Reviews – July 2017

Félicia Atkinson Hand In Hand 2xLP (Shelter Press)
Tantalizing new full-length excursion from Félicia Atkinson, producer of abstract electronic dimensions and speaker of words both French and English. She loves to collaborate (either that or she frequently does so begrudgingly), but Hand In Hand is Atkinson on her own, and it’s great, at times beguiling, exotic, disconcerting and intense. Her space here is mostly filled with some sort of electronic soundscape, be it twitching electronic crickets or the ghost of an acid-house track roaming the halls after dark – the spectrum of her sounds is vast but never feels out of place (don’t expect anything resembling a danceable rhythm, that’s for sure). Atkinson often supplements these strange realities with her words, both direct and processed, usually spoken in hushed tones, as if she’s doing her best to emote each syllable without waking a nearby sleeping infant. It’s patient music, if you want to call it music; each track is unhurried and unfurls at its own pace, sometimes so subtly that I wonder how I ended up where I am. Hand In Hand is often quite beautiful, but in an unsettling way, like a vegan who just ate the tastiest meal of their life only to later find out that butter was a key element in every dish.

Bad Breeding Divide LP (Iron Lung)
It’s easy enough to get wrapped up in our nightmarish American reality that I sometimes forget what a regressive mess England is in too. Thankfully, Bad Breeding are here to flail uncontrollably at their situation, with Iron Lung taking care of the US pressing for our domestic pleasure. Divide is their second full-length but it’s the first I’ve heard of them, and I’m glad I did, as their frantic, noise-laden hardcore is right up my alley. I’m hearing nods to United Mutation, Cult Ritual and Rudimentary Peni in their tunes, particularly in the way that each song behaves like a rat caught in a corner, darting back and forth in hopes of escaping, and if determined to be untenable, clawing and biting. Most songs cut between parts quickly, offsetting a thrash beat with a few stoutly drum rolls, but Bad Breeding can’t resist a good hardcore dirge either, like the a-side closer “Leaving”, which resembles a modern noise-punk take on Siege’s “Grim Reaper” (sans saxophone). Bad Breeding are rigid and tight when it’s appropriate, and loose and menacing when it’s not, coming across as one of the more fully-realized groups to recently try their hand at unhinged and noisy hardcore-punk.

Beta Boys Oh Wow!! Hard Rock Music!! I Love It!! 7″ (Digital Regress)
This is either the second or third Beta Boys 7″ to make it to these pages… I can’t fully remember. Is it just me and my specific vantage point, or does it seem like every punk band has an overabundance of records available these days? Anyway, Beta Boys continue to be a pleasant mess of flange-y riffing and general punk nonsense, songs that feel loose and improvised, closer to partying than band practice. “No Solution” opens with a blast, actually recalling Zero Boys circa Vicious Circle in energy if not delivery, and it’s pursued by the slower “High On Drugs”, which feels like a semi-coherent interlude between Annihilation Time and Gag. “Return Of Snake Man” holds down the b-side with an even looser jam, as if Sick Pleasure didn’t break up by 1984 and instead got really influenced by Sonic Youth. Actually, that sounds cooler than the slapped-out incoherence that Beta Boys offer, but it’s on a similar wavelength. Not a bad 7″ of listless and cynical punk rock – I hope there’s someone out there that’s thrilled to spin it repeatedly, and that I may someday meet them under pleasant circumstances.

Bulsch Tartington 7″ (Blow Blood)
Normally, I’d think that when the singer in a hardcore band reveals to his or her bandmates that the lyrics they wrote are utter gibberish, it would bring about some sort of pause, probably a long discussion, perhaps even a new “singer wanted” ad posted at the local record shop. But in the case of Bulsch, they seem fully on board with this, opting for song titles like “Pon Toeleen” and “Innee-Innee Outbawl”, with what appears to be at least two, maybe three, singers! Sometimes there is truly no explaining Cleveland hardcore, I swear – it’s as if Sockeye poisoned the water supply in 1992 and that ensuing generation is firmly in their mid-20s now, forming bands left and right. Musically, it’s actually fairly non-weird – hasty drumming, muted riffs with zero sense of reverb, and enthusiastic gang vocals delivering every line. If I merely heard Bulsch on the radio (don’t I wish), I’d assume they were kind of a normal hardcore group, with the shared Bad Noids personnel making sense from a sonic perspective. Thankfully I have a record instead, revealing Bulsch to be the linguistically-challenged nutjobs they proudly are.

Control Freaks Mindless Entertainment LP (Slovenly Recordings)
Hats off to Greg Lowery, current member of Control Freaks, for playing essentially the exact same form of simplistic, poppy, knuckleheaded punk rock for over a quarter of a century. Such stamina! I can’t even imagine the sheer number of songs he’s been involved with, how many times he’s tackled the topics of shock therapy, booze, love gone sour, women, and boozed-up women who escape shock therapy in order to murder their exes, and yet, band after band, he is indefatigable. Mindless Entertainment continues in that fine tradition, replete with a goofy thematic cover photo and twelve new tunes that are sure to please any punk who’s ever thrown up their pizza while simultaneously drinking beer. Control Freaks are par for the course, perhaps slightly slower than The Zodiac Killers or The Rip-Offs, but they still get plenty rowdy, including a faithful cover of the Jack & The Rippers’ classic “No Desire”. In 2017, it’s about as edgy and provocative as a black-and-white horror movie marathon, but I assume that raucous, consequence-free punk fun is the goal, as opposed to any sort of heady artistic statement. We all need at least a little bit of that.

Devious Ones Djarum Summers 7″ (Rust On The Blade / No Front Teeth)
If you actually refer to yourself as devious, doesn’t it actually make you not devious? Wouldn’t a true group of Devious Ones actually call themselves “The Trustworthies” or “Honest N’ Reliant”? I just spent an hour thinking about that, now back to the review of Detroit’s Devious Ones and their new 7″ EP. You can file “Djarum Summers” under “punk / power-pop”, a song that reminds me of The Briefs in the boppy, sing-along chorus, but there’s something about the Devious Ones’ vocalist Eric Villa that I find peculiar and appealing – his singing voice is slightly frail and unable to fully reach the high notes he’s aiming for, but it’s those faults that draw me into the tune. It’s a distinct voice and I find it highly appealing when paired with this kind of group (I’ll even forgive his fedora). “Court Clothes” follows a similar path, more of a Blood Visions / Buzzcocks vein but that same slightly-off voice carries me from the back of the room to the middle of the pogo pit. I’m unsure if the crowd will float me at an old-guy punk show such as this, but I’m ready to find out!

Eaters Eaters LP (Dull Tools)
Brooklyn’s Eaters return with their second self-titled album on the Dull Tools label (why they didn’t go with the title Still Hungry I’ll never know). I dug the first one, and this one delivers the goods in similar fashion. Eaters are alive with the krautrock stride of Neu!, the scientific synthesis of Gary Numan, the neurotic dance-punk of LCD Soundsystem (perhaps their strongest musical similarity), the romantic excess of Roxy Music and the serious / unserious nostalgic homage of Trans Am – all the coolest, most indisputable forms of synth-friendly rock music’s past five decades are at work here. Eaters feel more like a band on this album, even if their status as “studio project” remains intact. Most songs have vocals (complete with printed lyrics), and the guitar is more prominent this time around, particularly infectious as it sneaks through “No Secret”, recalling Albert Hammond Jr. at his finest. Funkier moments like “The Grass, The Grazing” remind me of the unheralded Ghostly artist Dykehouse in the way that tech-house instrumentation is melded to alternative pop-rock as if it were an easy feat. I can picture deep collections of vinyl and studio gear, all neatly organized and at Eaters’ disposal, as they map out the specific vibes each track is aiming for before. All that cool stuff doesn’t mean much if you can’t write a great song, however, which is why I recommend you get you a man who can do both, namely Eaters.

Edward Shufflehead 12″ (Die Orakel)
Edward isn’t this German producer’s real name, but that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying this 12″ EP of twisted and bent techno music. He’s somewhat involved with the cool Giegling crew, although Shufflehead defies easy categorization. The title track is the finest cut here, as it oozes with the sense of organic matter, applying the profundity of nature to abstract techno. It sounds like you’re wading through a waist-deep swamp on the way to the club, each step churning up muddy mysteries and the lingering fear you might accidentally arouse a catfish. I could’ve gone for three tracks like this, but “Dekta” opens the flip with a locked-joint robo-groove, recalling early Dopplereffekt at their most caffeinated. That leads to “Etern”, which sounds like a jar of rusty pennies shaken over a fluttering bass-line, as if the murky water crawl of “Shufflehead” gave way to a march through quicksand. A lot of unique sounds going on here, utilized as a means to confuse natural processes with cutting edge technology and vice versa. I hope someone introduces Edward to Bruce, could be a powerful meeting of the minds!

