, and I guess rather than wait for new material they went right for memorializing the group’s self-released demo cassette on wax. It certainly sounds like a demo, not just of a band in their infancy but of inexperienced musicianship in general, which of course makes for wonderful punk rock. Soga play a trashy and energetic form of it, both crusty and snotty with all three band members shouting separately as well as in unison. Some songs recall the whizzing mania of Manisch Depressiv, whereas others sound like a band that would’ve released a split 7″ on Clean Plate in 1996, such as maybe Mankind? or Laceration. Proudly raw and unpolished, with a drummer who seems just slightly unable to hit the hi-hat with the rapidity that these hardcore-punk songs require. I see the beauty in this demo, no doubt, but to be fair I find it far less exciting and entertaining than the good majority of what Iron Lung is releasing these days, if only because a lot of that other stuff is really quite exceptional. A bounty of riches over there!

SPF Paul’s Mccartney LP (Digital Regress)
Cool new band alert! SPF feature members of Cube, Mansion and Jackie-O-Motherfucker… tell me that isn’t a top quality mixtape of outré noise right there. Lucky for me, then, that SPF feels similar to what one might expect from a zesty combination of the art-punk of Mansion, the industrial synth curiosities of Cube and Jackie-O’s particular zone of freakery. Live drums generally guide things here, with keys and guitars and various sounds joining the process (no vocals, though), resulting in songs that are kind of tricky (but not in an annoying way), loose and gunky… I’m reminded of the haphazard electrical spew of Leprechaun Catering and the hypnotic avant-grooves of Gang Gang Dance while spinning the delightfully titled Paul’s Mccartney, just with a lot more junk rustling throughout. Very Load Records-esque, in the best possible sense, recalling that brief period of time when Excepter would release multiple records a year and hundreds of people would buy them. That said, I don’t mean to imply that SPF have an early ’00s nostalgia to them – their sounds are fresh and entirely their own, happily grooving through refrigerator hum, broken guitars, modified keyboards and whatever else could be reasonably plugged in at their recording spot. Really hoping this is an ongoing concern and not a brief convergence, but even if so, we’ll always have this one beautiful Mccartney to share.

Spray Paint Into The Country LP (12XU)
It’s been an interesting trajectory for Austin’s Spray Paint, emerging in the early ’10s as a committed noisy post-punk group, releasing a slew of records, and then recently collaborating with other quality names of underground garage-y punk weirdness like Dan Melchior, The Rebel and even Protomartyr. Now, two of the band members have fled the country (to Australia and Mexico, apparently), and Spray Paint is no longer the full-time concern it once was, but that’s kind of freeing, especially for a band who has nothing to prove and no sights set on “making it”. Maybe that’s part of why Into The Country is so enjoyable, that they are fully letting loose, having fun and uninterested in who it might impress, writing morose and semi-robotic post-punk droners simply because it’s something they love to do. Their guitars remain twangy and uncomplicated, and they’re bolstered by drums both live and synthetic, pulsing out repetitive grooves as if they never heard of a drum fill. The vocals are acerbic and direct, not entirely unlike John Sharkey in his Clockcleaner days, the perfect deadpan foil for songs that are equally over-it. Not sure if they’ll ever live in the same city again, but perhaps the distance is serving them well – I can only imagine how good Spray Paint might sound if one of them moved to Chile and the other to Siberia.

Spykes & Parashi Braille License Plates For Sullen Nights 7″ (Radical Documents)
It’s amazing to think that in his current role as Mememaster General, Wolf Eyes’s John Olson still has time blow into homemade reed instruments, but we should be thankful that he does. I saw Wolf Eyes earlier this year, and it might’ve been the best time I’ve seen them yet! If you didn’t know, he records solo as Spykes (among countless other monikers), and here he teams his slo-mo skronk with Mike Griffin of Burnt Hills, who likes to go by Parashi on his own. Griffin offers some background electrical malfunctions and Olson weaves his horn lines throughout, clearly interacting with Griffin’s wave-forms. Across these two untitled improvisations, I’m reminded of what it might be like if Arthur Jones was trapped inside the control room of a World War 2-era submarine during a hectic battle… Olson emits a restrained patience and Griffin guides his sounds away from any particularly harsh realms. Both sides end in locked grooves, which also happen to be my favorite parts.

Sunny Balm Eucalypt LP (Sacred Summits)
I used to rub a little eucalypt-flavored Sunny Balm on my lips to keep them from getting chapped in the winter, and now I have the pleasure of listening to Sunny Balm, an Optimo-affiliated producer from Glasgow, and his debut album, Eucalypt. “Fourth world” sonics abound here, with a plethora of hand drums, shakers, bansuris and so on woven through the usual-suspect electronic devices such as synths and drum machines. Repetitive loops and cyclical patterns are the name of Sunny Balm’s game, and it’s marvelous, with pleasant and unfamiliar melodies repeating over the clinking of hollowed wood percussion, blocks and claps. The a-side has seven tracks, exploring the triangulated coordinates between Jon Hassell, Mike Cooper and Meitei, but the b-side features only three. This allows ample room for the low-tide pull of “What’s Happening World?” and album closer “Din Of The Mill”, which takes a separate approach from the rest of the album, turning out a dazzling high-speed composition that feels like a synthetic, flowery neighbor to Philip Glass’s Music With Changing Parts. It certainly feels like this lush and exotic positioning of electronic music is popular these days, but I am a huge sucker for it, Sunny Balm certainly included.

