Reviews – June 2020

Bananagun Out Of Reach 7″ (Anti Fade)
Ooh la la, here’s the second single from Melbourne’s most fashionable freak-beaters, Bananagun, featuring a cut off their upcoming debut full-length. They’re a relatively new band (these are only their third and fourth songs to be released), but they are clearly going for it: I count one manager, four press contacts and two booking agents among the contacts listed on their Facebook page. It’s a deep squad of employees for this group, but I can’t say I don’t understand why, as Bananagun have a slick and warm sound that will easily appeal to people of all ages. They tear pages from some pretty popular books – Stereolab, Belle & Sebastian, Cornelius, Beck, Fantastic Plastic Machine, Os Mutantes – and condense it into highly palatable pop tunes, not entirely unique but certainly unique enough. “Out Of Reach” might be their best tune yet… it’s an upbeat jam that pops into shape care of some breakbeat drumming, flutes, an earworm vocal melody and the finest bongos I’ve heard on an indie record since I don’t know when. “Takosubo” is the 7″ exclusive, an airy and funky b-side that reclines nicely. Essentially an instrumental (group vocals pop up during the infrequent chorus), it showcases the group jamming on piano and flute, in-the-pocket drumming and sunshiney bass. It clarifies the situation nicely: whereas other groups might try their hand at psychedelic Afrobeat yé-yé bubblegum garage on a lark, Bananagum seem to be constructed for that very task.

The Bedrooms Passive Viewing LP (Domestic Departure)
Life in Portland, OR isn’t all novelty donuts and vegan strip-clubs, you know: there’s plenty of bad weather and ample time to spend indoors, dwelling on things that make us sad. At least that’s the vibe I get from the super-serious melodic post-punk sounds of The Bedrooms. While the beat is usually punchy and buoyant, the chiming guitars and stern vocals offer forbidding proclamations of heartbreak and malaise, no matter how limber and funky the bass might be. I pity any audience member who is caught goofing off during a Bedrooms’ set, as I can easily imagine vocalist Jen Cobridge freezing them to death with a focused stare. I’m reminded of goth-y New Romantic groups like The Names and The Church, Siouxsie & The Banshees, Savages, Joy Division of course, and maybe even the final (for the time being?) Dum Dum Girls material. For a band clearly operating on a DIY / community-based level (as opposed to a multi-album deal with Factory), they’re quite professional, at least in the way that they are all talented players and recorded Passive Viewing with power and clarity. The Bedrooms are serious, and it suits them!

Leila Bordreuil, Bill Nace & Tamio Shiraishi Live At Pageant Soloveev LP (Open Mouth)
The Open Mouth “Live” series has been satisfying thus far, but here’s a particularly tasty trio: drone cellist Leila Bordreuil, guitar illusionist Bill Nace and sax squealer Tamio Shiraishi (of none other than Fushitsusha!). Pageant Soloveev is roughly a five-minute walk from my pad (and a pleasant walk at that), and yet I somehow wasn’t in attendance for this performance last August, probably because I figured live music would still exist in a year’s time. Foolish me, but I’m glad to experience their set now, which traverses various sonic terrains, all of which are pretty gnarly. Opening with a creeping drone of cello and guitar, it’s not long before Shiraishi steps up, his alto sax like an unattended tea kettle on the stove, begging for release. That piercing whistle is his primary zone, and he plays around within those eardrum-popping frequencies as Nace and Bordreuil solemnly stack their mud bricks beneath him, at least until they violently demolish the whole thing toward the end of the first side. Did Nace accidentally glance at a portrait of Greg Ginn or something? He’s the razor-edged swatter that’s trying to smash Shiraishi’s fly, whereas Bordreuil’s trying to suffocate them both in her unfiltered molasses. The b-side starts like the tense quiet after a blowout fight, eventually kicking up into a dust storm that leaves every tabletop object overturned and back again. A potent reminder to never skip out on mind-exploding improvised sound when it’s lurking in your neighborhood.

CB Radio Gorgeous CB Radio Gorgeous 7″ (Thrilling Living / Not Normal Tapes)
Been awaiting the arrival of some CB Radio Gorgeous wax for a couple years now, but sometimes it’s nice to actually feel anticipation and then eventually get something and it rocks. That’s the case for this four-song EP, which showcases the punk expertise of this Chicago group. They’ve got a pretty contemporary sound – jittery clean-guitar punk played a little faster than it should be – and the right personnel to make it click. Drummer Joe Seger comes from C.C.T.V. and Big Zit (to name but two prior groups), and his speedy playing is a godsend, wiling out all over the kit and providing the punch to these choppy and energetic tunes. In a style that seems at least a little indebted to Olivia Gibb of Warm Bodies (and going back to the OG source, Su Tissue), Anna Kinderman yips and yaps across the music, extending syllables with a theatrical flair and generally ignoring the hard work the rest of the band is putting in to keep things airtight, much to my enjoyment. What good is a punk singer if they aren’t constantly trying to screw up the rest of the band? File next to Vivienne Styg, Fried E/M and P22 in the category of “best new punk vinyl of 2020”!