Excessive Cruelty Excessive Cruelty 12″ (Sorry State)
Not even joking, when I first flipped this Excessive Cruelty record to the back cover, I thought it might be a compilation: with song titles like “Civilized”, “Attak”, “Hypocrite” and “Fall Down Dead”, I thought I was reading band names, not song titles. Turns out Excessive Cruelty are indeed a group, hailing from the Bay Area and featuring ex-members of Strung Up. They have a solid thrash-core sound, mixing thrashy, near-metallic riffs with hardcore drumming and gruff-yet-coherent vocals. Pretty polished, both in sound and execution, and with a “sincerely pissed off old guy” delivery that can’t be faked (or at least no one has tried thus far). I was a little worried when I saw the singer in a fresh online-store-bought Minor Threat tee on the insert, that Excessive Cruelty might be a little corny, but it’s only corny if you think traditional hardcore aesthetics are corny, in which case you’re wrong. They seem to really like big gnarly knives though, featuring the same one on both the back cover and the screened b-side of this one-sided 12″ EP, so I should probably watch my words. Definitely the perfect band to play with a reunited Demon System 13 on their North American tour, which amazingly isn’t a hypothetical situation: it recently happened!

Feature Banishing Ritual LP (Upset The Rhythm)
Feature, umm, feature Jen Calleja of the great Sauna Youth on drums and vocals, so I have no excuse for not fully checking them out sooner. By no surprise, they’re great, a punk trio that exercises frugal song-craft, sharp lyrics and a rhythmic throb you can count on. It’s a punk record at its core, but Feature shift between straightforward Ramones / Angry Samoans riffs to more nuanced, dreamy post-punk to recall Priests’ album (especially on the cool spoken-sung “Gatekeeper”). Much like Sauna Youth, there are essentially no breaks in these tracks, or even reasons for Calleja to throw in a fill on the toms when she can just plow ahead with the beat; even their bouncier songs recall a manic early Go-Gos tune, bubblegum music that would still get Darby Crash to come out and thrash around. Along with Calleja, guitarist Liv Willars and bassist Heather Perkins (her of Slowcoaches) share vocals, either harmonizing together or trading off, seamless but different, all clearly playing for the same team. Classy punk that never feels too cleaned up, just the way I like it.

Fried Egg Back And Forth 7″ (Beach Impediment)
Beach Impediment continue to scavenge the globe for fine hardcore product, this time bringing us the latest 7″ EP from Fried Egg, right out of their backyard (Richmond, VA). It’s my understanding that someone in Fried Egg also runs the great Feel It Records label, although I wouldn’t have to know that to understand that Fried Egg are heavily invested in hardcore-punk; there’s no sense of dilettantism here. These four tunes are all quite speedy, with vocalist Eric Tsow spitting his words in equal measure, sometimes choking on his rapid-fire syllables. There’s no d-beat in Fried Egg’s equation, sticking more to rootsy North American influences like Poison Idea and Corrosion Of Conformity; they even get a little sophisticated with the last track, “Side By Side”, which is not just another case of “hardcore song title that is also a hardcore band name” but a sharp groover not unlike D.O.A. or N.O.T.A. (two of the finest hardcore acronyms of all time). I wonder if it’s LP time, and if Fried Egg will manage to keep up the intensity and excitement without maturing in the wrong direction? If they change their name to Frittata, I might start to worry.

Petre Inspirescu Vîntul Prin Salcii 2xLP (Mule Musiq)
Romanian producer Petre Inspirescu made waves back in 2009 with his debut album, some of the most refined and gripping tech-house of its time (or now), and while I still need to track down a vinyl copy (it’s disturbingly pricey!), I’ve enjoyed keeping up with him since. Vîntul Prin Salcii continues the trajectory put in place with 2015’s Vin Plolie, away from the sticky basement dance-floor into a sonic realm untethered by danceable melodies and consistent rhythms. Vîntul Prin Salcii is punctuated with many techno-affiliated signposts: warm pads, twinkling keys and full kicks, but they flutter in and out, content to follow Inspirescu’s imagination like the flight of a butterfly. He pulls from a wide variety of sounds, be it a hurdy-gurdy (or synthetic imitation of) with oboe and harp accompaniment and 808 kicks, all working together to provide the most pleasant, soul-stirring experience that ostensibly-electronic music can provide. It’s far too busy to be considered ambient, but too comfortably melodic to be considered experimental, so Vîntul Prin Salcii playfully exists outside standard categorization (although something like “Miroslav 5” has serious NPR bumper-music potential; maybe that’s a genre by now?). Imagine a Nils Frahm-helmed orchestra remixed by Henrik Schwarz and Nuel for a state-sanctioned arts program and you’re close to Vîntul Prin Salcii, although Inspirescu’s playful creativity is exclusively his own.

Institute Subordination LP (Sacred Bones)
Institute’s earliest output seemed to be a keen collection of influences, whereas Subordination, their second album, sounds undeniably like Institute. They’ve always been quite good, but they have a particularly firm grasp at what an Institute song can and should be at this point, making for another highly satisfying, easily listenable album that I keep throwing on. Their songs remain simple – not “deceptively simple”, but just straightforward and basic, and I wish more bands would strip it down like Institute. Each song offers only vital organs necessary for survival, and they reveal the majesty and magic of minimal rock music. That isn’t to say that Institute haven’t also developed musically… many tracks here utilize proto-heavy-metal riffs as opposed to punk ones, but played with such rigid drumming and of course vocalist Moses Brown’s disoriented bark, it feels like something new (either that or they paid close attention to Vexx’s most recent EP, as we all should do). They also offer the most laudably Flipper-ish song since forever (let’s face it, most bands compared to Flipper never actually sound like Flipper) in “All This Pride”, and still stomp down cobblestone streets ala Crisis with speedy cuts like “Prissy Things” and “Good Ol’ Boys”, whereas “Powerstation” brings the Iron Virgin glam-bully vibes righteously into the modern world. I still haven’t seen Institute live, but I have every intent to correct that before the year is over.

Internazionale The Pale And The Colourful LP (Posh Isolation)
Maybe it’s just the label’s name (and current aesthetic), but I swear, so many of Posh Isolation’s records seem to be made by artists plagued by the fact that they’re so young, rich, beautiful, white and European. Like they just sprawl themselves across leather couches, crying into their champagne while boyfriends and girlfriends jump off of scenic cliffs merely to end their boredom. That vibe is certainly exemplified through the instrumentals laid down by Internazionale and The Pale And The Colourful – just gaze into the album art and make peace with the sad, faceless-yet-clearly-gorgeous model who is trapped by her own fame. It’s like the Posh Isolation crew was one life choice away from having written the famous lyrics “you bleed just to know you’re alive”, I swear. Anyway, back to this record… it’s full of sweeping melancholic melodies, glistening synths, pads that are shrouded in mist, and tones borrowed from ’80s synth-pop and forced to exist in a ’90s Calvin Klein ad campaign. Hints of a prior life as a noise artist poke through on occasion, but on the whole this record is soft and smooth. Clearly, style is key with Internazionale; I won’t be tracking down any of the numerous tapes (and tape box-sets) he’s previously released, but I’ll be happy to keep this one LP in my collection for those moments when I want to luxuriate in my own pitiful self-obsession. The Pale And The Colourful is an exquisite soundtrack for exactly that.

Kaleidoscope Volume 3 12″ (Feel It)
Reports keep coming in about how Kaleidoscope are one of the best underground hardcore-punk acts out of New York these days, now with an attractive new 12″ EP on the Feel It label. I really want to like Kaleidoscope, but just like my feelings on their Katorga Works 7″, it’s just not clicking with me. Musically, these six tracks are mid-tempo hardcore-punk, a more mature and serious take on the Mystic Records sound without feeling like a conscious throwback to any specific era. They’re perfectly fine (and “Cloud Control I” has a notably cool chug), but the recording feels muffled, and the vocals of bandleader Shiva Addanki fail to impress – they’re delivered in a very similar set of short aggro bursts ala Hank Wood, but Addanki doesn’t fully commit, or maybe it’s the manner in which they’re recorded that lacks a punch. It’s particularly disappointing in that I am a big fan of Addanki’s other groups (Ivy and JJ Doll are particularly top notch), and their recordings don’t have the same stuffy feeling as Volume 3, as though I’m wearing a paper bag over my head while listening. Maybe I just need to see Kaleidoscope live to finally get it, but there’s a ton of great hardcore being made today that I’d rather spend my time with, Addanki’s other projects included.