Tom Of England Sex Monk Blues LP (L.I.E.S.)
Anyone still writing L.I.E.S. off as a gritty industrial-techno label clearly hasn’t been paying attention, as the label has truly gone off in a flutter of directions over the past few years in particular, tied together only loosely by the desire to dance. I was previously unfamiliar with Tom Of England, but he has an interesting resume (remixing with DJ Harvey, intercontinental DJing, writing “a definitive book about Mezcal”), and I’ve been having difficulty putting much of anything else on since Sex Monk Blues entered my household. Very hard to categorize, this one – it feels as though these songs could be placed somewhere between the 2002 Brooklyn DFA dance-punk explosion, the brief rise of electroclash and Mr. Oizo’s bonkers Ed Banger productions, but nothing here would fit neatly into those boxes. I’m hearing a little Errorsmith in there too, in the way Tom Of England works with only the vital organs of club music while still being wildly funky and unique. The instrumentation fades between programmed and live instruments (featuring saxophone from The Rapture’s Gabe Druzzi, in fact), and features the attention-grabbing vocals of someone named Rene Love, who sounds like Les Claypool (“Sniffin’ At The Griffin”), Arthur Russell (the tenderhearted title track) or Public Image-era John Lydon (“Neon Green”) throughout. Love’s vocals were a bit too much for me at first (does he sing entirely through his nose?), but I’ve grown to appreciate them in the context of these effortlessly catchy tracks (and seeing as it’s only been a couple weeks of listening, not months or years, it wasn’t too painful of an adaptation). A most pleasant surprise!

Trevor Becoming A Bed LP (Alter)
Y’all can praise Mikey Young and Daniel “DX” Stewart all you want, as far as I’m concerned James Vinciguerra is the secret weapon behind Total Control’s continued greatness as they weave through post-punk, minimal-synth and however you care to classify Laughing At The System. He’s been recording as Trevor for a couple years now, releasing a 7″ in 2017 and now this full-length for the always-thoughtful Alter label. Becoming A Bed is a weird one for sure, but not in a way that feels put-upon or out of reach – Trevor’s party is a welcoming one, so long as you come loose and prepared for a good time. Vinciguerra treads erratically on drum n’ bass, house and techno, linking them up with free-form, psychedelic maelstroms, cut-up noise and plenty of bizarre (and entertaining) spoken word. I’m reminded of street-level hip-hop mixtapes, but imagining Graham Lambkin and Jason Lescalleet controlling the ones and twos instead of DJ Drama. This record is a frequently disorienting trip, so don’t expect any of the smooth lo-fi house grooves to last long – an oddly-edited poem or unquantized drum machine workout (not unlike the roughest of Hieroglyphic Being CD-rs) will be sure to disrupt it sooner rather than later. It sounds nutty because it is, but what’s nuttiest of all is how incredibly listenable and fun Becoming A Bed reveals itself to be.

Ubik Next Phase 12″ (Iron Lung)
It’s happened before, where a band I previously thought were merely okay moved on to releasing a record or two with the esteemed Iron Lung label (I’m thinking of C.H.E.W. specifically, but I know there are more). That’s the case with Ubik, and as history has shown us, bands tend to step it up once Iron Lung comes knocking. Next Phase is a solid 12″ EP, seven songs of moody and aggressive downer-punk. Kind of anarcho but not crusty, and verging on death-rock moodiness but always too energetic and direct for any corpse-paint to really stick. Some of the guitar leads and general attitude remind of Pittsburgh’s severely underrated Icon Gallery, but Ubik play hardcore, not heavy metal, and it certainly suits them. They sound like they’re from Leeds or Minneapolis, but in an interesting twist, they’re from Melbourne, and the 1983-desktop-computer-style artwork adds to the possible confusion. This is music that should be adorned with war atrocity photos and black and white images of ancient cathedral ruins, but Ubik ain’t playing it like that – in fact, this is the second record they’ve released to include a song that directly references Twitter in its title. It’s a little weird when you put it all together, but maybe that’s because I’m used to hardcore bands doing things within the current accepted guidelines. Not Ubik!

Zatua Sin Existencia LP (Second Circle)
First Indonesian group to get reviewed on this site? Shame on me if so! Zatua are an ensemble based around the improvisations of producer Dea Barandana and they’ve got something really nice going here, a big hodgepodge of outré electro and Indonesian psychedelia. They’ve got live guitars and drums, but also a damn Buchla Music Easel alongside a heaping pyramid of various Yamahas, Casios and Rolands. The vibe varies from track to track, but Zatua conjure a sound that has me thinking of the hip-hop no-wave of Implog, the mysterious art-dub of Niagara and the electro-house thwack of Juju & Jordash, all with a heady dose of the mystical DIY spirituality peddled by the Séance Centre imprint. Probably a little bit of Beatrice Dillon’s curious artistry in there too, or perhaps she’s simply traveling on a similar trajectory as some of the musical ideas Zatua get into here. I can’t get enough of this stuff, the combination of techno architecture and non-Western instrumentation that has been showing up more and more lately, much to my delight. It’s good company all around, but Sin Existencia deserves a spot at the top of the stack.