Choir Boy Gathering Swans LP (Dais)
On paper, I shouldn’t gravitate toward this band: another retro synth-pop group, one with kind of a dorky name even, on Dais. And yet, here I am professing my fandom! Whereas many of their contemporaries seem to seek out a safely bland sound and feel through the same generic set of goth or vaguely-goth signifiers and affectations, Choir Boy has its own unique equation, easily spotted in a crowded batcave. I suppose much of that falls on the singer, Adam Klopp, of whom the band is apparently named (a mocking childhood insult turned band name, I believe). First of all, he looks like a miniature Jared Leto (it’s nearly uncanny!), and he insists on appearing on both Choir Boy album covers to date in sorta-sloppy Halloween costumes, a far cry from the super-serious, nothing-is-or-can-ever-be-humorous attitude displayed by many of Choir Boy’s contemporary synth-wavers. There’s nothing sloppy about Klopp’s voice, though, which sounds as if someone is lampooning Morrissey and accidentally out-maneuvering him in the process, his melodies dipping down and then rocketing up in a single phrase. It’s a little ridiculous, but that’s also what makes the group so notable and occasionally even captivating – Klopp is naturally talented and completely committed to being the most audacious singer around, and it works marvelously. These songs also benefit from a move toward more “adult-pop” sounds, mixing the eclectic instrumentation and emotive pull of Talk Talk and The Blue Nile with the airbrushed sheen of Duran Duran and the studious synth moves of Cold Showers rather than just sounding like some Bauhaus dance remix. If you can’t already tell, I’m impressed!

The Cowboys Room Of Clons LP (Feel It)
Soon as I get my new band “The Cowboy(s)” off the ground (the s is silent, we’re pretty arty), I’m sending a copy of our demo to the good people at Feel It. I have a feeling they might be interested! In the meantime, The Cowboys are keeping the label busy, and this new one (their hundredth?) finds them at their most distinctive – simultaneously inexplicably weird and classically guitar pop-centric – which suits them wonderfully. On the few faster tunes, I’m hearing similarities to Uranium Club, with unsettlingly-friendly game-show-host vocals and zany guitar licks, a sonic interpretation of that meme where a cartoon dog is drinking coffee in a burning building and saying “this is fine”. Those are the outliers on Room Of Clons, though, as the album more frequently digs into the street-view psychedelic pop of Syd Barrett and the eloquent rock mastery of The Kinks. And then there’s “The Beige Collection”, which sounds like a nerdy version of the biggest alt-rock hit The Killers never wrote, an odd musical triumph smushed between one song that sounds like Hubble Bubble and another that sounds like The Olivia Tremor Control (and prominently features kazoo). As the label’s promotional sticker says, it’s an ambitious album for sure, but these wild, nutty songs are great, and The Cowboys know exactly how to play ’em. I’m not sure if they walk around wearing colorful top-hats and animal-print bow-ties, but after releasing Room Of Clons, they’ve certainly earned the right.

Sam Gendel Satin Doll LP (Nonesuch)
2018’s Music For Saxofone & Bass Guitar really walloped me over the head, a disorienting concoction of experimental jazz, new-age weirdness and minimal electronics by Sam Wilkes and Sam Gendel that was unlike anything I had previously heard. Since then they seem to have blown up a bit (original vinyl copies of the aforementioned record have reached OG Nervous Breakdown prices on Discogs!), and as far as I’m concerned, rightfully so – these guys have really struck something widely enjoyable and curiously unique. Anyway, on Sam Gendel’s newest full-length, Satin Doll, he continues on that same trajectory, which has grown more familiar now and is nearly as satisfying. I guess this album came about from Gendel jamming with his friends Gabe Noel (electric bass) and Philippe Melanson (electric percussion), and it has the feel of three sonic auteurs playfully re-working jazz standards or simply improvising up new ideas that maintain a similar path, one of calm electro-spiritual righteousness, beauty and wonder. I’m reminded a lot of James Blake here, in the way that one talented visionary musician takes a classic style (for Blake it was R&B, for Gendel it’s jazz) and refashions it for a post-dubstep generation, filled with flittery drum machines, off-kilter rhythms, severe electronic effects and a sense of loving homage. If he hasn’t already met up with Frank Ocean and Justin Timberlake for sushi and oxygen masks while discussing their impending collaborations, it’s only a matter of time, you know?

George Heroine TMYLTL LP (Love Anthem)
Advertised as an album of “scrapped sessions from what would’ve been the second Meercaz & The Visions album”, TMYLTL sounds… pretty much like that. The name change is interesting enough (another punk George Harrison parody, or is it something else?), as is the Ultimate Warrior face-paint cover, but by my thorough evaluation, these tunes sound like the b-sides of b-sides. They’re garage-pop with hints of psychedelia, new-wave and private-press soft-rock, and while I like to think I’m open for that sort of sonic bouquet, there isn’t much that I find myself latching onto here, unlike say any given Dan Melchior record, who seems to inhabit a similar outsider singer-songwriter universe. I suppose it might come down to the crucial element of the voice, because I simply can’t connect to guitarist/singer/songwriter Muzz Delgado’s voice here or elsewhere – his singing style is amateurish and not particularly tuneful, which of course can be fine if he had some sort of exceptional personality or style to go along with it, but he mostly sounds listless and tired, as if he’s singing his tenth karaoke song of the night and just waiting for the bartender to close out his tab. He’s probably got the same range and natural vocal talent as Milk Music’s Alex Coxen, for example, but no one would ever accuse that guy of not going for it. If Delgado isn’t pumped up and rearing to share George Heroine with us, why should we be excited to hear it?

Green / Blue Green / Blue LP (Slovenly)
New project here from Jim Blaha, previously of The Blind Shakes and, you guessed it, the band called Blaha. I’m only somewhat familiar with his previous material, and yet I feel comfortable in stating that the debut album as Green / Blue, his duo with Annie Sparrows (previously of The Soviettes), is my favorite thing he’s done yet. I’m hearing an interesting, somewhat unexpected set of influences in here, which work nicely as this duo gives them a proper swirling. The ticking time-bomb energy of the albums Jay Reatard released under his own name, jangly indie-rock ala the classic Flying Nun canon and fuzzy minimal garage-pop (I’m thinking of The Raveonettes) all congeal nicely in Green / Blue’s hands. Opener “At A Loss” sounds like a fine Institute track with an entirely different singer, whereas other songs seem to combine fuzzed-out garage reminiscent of The Oh Sees with a whispered sour croon not unlike the one that propelled Billy Corgan to stardom. Plus, they seem to play all their songs a couple notches faster than most other Slovenly-approved garage bands would settle on, which provides a satisfying urgency to their sound. It’s a cool mix of agreeable styles that aren’t repeatedly put into play together, and Green / Blue have the chops to whip it up into some appealing tunes.