Davy Kehoe Short Passing Game LP (Wah Wah Wino)
Between this and the Charly Bliss album, it’s amazing that I’ve managed to listen to anything else in the past couple of months! Davy Kehoe is part of the Dublin-based Wah Wah Wino scene (discussed last month in review of the exceptional Absolutely Wino compilation), and stepping out on his own, Kehoe is a remarkable new artist, refusing to cater to the trends of the day (although I wouldn’t be surprised if his style becomes co-opted as a trend in the future). Kehoe and assorted friends play a variety of live instruments over ragged, fast-paced drum machines, resulting in something that sounds like a mix of Brain Records’ cosmic kraut-disco, the Future Times label’s positive tech-house vibes and the classic ’90s Thrill Jockey post-rock scene. Imagine Guru Guru’s Uli Trepte jamming with The Normal’s rhythm box and various members of The Sea And Cake and Tortoise contributing organ, MS-20, guitar, shakers and mbiras and you’re close to what Short Passing Game has to offer. It’s restless, joyful music, and it seems to celebrate communal creation as well as wildly-singular musical vision – I mean, are there any other records out that utilize AutoTuned harmonica to such a sweet result? The back cover sports a verbose list of all the instruments used, confirming Kehoe’s status as a gearhead, but more than anything he seems to celebrate music free of borders and restraints, confined only by his dreams. It was only a matter of time before someone claimed the title of “The John Popper of Techno”.

Kettenkarussell Insecurity Guard 2xLP (Giegling)
Kettenkarussell is the latest Giegling artist to receive a full-length, and I’ll be damned if it doesn’t exemplify why Giegling is at the forefront of modern house music. It’s everything I love about deep house, tidily showcased through six tracks that lure in the listener with their understated sweetness. Insecurity Guard is an easy, pleasant listen if you’re not paying close attention: the melodies bloom confidently at any level of volume, but the closer you are willing to inspect them, the greater the reward. The shuffle of a train-car flows into the rhythm of “Gate”, whereas “Just For A Second” manages to turn the kick pattern into a hook all its own, and the morse-code delay of “New York Blues” recalls the infectiousness of Fennesz’s Endless Summer. Dusty ambient sounds flow through and around these tracks, as if Theo Parrish decided to color his productions with a sampling of Mego’s turn-of-the-century catalog, but never to the point where things feel shoehorned in or overstuffed. Each track has plenty of room to breathe while deploying their breathtaking sounds, which is exactly how I want my chill-out house to behave. If you couldn’t understand how some German techno parties survive through the early morning hours, sit with Insecurity Guard and see if you can’t imagine yourself grooving past midnight and through brunch.

Molly Nilsson Single 7″ (Night School / Dark Skies Association)
Right alongside Molly Nilsson’s newest album comes this 7″ single of exclusive non-album tunes. I couldn’t resist! She’s fantastic, and this 7″ is no exception, two three-and-a-half-minute cuts of her uniquely empowered take on pop rock. Both songs are pretty uplifting, particularly by Nilsson’s standards, and it suits her well. “About Somebody” is a ray of sunshine peaking through grey Swedish clouds, riding high on friendly piano chords and a saxophone that toots out a rainbow. By the final chorus, it’s difficult to refrain from singing along with her “I’m somebody” line. “Quit (In Time)” isn’t as celebratory, but more of a “pick yourself up and start again” motivator, as if you’ve just woken up after a night of crying over your ex and Molly is in the kitchen preparing your favorite breakfast, just for you. If you notice me strolling through town with an extra little skip in my step, there’s a good chance I had spun Single before leaving the house.

Objekt Objekt #4 12″ (Objekt)
Objekt’s profile has grown over the past few years, working with notable electronic labels across the globe, but there’s something about the white-label 12″s on his in-house imprint that feel particularly heartfelt and personal. “Agnes Demise” off Objekt #3 still has the mightiest boom-thwack I’ve heard this decade, so I was excited to check out this newest installment, even with the understanding that Objekt is not one to repeat himself. It’s impressive how the Objekt sound remains so recognizable while continuing to evolve, like on “Needle & Thread”, the a-side here: a soft-spoken groove gives way to a euphoric breakbeat showcase, as if a highly-advanced automaton was tasked to impersonate ’90s Squarepusher. “Theme From Q” starts with a no-nonsense electro strut that cuts to some sophisticated new jack swing, which has me envisioning an alternate reality where Ron Trent held court over MTV’s The Grind, Eric Nies demoted to background dancer status. Neither tracks were what I would’ve expected from Objekt (nothing here feels like I’m being chased by a Terminator in an abandoned auto factory), but that would’ve been kind of a let down – he’s already done that to great success, and I can’t stop rolling my abs to the intoxicating melodic hook of “Theme From Q”, bless his heart.

Part Time / Drinking Flowers split 7″ (Volar)
Don’t see a whole lot of split singles coming down the chute these days, which makes me sad (another sign of the complete superfluousness of actually putting a record out if you’re a new band) as well as glad (it’s very rare to find a truly great split 7″, Slap A Ham Records excluded). This split’s cover has an “abstract art you’d find in a Beverly Hills dentist office circa 1985” feel, and it suits the music well, two bands whose ideas are well-suited for each other. Part Time’s “Useless Information” owes a serious debt to John Maus, as it also sounds like retro-futurist karaoke on Mars, although Part Time’s vocalist retains an icy emotional distance, even as he rhymes “more” with “whore”. Drinking Flowers’ “Night Time” is a little slower and chillier, with a Balearic swing, although if it weren’t for the vocalist’s energy, I could easily be fooled into thinking both tracks were borne of the same group. Maybe a bit more of an Ariel Pink vibe to Drinking Flowers, although I’m really splitting hairs at this point. Drinking Flowers also try to get away with the lyrics “Night time / I’m talking ’bout the right time”, making it clear that both groups shop in the same cheese aisle. Even so, I find myself enjoying both tunes (maybe giving Part Time the slight upper hand) and eager to visit Los Angeles once again, home to both of these artists and ground zero for this peculiar breed of modern music.

Performing Ferret Band Performing Ferret Band 7″ (Insolito)
Germany’s Insolito continues their noble mission of tastefully reissuing a pile of the finest oddball DIY punk and punk-orbiting music, like Kent, UK’s Performing Ferret Band. This one is a reissue of Performing Ferret Band’s sole 7″ EP, originally released in 1980, now with a previously-unreleased track tacked on to make it an even four. They might not be the first group to come to mind when it comes to classic UK DIY, but they should certainly be in the first ten or so, as they’ve got all the markings of what made that era and place of underground music so timelessly appealing: bizarre humor, awkward performance, plunky bass, rock n’ roll deconstructed for personal amusement, and of course, an incompetent and extended melodica performance. Performing Ferret Band sprawled out a bit on their album, almost verging on abstract theatre, but these four tracks are as close to rocking as they’re gonna get, with mangled Pop Group rhythms, vocals and lyrics seemingly improvised on the spot, and a pride in the absurd that’d make Jowe Head tip his feathered cap. Attractive design too, which pairs legible information with interesting ephemera, as is the usual case with Insolito reissues.

Puke Spit & Guts Eat Hot Lead LP (Slovenly Recordings / Black Gladiator)
Slovenly and Co. come to us with a reissue of one of the most tasteless, cartoonishly offensive punk obscurities, Puke Spit & Guts’ Eat Hot Lead. It’s got all the trappings of clueless rural punk that never went beyond the town limits, complete with homemade offensive clothes and prop weaponry for the band photoshoot – basically, the stuff that made Killed By Death such a captivating posthumous genre. On the spectrum of punk, Eat Hot Lead falls closer to the rock end of things, more Modern Lovers or Iggy Pop than Dead Boys or Germs, with plenty of groovy soloing and upbeat riffs. Of course, the vocals, shared by multiple members, are firmly in the GG Allin / Mentors camp, wherein each song is a new opportunity to threaten, offend or intimidate the squares. They’ll kick you, then kill you, then have sex with dogs, or more creatively, use your body as a host for spider eggs. While this group’s charm is certainly evident (they’re a lovable bunch of crass doofuses entering the 1980s), there’s still something a little weird about reissuing for widespread consumption an album filled with various glorified bigotry and sexual violence, even if it’s clearly schlock. Nowadays, you can sign onto Xbox and be blasted with far more inventive slurs and insults than anything Puke Spit & Guts came up with, so the “shock” aspect is lost to time… maybe we’re just supposed to feel a sense of nostalgia for a time when swears and threats of violence were actually an outrageous disturbance and not just the status quo? I would have hoped that Slovenly set their sights on reissuing The Beavis And Butt-Head Experience on vinyl next, but it turns out Geffen released a picture-disc version in 2016. What a world.

Pustostany 2012 LP (Sweet Rot / Pouet! Schallplatten)
Pustostany’s 2012 was originally released on cassette in, get this, 2012, on Oficyna Biedota, out of their homeland Poland. Amazingly, the insert alleges it was recorded in three hours. Can you imagine? In three hours, I’ve barely started going through the studio’s pile of magazines before deciding if I want to order falafel or pizza. Good for these guys, getting right down to it with clearly very little in the way of pre- (or post-) production. They sound great to me, and I can see why Canadian label Sweet Rot would be willing to take the possible financial hit in reissuing 2012 on vinyl, as it’s a particularly tight take on jittery post-punk with absurdist synth flourishes. I’m reminded of S.Y.P.H. or Mittagspause in the way that classic Wire moves are forced into unstable patterns with acute edges. The drums thump along with seemingly no cymbals, just thud and slightly-higher-pitched thud, as guitars execute taut and simplistic riffs (not entirely unlike Total Control) while someone plays a Gameboy in the background (is that Kirby’s Adventure?). Vocals are barked in the silences between riffs, and to go back to the insert, it makes for some highly “fruitful listening” indeed!

Romantic States Corduroy In Italy LP (Gentle Reminder)
Romantic States are a new-ish duo out of Baltimore and the remains of its Wham City scene. The title Corduroy In Italy sounds like a romantic state of being all its own, don’t you think? They’re a very pleasant, if easily-ignorable rock group – guitar, drums and hushed vocals are all you get, the sort of thing a loud-talking audience member could easily drown out at any given performance. It’s not music for boorish people, but rather those who fidget with their teabag string while thumbing through a thrift-store novel… nerds with some semblance of style. At first, I had to look up the names of the band members to make sure that the male vocalist wasn’t ex-Zoltars, as he has a strikingly similar tone of voice, like that of a math club president who covered his bedroom walls with collages of Kim and Thurston. Some songs are literally whispered, as if Romantic States insist on taking up as little room as possible, a group that’d rather be an ice-covered moon than a storm-covered gas giant. It’s a little too timid and soft for my tastes, as I can’t help but feel like if you want to be a rock band, you may want to entertain the idea of actually rocking once in a while, but who am I to say. There’s a confidence to Romantic States’ music that has me thinking they probably don’t really care what anyone thinks about their approach.

STNNNG Veterans Of Pleasure LP (Modern Radio Record Label / Rejuvenation)
I’ve always been amused by the way marijuana is associated with specific strands of music, like reggae or riff-rock or gangsta rap, because if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that everyone smokes weed. For example, STNNNG are a bunch of grown white men in button-ups and cardigans with mortgages and wives, but let me tell you, I was backstage with them a couple months ago and they smoked more weed than Om, by at least a few metric tons. It was like an endless inferno down there! But I digress: STNNNG have returned after a four-year hiatus with another album of nervous and rockin’ post-hardcore. I’m reminded of Rye Coalition and Mission Of Burma at times, as well as the unavoidable presence of Shellac, their shadow looming large if you’re a group of Midwest dudes in your late 30s who play smart-assed rock music with just enough twists and turns. (And naturally, Steve Albini recorded and mixed Veterans Of Pleasure at Electrical Audio, which I assume means pressing the record button and returning to a heated round of online poker.) Sounds pretty good to me, especially when their riffs are at their most simplistic, offering plenty of room for vocalist Chris Besinger to single out a couple bored audience members and personally shame them. I’m going to have to sell my copy of this LP, though, as the dry-cleaning costs for the clothes I wore in their sticky-green presence ain’t cheap.

Tilliander Compuriddim LP (iDEAL Recordings)
Andreas Tilliander’s music comes in various guises, like the gear-fetishizing TM404 and the brutalist techno of Mokira, both of which have previously received praise in these pages. I have to say though, this new album under his own name is probably my favorite encounter thus far, as it combines his antique hardware obsession with slow-motion skanks and trench-deep grooves. Often, his music comes across as a love letter to the gear with which he’s making it, but Compuriddim has a character all its own. Acid grooves are stretched like taffy, and dance-ready beats are impeded by their own sluggish weight, resulting in a hypnotic pulse. “Mokirian Tekno Trak” seems to explain itself in the title, and it’s the fastest tune here, but the bubbling oil that encompasses the groove is far from standard-issue. It’s actually the second side that has my favorite trio of tunes, with opener “Open Up The Cv/gate” resembling Gorgon Sound in spirit but far heavier in delivery (plus I enjoy knowing that the time-keeping stick-click that Tilliander uses here probably originates from deep within the belly of some ancient Roland worth thousands of dollars). Piles of rare old gear are certainly cool, but the only thing that ultimately matters is what you do with them (unless it’s the focus of your Instagram account) – with Compuriddim, Tilliander proves his mastery of coaxing bizarre and succulent tracks from his.

Transistor The Horde 12″ (Entr’acte)
My curiosity was piqued at the combination of Franck Vigroux (avant-electronics wizard coming off a fine collaboration with the late great Mika Vainio) and Ben Miller (he of Destroy All Monsters and brother of Mission Of Burma’s Roger Miller), two men coming from different continents and musical backgrounds. Together they comprise Transistor, and it’s a solid pairing not unlike Alan Vega’s work with Mika Vainio, wherein punishing, monolithic electronics are the backdrop for a crotchety old weirdo to mutter, rant and holler beside. There are two tracks on the a-side, both of which throb like vintage Nine Inch Nails given a UK bass-centric makeover, with kicks that inhabit a full city block and various electro-shocks that pulse like a plasma globe the size of a VW bug. Miller sounds like an obnoxious street-preacher on these tracks, just rattling off various proclamations and warnings, which makes for a thoroughly entertaining listen. “The Horde” covers the b-side, and it’s a different beast: Miller goes long-form, telling some sort of story that I can’t entirely follow – it’s like he’s mixing the plots of Lord Of The Rings and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, as Vigroux jolts the story into Technicolor, aiding Miller’s imagination with a keen variety of wooshes, static fizzles and, at the very end, a synthesized wind chime waving goodbye. Makes me want to find a middle-aged avant-garde journeyman that can make cool tracks like this for me, too.

United Waters The Narrows LP (Drawing Room)
There’s a good chance that like me, you may have recently wondered whatever became of the two dudes in Mouthus, and if so, I’m happy to report that Brian Sullivan started United Waters. I’m late to the game, as this is their third full-length, and apparently their most rockist yet (or at least the first with a drummer). Don’t expect the sweltering, muffled noise-rock extrapolations of Mouthus here, but rather an assisted-living, easy-listening community for ex-noise freaks. Guitar shimmers like colored cellophane, the drums keep time indolently and Sullivan’s vocals murmur somewhere beneath (perhaps the sole musical similarity to Mouthus is the low vocal mix). It’s pretty mellow, vague music, somewhere between the more song-based Warmer Milks material and fellow harsh-noisers-gone-unironically-mellow Francisco Franco. Or perhaps, if members of Microdisney and Ducktails got together for a one-off on Siltbreeze, it’d come out something in the shape of United Waters. It took me a few listens to get into it, but once acclimated, the lazy haze of The Narrows makes for a satisfying breather. Comes with two giant posters too, continuing Drawing Room’s commitment to sparing no expense on vinyl LPs with extremely limited target audiences.