Jahder Bagigi Dub / WW Dub 7″ (Planet Rescue)
On their 2015 album, the group was known as Yader, but this Italian trio is going by Jahder on this recent 7″ single. If they crack their car windows, you’ll be able to smell the skunk from down the street, as these two songs are wonderfully psychedelic interpretations of classic digi-dub ala Augustus Pablo’s ’90s output. “Bagigi Dub” glides in on a thick carpet woven from an upbeat bass-line, vintage drum machines and swirly effects. Even the reverb has reverb, which is just how I like it. “WW Dub” clocks in at a suspicious four minutes and twenty seconds, and it wears a similar smiley face as the a-side (one with pot leaves for eyes) thanks to the sprightly bass-line and bouncy rhythm. Keys drizzle on top, throwing some color to an otherwise verdant setting. Fans of Jahtari’s 8-bit dubs and Niagara’s free-form grooves will certainly dig into Jahder’s pleasantly warm tunes, but honestly anyone who finds themselves unable to vibe with Jahder needs more help and care than I could ever personally provide to them.

Lemon Quartet Crestless LP (Last Resort)
You know what they say: when life gives you lemons, start a quartet! If you’re familiar at all with the avant-garde / ambient / experimental jazz of London’s Last Resort label (like that great Improvisations On An Apricot album from a year or two ago), Lemon Quartet brings together the players responsible for the label’s other releases, and it’s full of the tender peaceful bliss that hits so well in these warm springtime months. They recorded Crestless “at home in Akron, Mondays, 9 pm”, which grounds these soft and subtle evocations in a sort of social domesticity, which is a fun way to process these outre sounds. Bass, drums, vibes, horns, electronics and surely other instrumentation are involved, resulting in eight songs that sound best with the windows open, well-equipped to merge with the outside world no matter if it’s honking traffic or softly rustling fauna. I’m reminded of the tastefully subtle jazz of Arve Henriksen, the lighter side of the ECM catalog, that Bugge Wesseltoft & Prins Thomas album from a couple years ago, and even a touch of the Chicago post-rock scene ala Tortoise or Isotope 217. Some groups creak and moan and sprawl, others lock into forms of easily-recognized melody, but Lemon Quartet merge those two paths with careful ease and soft distinction. Recommended!

MM & The Peculiars Paean 12″ (Donor)
Okay, when you’re a band wearing tight denim outfits and posing next to a kick drum with your name written on it, I’m gonna expect garage, or garage-punk, or power-pop, or something in that extended family of retro-minded musicality. I found it peculiar indeed, then, to hear the booming, anthemic alt-rock that is “Paean”, which seems poised for MTV Buzz Bin success in 1995, somehow frozen in time until now. The MM in question here is Maegan Mills (of burly hardcore types Big Cheese and Rapture), and she wields her perfectly commanding vocal over the soft-loud dynamic of “Paean”, which smacks of post-grunge pop-rock such as Veruca Salt, early Foo Fighters and Quicksand. Makes me want to mosh at Lollapalooza, that’s for sure! “The Engine” and “Form An Orderly Queue (First Version)” keep the vibe going, finding a pleasant lane between Screaming Females, Helium and the heavy breakdowns prevalent in Siamese Dream. They toe the line nicely between the warring ’90s factions of college-rock and arena-grunge, bringing the heavy “Teen Spirit”-bouncy choruses in one hand and anxious noodly verses in the other. There’s no reason to play this sorta thing if you’re not going to aspire to greatness – MM & The Peculiars seem to have set their sights high, and rightfully so.

Moron’s Morons Looking For Danger LP (Slovenly)
Have you been wishing for a new stupid-on-purpose garage-punk band that’s not afraid to wear funny sunglasses and drip fake blood on themselves? Me neither, but that hasn’t stopped Warsaw, Poland’s Moron’s Morons from releasing their debut LP with the help of global punk ambassador Slovenly. This group takes its cues from the first wave of this stuff (The Damned, The Dickies, Angry Samoans) and into the second wave (Rip Off Records and the punker side of Estrus’s catalog), offering a fairly standard if enjoyable sound, delivered with a fuzzed-out recording and a sustained level of energy. Occasionally a song will recall the cretinous punk glory of Ivy Green, or the wannabe pop-star debauchery of early GG Allin, but it mostly sounds closer to The Rip Offs or The Motards, with lyrics that focus on murder, hating people, and murdering the people you hate, which I find to be both classically timeless and kinda boring if utilized without some specific panache. It seems to me that Moron’s Morons just wanna have fun being grotesque and clumsy punk rock idiots, just like their heroes were, which means singing about the same things and striking the same poses their heroes did. A noble intention, but nothing particular fresh or exciting, if those are two qualities you require your punk rock to possess.

Oilmen Tremendous Menace / Expect Excellence! LP (ADAADAT)
Just finished an exhaustive (too exhaustive, if you ask me) book on the early ’80s NYC club scene, so this vinyl debut from Berlin’s Oilmen is pairing nicely. Their sound is deeply indebted to the elastic funk and sputtering insanity associated with the downtown NYC no-wave scene. Tremendous Menace / Expect Excellence! is faithful to that time and sound, but there’s something about crazed jittery rhythms, wild vocals and bleating horns that will always strike me as a reasonable method for expressing one’s inability to find satisfaction in modern society. The vocalist shrieks in a similar fashion to Nick Cave losing his cool on “Big-Jesus-Trash-Can”, as if he’s accidentally sucking his syllables inward instead of puffing them out. Oilmen seem to be having more fun than should be legally allowed through these tunes, each of the three members never sitting still for a minute – if there’s no bass, grab some jingle bells, or a vibraslap, or screech uncontrollably like a monkey (as someone does in “Knuckle Walk”). Certainly not a style I would’ve associated with the frenzied-yet-intellectual electronic noise of ADAADAT, but Oilmen are clearly the type of group that’ll happily push their way into any scene and incite a wild happening.

Oksun Ox I Don’t Care I Already Told You LP (Round Bale Recordings)
The sole photographic image I’ve seen of Oksun Ox (whose membership is solely comprised of a guy named Ben Holmes) displays him holding some sort of rigged ukulele while seated in front of two big keyboards taped together, wild swirls of instrument cables, a couple effects pedals, and at least one cup of coffee precariously placed. That’s pretty much what Oksun Ox sounds like! File it under “unhinged solo project of the biggest freak in a small town”, a genre that has really blossomed as home recording technology morphed from an elusive, expensive venture to a built-in feature of any given laptop or cell phone. I’m reminded of the warped mindset of Oso El Roto, the childish mania of Teddy Fire, the intergalactic crud-funk of ONO, the lo-fi alt-reality “pop” of Pumice, and even a little Wesley Willis, particularly on the song where Holmes starts hollering “it’s the ace of spades!” over music that is very much not the “Ace Of Spades” we all know and love. Drum machines generally carve the path, but the thick gooey wash of whatever instruments are being played (at least one of those gunky keyboards, and probably a guitar at some point) quickly overtakes most of these tracks, with reverb bouncing back and forth in the fashion of a malfunctioning Zoom call. It’s honestly kind of wearying to listen to all of I Don’t Care I Already Told You at once – there are a lot of tracks here, over a lot of minutes, and the lo-fi haze and lack of discernible songs (or at least “songs” as customarily defined) is likely to increase one’s headache from mild to migraine. Oksun Ox doesn’t care, though: after all, you can’t say he didn’t already tell you.

Old Table Sexual Reproduction 12″ (Zag)
Oof… thanks to years of chilled-out indie-pop whoa-ah-oh music taking precedence as the current musical trend I find most painfully unappealing, I had almost forgotten about brashly whiny emo acoustic-guitar guys. I don’t know what Old Table are sounding like these days, but Sexual Reproduction is a five-track EP that came out digitally in 2008 and only recently made it to vinyl (for reasons beyond my comprehension), and it is extremely that. Singer / guitarist Willie T sings about wishing he was in elementary school and being scared to talk to girls while lusting after them online. It could be read as some sort of commentary on being a hapless loser (and the insert artwork, full of entertaining cartoon scribbles, leads me to believe Willie T is a smart guy), but if there’s some sort of ironic distance between the singer and the words he’s singing here, it’s not apparent enough for a listener such as myself to grasp. T sings in a register a shade higher than good sense would recommend (which is a common aspect of emo vocalizing); he’s clearly operating in the spirit of Jeff Mangum but nowhere in the same league (though to be fair, I don’t think anyone’s really in Mangum’s league). The guitar is accompanied by cello, which works as a pleasant and understated counterpoint (my favorite cello-centric emo group Very Secretary would surely approve). The chords are strummed with fervor, self-confidence in no short supply, and I have no doubt that he wants us to feel what he’s feeling. If they left these songs purely instrumental I’d happily keep spinning, but this sort of thing lives and dies on the personality and style of the singer, of whom I’ve had my fill.

Abe Partridge & The Psych Peas Lackluster LP (no label)
God bless local rock bands who follow their own hearts rather than common prevailing trends, particularly in this age where there’s only one big scene, called The Internet, which molds everything into everything else. There’s no big record contract coming for Abe Partridge and his band, The Psych Peas, but they’re pressing up their own album anyway, because they like playing their music and want other people to hear it! What does it sound like, you ask? Imagine heavy-metal-era Kid Rock fronting a Rage Against The Machine cover band, or Violent J if he tried his hand at a “don’t believe the government’s lies”-themed roots rock band. Partridge raps like an incensed street-preacher over lumbering hard-rock grooves, across both the “studio” side and the “live” side (of which three of the same songs appear on each). I certainly don’t mind it, although declaring it “very good” or even “pretty alright” might prove difficult if taking any standard musical rating system into consideration. This crew is having honest, raucous fun rocking out in their hometown Nashville bars, which is really what it’s all about. As Partridge says at one point on the live side, “it don’t really matter if I’m in tune anyway.”

Phasm Double Hell LP (no label)
Pure genre-exercise bliss from West Virginia’s Phasm on their self-released vinyl debut. That’s right, West Virginia! I honestly can’t think of a better American state for producing blackened, miserable metal such as this (okay, maybe Alaska): a region filled with creepy mountain forests, cultural despair and a stark lack of organic juiceries. Phasm take clear influence from the prominent first-waves of black metal and death metal, throw in some hardcore breakdowns (reminiscent of let’s say Mind Eraser) to make it pop and voila, every devil-horned skeleton in earshot will bang their heads on contact. I appreciate that, while overtly metal in structure and tone, they keep their songs short, generally around two minutes a piece, which appeals to the “short fast and loud” part of my brain (as opposed to my significantly smaller “dazzling masterful epic” cranial hemisphere). The vocals are generally a cacophonous blur, but with song titles like “Burned Crushed And Poisoned” and “Supreme Burial”, what do you want the singer to sound like, Mark Hoppus? Double Hell is a tried-and-true metal attack, right down the particularly intimidating form of Old English lettering they chose for the art (which, for the record, is attributed to someone named “Buttcoffin”). Nothing remotely new or unexpected, but the perfect soundtrack to blasphemous Appalachian terror. Big-city metal is overrated!