Wood Chickens Skunk Ape 7″ (Kitschy Manitou)
Lots of interesting species at play on this 7″: Wood Chickens and their EP Skunk Ape. They’re from Wisconsin, but judging from the hootin’ and hollerin’ form of punk they’re playing, they’ve gotta be out in the sticks somewhere far from Madison or Green Bay, drinking home-brew and cutting their jeans into jean-shorts by this point of the summer. It’s punk that fearlessly enters “-abilly” territory, and while that sort of thing is decidedly not for me, something about the way Wood Chickens handle themselves is undeniably charming. On “Skunk Ape”, they sound like a mix of The Minutemen and The Queers in the way that a wild punk hootenanny leans toward classic pop-punk hooks, and the other two tracks follow suit with even more twang. I can’t help but picture a Jackass montage to these tunes, which works for me. Better than CKY at least! It’s by no means a cool style, but Wood Chickens own it so brazenly that I can’t help but enjoy myself while listening, even if I’m still a little concerned that someone might notice.

Reviews – June 2017

Actress AZD 2xLP (Ninja Tune)
Actress has been a Yellow Green Red favorite for essentially both of our existences, so how could I resist picking up this new album in its fancy-edition silver bag? (Turns out this wasn’t the best idea, as it comes with a big sticky flap that greatly inhibits the ability to remove the LPs from the packaging, but alas.) Actress’s last one, Ghettoville, seemed to slowly crumble and decay until there was nothing but debris on the ground and dust in the air, so as I prepped myself for AZD‘s barely-there, beatless wasteland, it came as a bit of a relief to hear Actress up to his old tricks, pairing intricate and microscopic tones with hallucinogenic beats, as though you are at once both up-close and in the distance. AZD is distinct in that vocals are more prominent, if usually in the form of repetitive samples (including the great Rammellzee), but something like “Untitled 7” is classic Actress, even as his style’s imitators continue to increase in number. The biggest surprise for me is the presence of a straightforward club hit, “X22RME”, which has the smoothest little synth hook this side of Galcher Lustwerk, and debuted with a gorgeous music video that re-imagines major league sports as a Rei Kawakubo exhibition. Praise be to download cards, as I’ve been blasting AZD in slightly-diminished digital Bluetooth resolution while I stare longingly at the LPs trapped inside their unripped silver bag, just as Actress would want it I’m sure.

Body Four Body Four LP (Brunette Editions)
Body Four is the name John Roberts has chosen for this suite of unique electronic explorations, both artist and title, and I’m excited to tell you about it! I wish I knew what sort of gear Roberts is using here, but it’s clearly quite specific and unusual… sounds like an electrified cello (?) either struck with mallets or plucked with fingers, then played back in reverse and occasionally aided by vocals that seem to undergo the same process. It shares the intimate feel (and odd pursuit of melody) as much of Arthur Russell’s solo work, but in the context of modern industrial techno. Maybe if Vessel tried to remix Arthur Russell with his homemade gear, it’d come out like this. There are fourteen “tracks” here, although most are under two minutes (and some under a minute), and they act more like fancy little sketches and curious ideas than fully sculpted tracks. I think this is probably the best way for Roberts to deliver them, though, as the sounds themselves are so engaging and lush and bizarre, I kinda just want to witness his investigation of them, as opposed to “proper” tracks that were designed with much deliberation. One of the most pleasant and sonically-unique records I’ve heard so far this year, no doubt.

Bruce Before You Sleep / In Line / Sweat 12″ (Hemlock Recordings)
Not trying to brag, but I’m fairly confident that this website has one of the largest depositories of Bruce reviews on the web. If Bruce called me up and asked me to run his personal archive, I would book the first flight over, I’ll tell you that! This new 12″ is his first for 2017, and it favors the abstract, pushing deeper into unknown territory, where dancing is a foreign concept and the very chemical makeup of the atmosphere is in question. “Before You Sleep” greets you with a mechanical heartbeat, a constant force in a track that utilizes neon rain, invisible puffs of parfum and drifting keys to invoke a strange sensuality. “In Line” picks up the energy with a hotstepping Hessle-ish percussive motif, and “Sweat” sounds like the basic structure of an Adam X track that is mercilessly bullied by Terminators, which of course is one of Bruce’s recurring production techniques. Each track comes in under five minutes, with the full understanding that our time is precious and nothing less than the best will do. Here’s hoping for another great year, Bruce!

Charly Bliss Guppy LP (Barsuk)
Your pop-punk record of the summer has arrived, folks! It’s right here care of Brooklyn’s Charly Bliss, a band whose name I’ve seen around here and there but never thought twice about (like many of you, I’m not particularly enticed by the idea of “Brooklyn pop-punk”). It’s their debut full-length, and I truly cannot recall the last time a pop-punk album blew me away like Guppy – probably the Exploding Hearts’ Guitar Romantic some fifteen years ago? Charly Bliss cherry-pick from a who’s who of pop-punk / emo / alt-grunge: there’s substantial doses of Weezer, Fallout Boy, The Strokes, Reggie & The Full Effect, Paramore, New Found Glory and Veruca Salt in the mix (alongside lower-tier personal faves like The Rentals and The Stereo). It’s by no means a list of underground obscurities, and Charly Bliss certainly isn’t the first group to find such sonic inspiration, but few have distilled the form to this extremely palatable end, a zone in which Charly Bliss are peerless as far as I’m concerned. Five songs per side, and each one is packed with at least two award-winning hooks, thanks in no small part to the outrageously high-pitched voice of Eva Hendricks, whose first line in “Percolator” demands a little getting used to (in the same way that one might have to re-adjust their personal sensory parameters upon tasting ice cream for the very first time). Her lyrics are hilarious and captivating, her voice is golden, and I just keep flipping it over and over. Truly having difficulty describing how much I love this record, and I don’t care if that’s weird!

C.H.E.W. Demo 7″ (Neck Chop)
Here’s a pointless tidbit that I enjoy ruminating upon: C.H.E.W used to go by “Chew”, but now it’s an acronym, albeit one that doesn’t actually stand for anything. Can you still say “Chew” or do they go by “see aitch eee double-you”? I hereby dub them Chicago’s Hardest Ear Wrestlers, as they play a scrappy, writhing form of hardcore-punk, and hail from Chicago. Neck Chop is a big proponent of pressing demos to wax, a move of which I’m often wary, but these seven tracks work nicely as a 7″ EP. They definitely have that modern sound, rooted in classic American hardcore (Black Flag, Die Kreuzen and Necros are evident) with a touch of the Swedish d-beat chug and the seedy sense of mischief that is rife in Toxic State’s back catalog. The vocalist rarely wavers from an avian screech, maintaining her intensity through straightforward blasts and the intricately twisting riffs of “Fine Tuning” as though no force can move her. Overall, I’d rate them on the plus side of average, but it’s just a demo after all. Only time will tell if C.H.E.W. go big league.

Civilized Chopping Block LP (Youth Attack)
Youth Attack’s evolution has been an interesting one, often honing in on particular regional scenes, such as Boston or the Midwest. Now they’re the official hub for Denver hardcore, a city with a less-celebrated (and less existent?) history of hardcore-punk, and Civilized’s debut album is fresh for 2017. I have to say, I’m really feeling it! It’s far more traditional straight-edge-sounding than I would expect Youth Attack to deliver, but Civilized push the style into an uncomfortable mess, much to my delight. Normally I can’t stand any group with Ray Cappo-esque vocals (I’m looking at you, Committed and Redemption 87), but vocalist Zach Reini sounds more like he’s choking Cappo out, frothy spit flying in every direction, with a touch of whoever sang for ’90s politi-crust dollar-binners Civil Disobedience (highly underrated!). The music structurally comes from Youth Of Today, Turning Point and Project X, but they clearly saw Hoax and Cult Ritual when they came through on tour years ago, and they apply that same sort of unhinged menace and tangled noise to their under-a-minute blasts. I wish the cover was a pencil sketch of two faceless edgemen in cloak-like hoodies high-fiving while grinding a meth lab with their Powell-Peraltas, but Youth Attack insists on being artsy-cool, even when presenting youthful American hardcore.

Egyptrixx Pure, Beyond Reproach 2xLP (Halocline Trance)
My expectations were high for Egyptrixx’s fourth full-length – the Toronto-based producer seemed to figure something out with 2013’s A/B Til Infinity and 2015’s Transfer Of Energy [Feelings Of Power] built upon it masterfully. Pure, Beyond Reproach is a sick title, the sort of thing you’d expect some alien god to utter before boring a hole through Earth with his starship blaster, and while it certainly still sounds like the Egyptrixx I know and love, it hasn’t connected with me in the same fashion as his last two. Before, it always felt like Egyptrixx was a club DJ who succumbed to the pull of hyper-modern sound design as a form of social commentary, as though he was trying to say “if my music can sound like this, it should be clear that sentient technology will soon be waging war on humanity and we’re screwed” while making a room full of drunk people dance. Now, Egyptrixx is pretty firmly in the “avant-garde sound artist” camp, going further into the intricate software processes that morph images of polished chrome and 3D-printed latex organisms into their corresponding sounds. It’s still cool, and I bet if I listened to this album a hundred times all of its contours and babbling water samples and sharp metallic pings would really resonate with me, but for where I’m at now, it plays out more as a collection of highly-advanced sound architecture: interesting to peer into but ultimately kind of hollow.

Grace Sings Sludge Life With Dick LP (Empty Cellar)
I sincerely hope that anyone who reads this website on a semi-frequent basis would be just as interested in checking out an artist named “Grace Sings Sludge” doing an album called Life With Dick as I was. It just lures you in! I couldn’t help but assume I was in for some actual sludge, just one woman on stage doing her best to sound like Cattlepress and Seven Foot Spleen, but in actuality her music is far more tender. She’s Grace Cooper, who previously played in The Sandwitches and The Fresh & Onlys, two bands I mostly avoided, writing them off as hookless, trendy hippie-garage of the late ’00s (I can be unreasonably cruel sometimes, just like anyone else). Grace Sings Sludge isn’t that either, but rather solo, confessional-style singing and guitar. A track like “Runaway (Bad Timing)” comes with a strong whiff of Cat Power, but other tracks are less tense and more tender, as if Meg Baird covered Terry Manning and classed it up in the process. There’s no shortage of this style going on out there: vaguely precious, sorta haunted, rainy-day, acoustic bedroom troubadours, but there’s something about Grace Sings Sludge that is undeniably captivating and intriguing… it starts with the name and goes from there.

Killerkume Industrial Sunbath LP (Gaffer / DDT / Cosmic Tentacles / Politburó Recording Fiasco)
The album’s called Industrial Sunbath, the band is from Bilbao, and the only two artists referenced in their one-sheet are Throbbing Gristle and Peter Brötzmann, so it sounds like we’ve got a fierce and harsh squealer of a record on our hands, right? My hopes were high, and sadly, quickly snuffed when I put on Industrial Sunbath only to learn Killerkume are a guitar / drums duo that basically play standard-issue math-rock with long stretches of predictable improvisation. I mean, it’s fine and all, they’ve definitely got some chops, but don’t have me thinking you sound like Esplendor Geometrico on acid only to sound like a band that would open for Oxes in 2002 and be the least memorable part of the show, please. I might be more into it if they really flipped their The Champs-style rock grooves into overdrive, or if there was some level of Chris Corsano / Bill Orcutt wizardry going on during their unstructured passages, but neither aspect captivates. The improv in particular strikes me as rote, which is a bummer. It’s also possible that I simply have a thing against records that more than three labels joined up to release, Evil Moisture / Cock ESP split 5″ notwithstanding.

Hermann Kopp Cantos Y Llantos 7″ (Galakthorrö)
Who can resist a trip into the Weird World of Hermann Kopp, perennial outsider of pretty much any music scene, the Galakthorrö label included. This new four-track EP is quite satisfying, as is all the Kopp I’ve heard, in that it transports me to foreign places rich with a sense of dangerous and inexplicable phenomena. These four tracks take us from Kopp’s native Germany to an unidentified Spanish-speaking territory, where industrial drumming, foreboding strings and romantic pianos gather under his stern tutelage. These songs feel stolen from a week-long Hermann Nitsch play, or perhaps deep within a cave that Indiana Jones would haplessly stumble upon, their meaning clouded with a sense of occult magic. My Spanish is certainly rusty, but Kopp seems to be invoking death and demons through these tracks; my personal favorite is “El Odio”, which pulls a mournful violin through some backwards processing, the sort of thing you might expect to see Mr. and Mrs. Arafna listening to if they lived in Westworld. Long may Herr Kopp thrive.

Kyo I Musik LP (Posh Isolation)
Kyo wasted no time in following their debut LP Aktuel Musik with I Musik, and I was ready and willing to snag it, myself being a big fan of their “Musik”. Their debut felt like a curious new breeze, filled with traditional orchestral instrumentation, varied sampling and a strong sense of emotional investment. I Musik follows that same path but moves further into a sonic territory that has me envisioning the sprawling sadness of capitalism (maybe it’s just that time of year). The clustered, spiral stairs on the cover are like a window into I Musik, an apt soundtrack for shopping malls after midnight, or any large hub of human consumption emptied and dark, sad and slightly beautiful. Sorry if I’m getting too esoteric here, but Kyo really put me in that zone, as their hovering electronics, interwoven field recordings, loose-limbed percussion and melodic interventions all speak to visual imagery, things of majestic beauty that are either dying or decayed. One track relays a woman’s voice intoning buzz words in a random sequence, not unlike Heatsick’s “Re-Engineering” or much of James Ferraro’s catalog, and another intersperses short bursts of airhorn over an otherwise tender moment, recalling one of Vic Berger’s fantastic political video edits. I’ve examined I Musik up close and from afar, and no matter what the angle it’s a joy to behold.

Lewd Baron Small Sips LP (Weiner Shirt)
What was it, Action Comics #37 where Superman first defeated the Lewd Baron? I’m just playing, they’re a Richmond punk band and I bet they also have something to do with the Weiner Shirt label… just a hunch. Anyway, they play a form of heavy post-punk with strong ’90s noise-rock influences (just influences, not the full scope of their sound). They have bouncy, alternating-note riffs not unlike KARP, just played less forcefully, with the swing of Drive Like Jehu applied to basement-punk optics and the sense that the band is willing to follow any strange thought that might enter their brain (see “Plugfancier”, which feels like one of those avant-garde Dry Rot songs paired with Fucked Up circa Hidden World). Lewd Baron definitely have some interesting ideas of their own, but for my money, they bog them down a bit with the same consistent mid-paced tempo and songs that are either too long or too many. All three members sing, maybe they accidentally let the drummer write some of the songs too? Classic mistake.

Lugweight Yesterday LP (Circle Box / Forcefield)
The trippy neon nonsense floating over an infinite checkerboard that adorns Lugweight’s Yesterday was giving me strong Daniel Lopatin vibes – if I hadn’t noticed that the only credited instrumentation was guitars, vocals and electronics, I would’ve expected some sort of mutated R&B nostalgia thing. But nope, Lugweight genuflects deeply at the altar of the riff, taking Earth’s 2 as Yesterday‘s starting point and, well, kind of its endpoint, too. The guitars take center stage, like an oil spill extending past the horizon, imposing its stoner-friendly grooves for minutes on end. At times, the riffs give way to the imposing weight of drone, but there’s usually some sort of rhythmic form at work, although often outpaced by the drowsiest of turtles. Vocals occasionally mutter through, providing some muddled commentary as the guitars incessantly churn. It’s not a dynamic album, for the most part, as you can drop the needle on any given groove and a thick, meaty guitar chord will surely be ringing. Chances are, if you’re a fan of heavy guitar droning you’ve probably heard this sort of thing before, but you probably also want more of it, which Lugweight happily provides. And if you don’t like it, well, go run a 5K or something, what are you doing here in the first place?

Macho Boys Macho Boys LP (Neck Chop)
Now serving leopard-print, studs n’ spikes hardcore-punk care of Portland, OR’s Macho Boys, who I can assure you are not actually macho boys. They’re pissed off and gonna tell you all about it, with music that recalls ’90s crust-punk like Assrash and ’90s snot-punk like FYP in equal measure, delivered with a crisp amateurism. They are all quite capable players, but something about the general simplicity of songwriting I find highly appealing; I’ve heard it all before and can easily tell where each song is heading, but there’s a soothing comfort in that. The lyrics are mostly from a misandrist-femme point of view (who can argue with that), although there’s one song on here called “Stone Cold” that is an ode to none other than Steve Austin himself. It’s unexpected and impressive, the detail with which vocalist Tekiah Elzey espouses her love for the Texas Rattlesnake: “Shotgun a Steveweiser / And prepare for a pile driver!” she shouts, to which I reply “Aww hell yeah!”, in hopes that she doesn’t stomp a mud hole out of me.