Primo! Sogni LP (Anti Fade / Upset The Rhythm)
It seems like any discussion of contemporary Melbourne post-punk has to include Primo!, if not simply because they’re quite good but because their members are intertwined with a heaping handful of other notable groups. Two members of Primo! play in Terry, one used to be in Constant Mongrel, another was in The Shifters… where they find the hours to devote to these various projects, I do not know, but I envy their time management abilities. Sogni is Primo!’s third full-length, and if you liked their unfancy and reserved songs from previous records, this one will surely offer similar satisfaction. They’ve got the casual melodiousness of The Dolly Mixture and deliver it with the unhurried attitude of Mark Perry’s early solo outings. Many of these tunes are pretty slow – certainly slower than your average Anti Fade or Upset The Rhythm act – which feels like one of Primo!’s defining features, a commitment to a deliberate, non-aggressive pacing. It allows the listener nestle into these comforting, steadfast tunes, and makes a tune like “Machine” sound like “Neat Neat Neat” in comparison to the rest of Sogni‘s offerings. Might be a bit of an acquired taste for listeners who equate post-punk with upbeat energy, but those who acquire it may never seek out a slam pit again.

The Puds Toxic Shock 7″ (Radical Documents)
While I’m generally not a fan of the prominence that reissue culture has attained in the underground, I won’t deny that I love finding out about cool old music that wasn’t already on my radar no matter how I find out about it, like this 7″ single. The Radical Documents label usually provides documentation of currently-active radicals, but I can’t blame them for popping out a faithful reissue of this one, The Puds’ sole vinyl release, a two-song single originally released in 1981. It sounds weird now and it surely sounded weird back then – this San Franciscan trio were artsy pranksters who pushed the limits of good taste with glee (as evidenced by the sole live photo of the group I’ve found, which features one member wearing nothing but nerd glasses, a hard hat and a 7″ 45 as a cod piece). Each member of the group contributes vocals and vocals alone: one member repeats the title in a rhythmic manner, another babbles, and the other babbles too, or maybe tries to provide some semblance of lyrical song. Somehow, it works, not entirely unlike a first-wave post-punk version of Jud Jud. I’m certainly reminded of the original no-wave artists who existed solely within their own reality, like Boris Policeband, Mykel Board’s You Suck! or that John Gavanti album, if more in kindred spirit than sound. Phil Minton’s spittle-spray muttering might come closest in actual sonic similarity, although b-side “Vege-Nam” has a definite Culturcide vibe in the aggression and discomfiting menace whipped up by these three crazy dorks. Ya learn something new every day!

Schizos Schizos LP (Sweet Time)
Schizos first came around in the form of their 2017 EP, Fuck Iggy Pop, which was a rude slice of less-than-amateurish synth-punk splooge. I didn’t hear any guitar on that one, but on this, their debut full-length, guitar is nearly all I can hear! The album opens with what sounds like a vacuum cleaner run through a RAT pedal, and not a nice vacuum either, one that you found in your dorm room left behind by the previous tenant with a bag that desperately needs to be emptied. I have to say, as a fan of bristly, ear-stinging guitars, I prefer this band in standard punk-rock formation, which is how they’re operating here. Vocalist Dale Schizo is furiously belligerent over these mostly fast-paced tunes, converging snotty hardcore with all the ways The Reatards taught us how to behave. I can certainly smell the GG worship too, particularly with a song called “Banned In Birmingham”, as there’s nothing more Allin-like than being proud of being unwanted and disliked. And seeing as current-day nihilist-punk-influencer Drew Owen provided the cover art (random explicit scribbles sure to land you in detention), I sense that Schizos looked up to his “hate you before you can hate me” attitude as well. I’d be incredibly impressed if Schizos ever learned to love, but for now they’re doing a fine job of hating.

Static Static The Future As Dark LP (Space Taker Sounds)
Space Taker has become a reliable vendor of dour punk rock from New Orleans and its various satellites, as is this case with this new album from New Orleans synth-punk duo Static Static. They completely opt out of live drums, guitars and bass guitars, instead programming their nervous and frigid rhythms through their synths, organs and drum machines. As is usually the case with this sort of style, John Henry and Heather Vinz sing over top, frequently in unison and with an icy disassociated tone. Suicide is a clear stylistic reference, whether Static Static were personally inspired or not, because this sorta thing usually leads back to them. It’s also when they’re at their most Suicide-like that I enjoy The Future As Dark the most, such as the bleary-eyed throb of “From The Dirt”. Songs like “Where Have I Been”, which push the drum machine up front and rely on traditional punk chord progressions, leave me less enthused. Just lock into a menacing spiral of electro power and stare me down, you know? No need to try to replicate mid-paced punk songs with purely synthetic means, unless you’re one of the select few capable of such feats. Pick a good setting, tape down the right key and let it rip ’til your speakers melt, that’s what I say!

TK & SÅJ Das Moabiter Duo – Recovered LP (Fantôme Verlag)
I love records that aren’t easily explained, why is a good explanation for my interest in this one. It entered my radar due to a Din A Testbild connection, but apparently that’s a bit of a stretch – sure, it was mixed by Din A Testbild’s Frieder Butzmann, but that’s all he did. TK is improv performer Thomas Kapielski and SÅJ is free drummer Sven-Åke Johansson, who apparently went by “Das Moabiter Duo” for at least a single performance in Berlin in 1983, which is the main source material here. Johansson playfully skips through his traditional jazz kit with gusto, and it’s a good thing he does, as the sound of his drumming accounts for 95% of the music on this record. Occasionally it’s met with radio interference, manipulated vocals, electronic effects or other sounds (“kitchen utensils” are credited), but for the most part it’s a fairly untouched and lengthy drum solo. Kapielski’s contributions are so sparse as to almost seem hallucinatory (did I really just hear a pitched-down voice a second ago?), and Butzmann cranks the levels once or twice as a means of making sure the listener knows he’s there, like a free-improv proctor in charge of the proceedings. But mostly, it’s one thirty-minute drum solo, and that’s cool too.

John Truscinski Bridle Path LP (Open Mouth)
Like me, you might know John Truscinski best from his duo with Steve Gunn, whose loose and exploratory rock improv has found its way onto numerous full-length releases over the past decade. I wasn’t sure what sorta music he made on his own, but upon learning of this solo album on Open Mouth, I was eager to find out. Turns out he decided to step away from his kit in the process of making Bridle Path, which contains six long minimalist drones. I’ve met plenty of drones I didn’t like, but these tracks hit a particularly nice spot in the back of my skull – each track tends to take a single extended tone that swells and fluctuates on its own particular scale. I like the lull of “Esker”, whose warm tone sways side to side with the simplistic elegance of something Ellen Arkbro might’ve conjured. I’ll admit, my enjoyment of Bridle Path isn’t solely due to the music itself, as I find the fact that it was recorded on a beach-adjacent street in Ocean City, NJ to be somewhat fascinating and unexpected. The pure and serene drones found on here don’t remotely conjure the family-friendly chatter and social bustle of the Jersey shore from where they emanated. In addition, the stark, hand-screened tip-on sleeve (is that a distorted abstraction of Ocean City’s ferris wheel?) is a sturdy and handsome dwelling for these patient and meditative works. It certainly has me seeing the boardwalk pizza of Manco & Manco’s in an entirely new light.

UK Gold Epigram No. 2 LP (UK Gold)
This Olympia trio didn’t have an album out, so they did the right thing: they recorded at High Command and they pressed up the records themselves. I can understand why labels might not have been knocking down their door to put it out, as Epigram No. 2 is not a timely or fashionable record, for better or worse (mostly for better). Their music strongly recalls turn-of-the-century indie, where emo (before emo meant “pop rock”) collided with dare-I-say-angular math-rock and the jagged post-punk of Gang Of Four. Reminds me a bit of Q And Not U, maybe a little Hoover, probably some Les Savy Fav, and just a hint of Measles Mumps Rubella, (remember them?). UK Gold seem pretty impassioned to be playing the form of music they’ve chosen, which makes sense because I don’t see any upside to playing this sorta stuff in 2020 unless you truly believe in it and get something out of it. The album definitely reminds me of that specific scene and musical era, which I look back upon fondly, more than it strikes out in a singular fashion one could exclusively attribute to UK Gold, but that’s fine with me. If you want more of this style, particularly a current band that is actually out there playing it right now with sincerity (or at least eagerly awaiting when it will be safe to go out and play again), might as well type “UK Gold bandcamp” into your search browser and see what happens!

Vincas Phantasma LP (Learning Curve)
It seems safe to say that colored vinyl is no longer an interesting aspect of records (the Funkopop-ization care of various Vinyl Me Pleases has nearly discredited the entire format, honestly), but it makes perfect sense that Phantasma is on gory red vinyl. Pretty much every song on the record is about blood, death, bloody death, dripping your blood in hell, a graveyard with bloodstained stones, bloody rain from above… you get the picture. And I have to say, it really works for this group out of Athens, GA. The lead vocalist has a tone and tenor that almost exactly replicates mid-’80s Michael Gira, and he booms his blood-lust over heavy post-punk. Is it possible to sound both swampy and mechanical? Vincas somehow make it work, with stormy guitars and electronic enhancements, particularly in the form of programmed drums. The songs are heavy and energetic, drearily dark but in a hopelessly death-obsessed way that recalls Crime & The City Solution or The Gun Club, not Black Tape For A Blue Girl or any band that would consider wearing more than just eyeliner. If you liked the last Daughters record but wished it was less screamy and experimental and more death-rocky and centered in bleak Americana, your limousine to Hell has arrived in the form of Phantasma.

Vladislav Delay Rakka LP (Cosmo Rhythmatic)
I could always go for a new album from the humble master Sasu Ripatti under his Vladislav Delay alias. The intricate and alien soundscapes he constructs under this moniker are fascinating and intense, often filled with more detail per square second than the vast majority of music I go out of my way to listen to. It’s usually fractured and deeply processed music, but with a sense of melodic beauty if not up front than on the horizon, which explains the shock I felt upon throwing on Rakka. This is basically hardcore power-electronics, extreme in its aggression and staunch avoidance of tunefulness. Think Ben Frost at his grumpiest, or maybe a violent software rendering of early Ramleh. “Rampa”, for example, sounds like Aunt Mary given a Digital Hardcore remix, with locomotive rhythms pounding at black-metal pace, chopped and spliced seemingly at random. It’s heavy duty stuff, often sounding like a gruesome battle between iron-clad fortifications and blistering sub-zero winds. Pretty out of character for the generally charming and benevolent Vladislav Delay, but if there was ever a time to strap on one’s sonic bazookas and start mercilessly bearing down on the terrain, now makes sense to me.

Reviews – May 2020

Takumi Akaishi Memoria LP (Art Into Life)
Art Into Life indeed! What a gorgeous package Takumi Akaishi’s Memoria is from head to toe. The album jacket features hand-glued, one-of-a-kind collages wrapped in gauzy fabric, which interestingly enough is exactly how the music sounds. Akaishi uses little more than a hurdy gurdy, a tube amp and tapes to create these stirring pieces, music that seems to have beautifully decayed through natural processes. The hurdy gurdy is most prominent and fairly continuous throughout, restlessly churning and groaning from its internal stress, like the warped boards of an old fishing boat if they had the ability to sing. Interstertial sounds seep through the cracks, which gives these pieces a sense of place, grounding the proceedings in the dirt and covering them with a thriving bed of moss. Certain moments slip into hypnotic drones (“Sea Change” has my head wobbling on its axis), whereas others detail quiet earthly motions, like what appears to be the sound of boots crunching through icy snow on “Lisbon, Hakodate”. Call it a noise record, I suppose, but it’s serene and oddly beautiful at times. Highly recommended for thoughtful listeners of labels like Open Mouth and Kye and appreciators of the esoteric and organic.