Marbled Eye EP 2 7″ (Melters / Digital Regress)
Marbled Eye are a new-ish punk group out of Oakland, and the immediate stamp of Melters’ approval raised my brows. They’ve got a pretty distinct vibe, if not entirely their own: they play a rigid, minimal form of post-punk, specifically calling to mind Institute, later Ceremony and Crisis. The drummer is almost always keeping time with the floor tom instead of the hi-hat, the guitars are chord-averse and frequently employ extended passages of the same note, and the vocalists (two guys share duties) sound like they’re reading from Lou Reed’s autobiography to their creative-writing class, honing in on a coolly disaffected tone. It’s a very specific musical template, and if there were dozens of bands going in this direction (which there very well might end up being) I’d probably find it a little wearying, but from my vantage point there aren’t too many, and I enjoy them all, Marbled Eye included. Maybe it’s just easy to write interesting, cool songs in this style, or maybe Marbled Eye are particularly talented, too. Plus, is their band name a bread pun? Can’t go wrong with that.

Mattin Songbook #6 LP (Munster / Insulin Addicted / Crudités Tapes)
Who would’ve thought the world would one day be treated to six of Mattin’s “songbooks”? Not me! Everyone’s favorite anti-music provocateur is constantly at it, and I rate this new one on the higher side of his impressively thick discography. The concept here (and for previous “Songbooks”) is that Mattin gathers a few musicians and artists and creates music with them in a severely limited time frame, with some abstract idea guiding the project. (In this case, the lyrics were “used as score”.) Mattin’s ideas are often choked-out by the weight of their conceptualization, but Songbook #6 is a record I’ve honestly wanted to listen to more than once, so I’ll consider it a success. There’s a lot of open space here, as is often the case, but the varied instruments find ways to interject themselves in the proceedings – sometimes it sounds like the players are merely plugging and unplugging their gear, but on certain tracks, like opener “Die Form, Die Sich Selbst Formt”, the tension is nail-biting. Mattin manically screams his words throughout, often with the aid of AutoTune (why don’t more screamers use AutoTune?), and I’m reminded of something Einstürzende Neubauten or Die Tödliche Doris would have discarded on the studio floor and later gathered for a retrospective boxset. I’d say Mattin should try relaxing for a minute, but I’m pretty sure that would result in three LPs filled with violently-edited field recordings of him relaxing.

Moral Panic Moral Panic LP (Slovenly Recordings)
T-shirt check: in the live photo featured on the back cover of Moral Panic’s self-titled debut, the drummer’s sporting a Melvins tee, the guitarist is rocking a classic Negative Approach, and the bassist, I’m not entirely sure… could it be Cinecyde, a wild card? Between the shirts and the band name, I was expecting some by-the-books hardcore, but they’re actually a garage-punk band, and one of fine caliber at that. Throughout, I’m reminded of Video out of Austin, TX, in the way that Moral Panic take classic garage-punk and Killed By Death hooks as their foundation and create something thrilling and vital with it, rather than a studied re-enactment or simply going through the motions to occupy their spare time. Maybe it’s the speed of their songs: they’re never so fast as to become a messy blur, but the energy never lags either. I can’t help but assume that although Moral Panic is a new group, these three dudes have spent years honing their chops, both songwriting and performance, in other bands. They’re from Brooklyn, and no one is really from Brooklyn these days, so I’m fairly confident in my guess. However they arrived there, it’s some of the freshest, best garage-punk I’ve heard in a bit!

Mozart Nasty 7″ (Iron Lung)
Originally, I thought I saw Nasty advertised as a 7″ LP, and I think that odd misprint may in fact be correct – there’s enough ferocious punkness to cover twelve inches slammed onto these seven. Mozart seek chaos in their music, brandishing their lack of finesse with the pride that tech-metal groups show toward their abundance. Opener “LKNB” is the wake-up call, a hive of slams and feedback as vocalist Marissa Magic does her best “alleycat in heat” imitation, squealing like she’s got a particularly unruly litter on the way. I’m reminded of Within’s fantastic debut 1994 EP or Coleman’s 7″ on Heliotrope – records that seemed to come from the emo scene, oddly enough, but obliterated any and all sonic boundaries by sheer physical force and commitment to the form. Of course, Mozart are probably just trying to copy Discharge and Tožibabe, but the end result is a fantastic miss into a territory uniquely their own, a sound far lumpier than anything Lumpy Records would dare to engage with. Love the cover too, each individualized with a black “blob”, looking like something you’d find on Pettibon’s bathroom floor. Not sure what’s up with the title, though – maybe it’s a show of solidarity with Hillary? Just playin’!

Mutual Jerk Mutual Jerk 7″ (State Laughter)
I’m consistently impressed by the breadth of Atlanta’s underground rock scene… it’s like the Austin, TX of the South! There are all those cool Scavenger Of Death-related hardcore groups, a rich history of garage-rock, and bands like Mutual Jerk who exist outside of those firm boundaries. They’re definitely punk, but in the way that certain bands pushed back on hardcore’s stylistic limitations by the mid-’80s, going simultaneously mellower and more unhinged than your average 1-2-3-4 thrash outfit. I’m getting a big whiff of No Trend’s perennial classic “Teen Love” on Mutual Jerk’s “He’s Harmless”, the a-side cut: nagging bass-line, moody and inconsistent guitar, and a vocalist angrily reading his term paper / suicide note very much in the way of No Trend’s Jeff Mentges. I almost expected it to be an outlier, with two traditional punk tracks on the flip, but they really take the “Teen Love” aesthetic and flesh it out over the remaining two cuts, somewhere between the shaky gallop of The Fall and like-minded contemporaries US Weekly. I am a sucker for moody post-punk that’s more punk than post with a vocalist seemingly unaware that his saliva-laced soliloquies are receiving musical accompaniment, so I’m giving Mutual Jerk’s vinyl debut a firm thumbs up.

Nag False Anxiety / imsosmall 7″ (Total Punk)
A good part of me was hoping that this Nag 7″ was in fact a solo record from one of my favorite members of The Door & The Window (wouldn’t that be something!), but Nag are in fact yet another fantastic hardcore-punk group out of Atlanta. They’re debuting on Total Punk, an honor that could easily inspire jealousy in their peers, but it’s rightfully earned with these two menacing tracks. “False Anxiety” blares forward with a snaky bassline, bloodshot vocal delivery and a tense rhythm that has me thinking of the speed and control shown by local peers such as Predator and GG King. “imsosmall” cools things off with a zombie march before inexplicably entering into a black-metal death race. Didn’t GG King work black metal aesthetics into his garage-punk too? What’s up with these guys? It takes a little adjusting to, although the power with which the drummer delivers his blasts is enough to win me over. Thankfully, the vocalist maintains his glazed-over sneer, anchoring Nag in the corner of a smoke-filled bar rather than a frostbitten necroforest. I hope to hear more.

Neutral Neutral 7″ (I Dischi Del Barone)
Somehow I didn’t see this coming, but a Neutral EP on the I Dischi Del Barone label makes perfect sense: band and label seem to be friends who live in close proximity, and if there’s one group that exemplifies the anti-song righteousness of I Dischi, it’s Neutral. Needless to say, I was psyched to obtain a copy, and it delivers just the sort of seething, crumbly, hypnotic and occasionally-riffy noise of which I know Neutral to be fine vendors. “A – B – C” is the a-side track, a slow dissolution of guitar strings and imprecise noise that eventually finds live drums to carry it out to sea, right as Sophie Herner whispers Swedish into a sarcophagus. “2 – 0 – 1 – 6” opens the flip with a quick chemical rinse, leading into a “cover” of Le Forte Four, a LAFMS-affiliated group clearly in line with Neutral’s sonic ethos, and easily the goofiest ditty in Neutral’s catalog to date. Can you believe Neutral came all the way to the US just to play two shows in New York last year? I still haven’t forgiven them for not properly touring, but this 7″ is a reasonable way to start making amends.