Bloody Hell The Consultation 7″ (Spik & Span)
From the band name, the stark visual presentation and a song called “Sex Dot Com”, I repeated the mantra of “please don’t be a Brainbombs rip, please don’t be a Brainbombs rip” as I brought Bloody Hell’s new EP to my turntable. What sweet relief, then, to discover that Melbourne’s Bloody Hell couldn’t be further from that! They play a mischievous form of art-rock that nods towards Talking Heads and The Makers Of The Dead Travel Fast, musical auteurs who refused to be pigeonholed (or take themselves too seriously). They’ve got bass, drums and guitar, but keyboards and sax as well, which gives these dance-y tracks a freaky-fun sensation similar to when one gazes upon a photo of The B-52’s from 1979. “Keep It On” features a rousing repeated chorus of “keep your track suit on”, whereas “Weeds And Seeds” feels like four different M Squared-related groups at once, settling closest to Wild West. Looks like Spik & Span released a Kraus split single prior to this, which, while stylistically different, makes sense on an aesthetic wavelength, both artists clearly delighted by their own wonky orbits. As am I!

Borusiade Fortunate Isolation LP (Dark Entries)
Damn… do you think Borusiade has since reconsidered the title to this, her second full-length, considering the circumstances we’re in? Maybe, but maybe not, as her music has always seemed to carry a gloomy loner vibe, as though she is ensconced in a dark room full of dancing people but still all alone. I’m a fan, for sure, and this new album showcases her various sides, from spooky dark-wave to club-thumping electro and industrial-ambient distress signals. “Time (No Time)” does a fine job of combining nearly all these aesthetics into one cut, recalling St. Julien, Whodini’s “Haunted House Of Rock” and much of the Galakthorrö label in equal supply. “When I Read The News Today” is nocturnal industrial-synth reminiscent of Richard H. Kirk’s recent solo outings, whereas “Lament (Fortunate Isolation)” comes through with a gorgeous vocal melody over an insistent synth pulse, an unlikely pop anthem were it to ever crawl out of the shadows. Borusiade’s voice guides much of Fortunate Isolation, if not through lyrics (like in “Lament”) then through the palpable emotion her voice provides, even if it’s the emotion of “miserable disinterest”. Now that we’re all stuck in our countless solitary confinements, I hope Borusiade is happy!

Caribou Suddenly LP (Merge)
Times like these call for music that can emotionally coddle me, so I decided to check back in with Dan Snaith’s Caribou project after not paying attention to the Canadian artist since he was going under the name of Manitoba many years ago. (Who sued him to change the name, anyway? The actual province of Manitoba?) Considering the terms of what I was hoping Caribou would deliver, I’m completely satiated by Suddenly, a soft, tender and loop-friendly suite of charming electronic pop tunes. These songs sound like careful Kompakt-approved remixes of main-stage festival-pop acts Phoenix and M83, knowingly retro in sonic signifiers and decidedly modern in production techniques. They’re perfect songs for a midnight rave populated by elementary school children, safe and dance-y electro-folk fun with a sense of security that nothing will get too out of hand, or if it does, loving adult guardians are close-by. Snaith’s singing voice is a rainbow of beiges, perfectly suited to these songs no matter if it’s the clappy throwback funk of “Home” or the moonlit synth arpeggios of “Sister”. Getting a lot of mileage out of Suddenly, more than I expected, which could be due to my need for untroubled sonic comfort-food; Caribou’s knack for finding the coziest sweet-spot hooks for his synthetic, house-y indie pop songs; or most likely a combination of the two.

Cold Feet Punk Entity 12″ (Feel It)
Here’s a testament to the thriving, bountiful American hardcore scene: an excellent hardcore group from Baltimore! When was the last time this happened, never? Obviously Trapped Under Ice count, but I’m talking classic fast American hardcore-punk, a style that seems to have eluded Baltimore over the years. (To be fair, there is so much great underground punk outta that fine city, it’s usually just weird or disgruntled or psychotic in a way that traditional hardcore-punk isn’t.) Anyway, Feel It did what they always do and gave this talented young group their vinyl debut, which is a meaty, hard-pounding ripper in the classic tradition. I’m hearing Gang Green, Career Suicide, The Worst, Poison Idea, Necros and Kraut, with some slightly Swedish leanings (the drums are relentlessly tumbling forward) that are clearly assimilated into Cold Feet’s melting pot. They adhere to the format pretty closely, with nary the scents of John Waters or Mike Apichella surrounding the proceedings. It’s almost suspiciously traditional, but only almost – the attitude and presentation of Punk Entity, down to its fake “CIA letter warning you about the band” cover art, ring sincere. Alright Feel It, I challenge you to locate some top-notch ‘core from Honolulu and Anchorage. I have faith.

The Cosmic Sand Dollars Requiem For King Dick LP (Old Comet)
Who better to eulogize the passing of universally-beloved surf god Dick Dale than the freakiest surf-rock tricksters out there, The Cosmic Sand Dollars? I loved their first album and all its inexplicable weirdness, so I dug right in the moment Requiem For King Dick landed on my doorstep. The general musical aesthetic remains the same: start with traditional electric surf-guitar and subject it to a buffet of torture techniques. A surf instrumental will be digitally unraveled, as if the WAV file was retrieved off an iPhone that recently fell in the toilet; a chiptune interlude will corrupt the inherent surfability using what sounds like 1998’s best available technology; a pitched-down voice will recite a psychotic narrative over some chintzy organs. Requiem For King Dick flows with a good-natured haphazardness, the ‘Dollars inviting us on their weird little nuclear-fallout sci-fi take on the genre, injecting just enough surf music to keep us grounded while shaking every other detail until they’re out of order. A man named “Tony Melino” is credited with “accompaniment” on this record, which means that either they spelled “Tony Molina” wrong or there is another guy with a similar name operating in a similar scene – either way, I’m elated!