No Faith Forced Subservience LP (Iron Lung)
Huge, huge missed opportunity here for No Faith to title their second LP More. Would’ve been perfect! That said, I understand that humor doesn’t often factor into No Faith’s brutal music and worldview, and Forced Subservience is an apt setting – the music feels like it’s one decade away from gracing a Cry Now, Cry Later compilation and the title is equally fitting. They’re a power-violence quartet from Amherst, MA, and they do the genre right with their thick, molten riffs, often segmented into doomy dirges that snap into breakneck blasts with surgical precision – I’m thinking of Despise You, Napalm Death and, well, Iron Lung when I listen to this record. No Faith’s uniqueness comes out in the form of their power-electronics interludes and additions; they’re deployed not in the squealing, car-alarm style of Suppression (at least not usually), but the bleak, crumbly, bass-heavy realms of Ramleh or Con Dom. I could almost do for a bit more of their noise, as the balance is like 80% grindcore / 20% noise, and the instrumental / instrument-less passages they have here are quite enjoyable, not merely filler between grind blasts. If you’re looking to buy one power-violence album this year…

Open City Open City LP (no label)
As much as I love the idea of four people who barely know how to plug in their instruments wailing away at hardcore-punk, there’s something to be said for those who have decades of practice under their belts too, like the various characters that comprise Open City, one of Philadelphia’s newest hardcore groups. To the myriad followers of PunkNews.Org, Open City is most notable as Dan Yemin’s newest project, he of Lifetime, Kid Dynamite, Paint It Black, etc., and while his presence is overwhelmingly evident in the songwriting, Open City follow a different lineage of hardcore thought. Their sound is strongly beholden to the sincere, dare-I-say-emo hardcore of the mid-’90s – they’re like a refined, well-oiled take on John Henry West and Merel, bold and passionate hardcore that speaks its concerns clearly and directly. I love a lot of that stuff, but Open City aren’t merely re-enacting, as Yemin’ sonic stamp remains distinct – the melodic breakdown of “Black Veils” carries the same uplifting sway of classic Lifetime, and the central riffs of “Hell Hath No Fury” and “On The Spit” could’ve certainly been held over from Kid Dynamite’s songbook. It serves Open City well, paying homage to the fury of their youth while utilizing the talent and insight they’ve since gathered.

Race Car B.Y.O.G.K. 7″ (Neck Chop)
The group is Race Car, and the acronym of their EP title stands for “Build Your Own Go Kart”. Hmm… okay! Not sure I understand where the auto motif is coming from, but at least it’s unusual, and the raucous, semi-synthetic sounds of Race Car are very nice indeed. Minor internet sleuthing has determined they’re from California, but they certainly have a touch of that weird NWI punk vibe, but only a touch – they use a drum machine in a ’90s way, not an early synth-punk way. Race Car sounds like an upbeat, early punk band surrounded by video games, car alarms and pagers all going off simultaneously. Someone jams hard punk riffs on their guitar and a vocalist chirps away from inside his reverb tank (an effect that has great similarity to the Abandos’ earliest offerings). I’m even reminded of Japanese Devo-worshippers Polysics at certain times, in the sense that there is a joyous form of sensory overload at play, but it doesn’t dominate the music or hinder the listening experience. It’s not an entirely foreign sound in 2017, but Race Car attack it with zeal – if there’s a better go-kart-themed punk record released this year I certainly want to hear it.

Roht Roht 7″ (Iron Lung)
Noise-driven Icelandic hardcore-punk: who could find fault with this? Roht are from Reykjavik, and I don’t know if they found Iron Lung or vice versa, but it’s a proper international accord. Immediately, Roht’s feedback is a constant presence, delivered somewhere between Confuse and Cult Ritual, to the point where they don’t even need to be playing their songs to singe your nose hairs – the brief moment of static that announces each song’s arrival is potent enough as is. At least in spirit, they seem to share the youthfully nihilistic, we-don’t-want-friends hardcore style of Sexdrome and the aforementioned Cult Ritual, but Roht’s songwriting is far more primitive. The drummer offers zero in the way of sick fills or style, he simply pounds the bare necessities while the guitar and bass slam appropriately along, a hive of noise expands like vape smoke and the vocalist shouts from what seems to be the far end of a warehouse’s HVAC duct. They offer fast, slow and mid-tempo tracks here, and while an album of music this uniformly grating might even test the patience of a freak like me, this six-song EP hits the spot.

Static Eyes The Thaw 7″ (Kitschy Manitou)
I must’ve listened to at least a dozen “____ Eyes” bands over the past few years, not to mention the countless skulls on record covers I’ve witnessed, to the point where I have to physically hold and stare directly into this Static Eyes 7″ if I want any hope of remembering it. It’s a pretty cool-looking skull at least, and their time-tested garage-punk does the trick just fine – I’m reminded of The Hunches and The Piranhas, fiery garage-rock bands that push their tempos into speedy punk and feature a vocalist who yowls as if someone just lit his coattails on fire. That said, nothing about these three songs speaks to any sense of originality or new spin on the form, but I wouldn’t expect positive results from anyone really messing with the formula too much anyway. I guess you just have to write unforgettable songs if you want to stand out, which is undoubtedly harder and harder to do as the genre is now old enough to receive AARP mailings. Of course, this is based on the assumption that Static Eyes wish to be one of the greats and not just another good band; there is absolutely nothing wrong with amusing yourself and your friends by playing in a band that sounds just like this.

Wolvon Ease. LP (De Graanrepubliek / Subroutine)
A bearded Dutch trio playing thoughtful and colorful post-punk emo? Sure, why not! Ease. is Wolvon’s second album, and I can get into their take on what I believe to be a fairly American form of underground rock: melodic and shoegazy emo-rock. When I say emo, I’m referring to its pre-mainstream-pop mid-’90s version: bands like The Van Pelt and The Jazz June, with the affected textures of Sonic Youth to fill out the sound (particularly notable as the final mix pushes the vocals way below, often barely audible in the din). When they get particularly energetic, I’m reminded of early alt-rock ala Foo Fighters or Hum, perhaps without the commercial aspirations. One could easily file it as “sensitive-guy” music, particularly as the vocalist’s tone takes on a Mark Kozelek-ish warmth while unobstructed by the music, and I get the feeling that Wolvon wouldn’t be overly bummed out if this were the case. They are certainly guys, after all, and if their music can console other melancholic guys in times of distress or confusion, who am I to get in the way.

Xetas The Tower LP (12XU)
If I were challenged to pick a team on some sort of indie-rock Survivor show (please let this never actually exist), Xetas would be one of my top choices – they’re a versatile, highly-capable rock group with a high level of energy and a sense of authentic passion. This is their second album, and as far as I’m concerned they’re really hitting their stride here. They’ve got the gruff melodic feel of Dillinger Four and The Marked Men, with a similar sense of the magnanimity those bands carry, as if they aren’t satisfied unless everyone in the room is having a good time. They also take things to a rougher degree, calling to mind pre-bongos-and-operatic-choir Fucked Up in the way these songs seem to leave scars upon both vocal cords and fingertips. They aren’t afraid to show “maturity” either, in the tense build of “The Break”, just waiting to soundtrack a particularly grueling Degrassi breakup. I feel like so many bands are trying to accomplish this sort of sound and fall short, probably because it’s deceptively difficult to play modern-sounding anthemic and melodic punk rock and have it sound fresh and unique – there are so many tempting motions that others have gone through countless times before. Xetas, however, wiped all the dust off and are ready to become someone’s favorite band, if not your life.

Absolutely Wino compilation 2xLP (Wah Wah Wino)
The compilation album’s ability to serve as scene document has been crucial to underground music, and it’s one that I’ve always cherished, from Not So Quiet On The Western Front to No New York and countless others. Absolutely Wino takes the temperature of the mysterious Irish scene surrounding Morgan Buckley and friends, and let me tell you, it’s scorching hot! I don’t particularly believe that half of the pseudonyms and aliases (and aliases of pseudonyms) credited here are actually other people and not just Morgan Buckley, Davy Kehoe and Olmo Devin, but who cares? The world they create with their music is fascinating and spirited; it’s rich with the unending quest for freedom found in experimental noise but the studied technique and musicality found within labels like Brain and CTI. Here you get two LPs full of impossible-to-categorize funk, house, krautrock, techno and electro, with a list of instrumentation longer than my arm, and it’s absolutely entrancing. Opener “7000 Years” by Gombeen & Doygen is an instant favorite (it’s like a post-punk take on Ricardo Villalobos’ “What You Say Is More Than I Can Say”), as is the chaotic swing of Wino Wagon’s “Paco’s Ode” and Morgan & Davy’s “Craudrock” (which gives me heavy Rastakraut Pasta feelings), but once I put this comp on I invariably listen to the whole thing – it’s a glorious achievement to behold.