Walter Daniels & The Hungry Hearts Out At Dusk / Where’s The Pain Point 7″ (Spacecase)
Walter Daniels and The Hungry Hearts – Walter Daniels and the Hah-hah-hu-ungry hea-e-arts! Is it possible to read that name without falling into the chorus of that irrepressible Bruce Springsteen song? Anyway, I doubt that was much of a concern to Walter Daniels and his band of Hungry Hearts, as this is some dirt-kickin’, staggering-towards-the-bar blues-punk that barely keeps it together. Which is just how I’d prefer it! “Out At Dusk” sounds like drummer Luis Tissot is slapping old car parts, with guitars chugging along on muscle memory and Daniels kinda blathering into the mic, repeating his two or three lines of lyrics and then wailing on his harmonica in some feverish fit of expression. “Where’s The Pain Point” slows it down, Daniels belligerently bragging moments before falling off his stool, the rest of the band paradoxically locked into a shambolic looseness. Both tracks have the mania of Obnox, but with a sense that Walter Daniels and company are significantly closer to their respective graves (and don’t care). Somehow this reminds me of how sliders were called “sliders” because they slide down into your belly – maybe it’s all the grease that these two songs rolled around in? Blues-punk is rarely my bag, but the gasoline stench of this single is undeniably satisfying.

DJ Hank Traffic Control 12″ (Sophomore Lounge)
Glad to exist in a world where ex-members of Whatever Brains are also respected participants of the Chicago footwork scene. I’m referring to DJ Hank, who moved from North Carolina to Chicago, became immersed in the sets of DJ Rashad and the like, and has taken up track production himself. This is his first vinyl release, and he stuffs it with eight tunes that run through a number of electronic sub-genres but are tied together with playfulness and ear-catching samples. Some tracks remind me of turn-of-the-century IDM, others recall Nicolas Jaar’s dance edits, and the majority bear some form of footwork’s imprint, usually the stutter-step bass kicks and trademark rhythms. Mostly, I like Hank’s ear for sampling, whether he’s taking an Instagram-sourced rant, funny phrase or sound effect. The most obvious and immediately gratifying track for me is the title track, which runs through the standard cycle of car-alarm sounds perfectly synced to a popping Miami bass beat. It’s so stupid and so good, which is often the winning formula for footwork music – direct and gritty and prompting a chuckle or two, the musical equivalent of a great dank meme. An interesting, unexpected release for Sophomore Lounge, although as details become clearer (an apparent mutual relation to the experimental group PC Worship brought them together), it makes perfect modern sense.

Family Underground Glitchblade / Sand Between Us 7″ (I Dischi Del Barone)
I had wrongly assumed that like most of their fellow class-of-2004 drone-noise-experimentalists, Family Underground had faded into the ether (or had kids, or opened a bar, or got into memes), but nope: turns out this Danish duo (a trio in the past?) have been pretty consistently doing their thing without interruption for over seventeen years. Wow! I applaud their dedication, and the two tracks on this new I Dischi 7″ display no lack of ideas. While certainly classifiable under “experimental / noise”, “Glitchblade” operates with its own vocabulary: some sort of affected keyboard, sounding like a dubby Rhodes, is plunked in a bizarre sequence while it sounds like a neighbor is mowing some chunky patch of lawn and a psych band is practicing down the hall. I’m reminded of Rabih Beaini’s 2013 album in the way that it resembles some sort of cosmic jazz without any traditional jazz instrumentation. “Sand Between Us” inhabits a similar psychic space with different instrumentation – extended keys meld with screaming feedback, bongos and hand percussion, as if Family Underground crawled into a snippet of some ’70s Pink Floyd bootleg and laid their eggs inside. Great stuff, which has me wondering what Double Leopards or Hair Police would be sounding like if they made it to 2020. Maybe it’s time I gave fan-fiction a go.

Fried E/M Modern World LP (Lumpy)
It’s safe to say that in 2020, the slime-punk of Lumpy Records is no longer the Hot New Thing in underground hardcore, and that’s probably for the best – us appreciators of sincerely weird-ugly hardcore-punk can enjoy it without worrying that Vice is gonna try to act like they actually care about it too. Modern World is my first encounter with St. Louis’s Fried E/M (who I previously thought had something to do with Richmond’s Fried Egg, if you can forgive me), and I’ll be damned if they aren’t the second coming of Circle Jerks. I’m talking prime Circle Jerks, Group Sex era, where the songs are simplistic yet varied, punk as hell and sarcastic and utterly disgusted, with discernible lyrics that you want to shout along with at oncoming traffic. The recording is spot on – crackling and raw but never overbearingly noisy or lo-fi – and the songs lend themselves perfectly to it, as if they should be played by delinquent teens to a crowd of disinterested Huntington Beach burnouts and unwitting nuclear families just trying to get to the pier. Nothing weird or ironic or remotely cartoonish, if you were expecting something more akin to Lumpy & The Dumpers or Janitor Scum, just pure American hardcore punk energy that sounds like it should’ve been made by people named Dez, Chuck, Lucky and Greg (Hetson or Ginn, I suppose). Lumpy himself apparently plays drums (and is incredibly talented, go figure!), furthering his status as one of the most productive and necessary punks of our modern time. Seeing as “Inner Peace” and “Lobotomy” will easily be two of the best punk songs I’ll hear this year, I may have to send him a letter thanking him for all his hard work, even though he’d probably wipe his butt with it.

Hallelujah! Wanna Dance LP (Maple Death)
Following a handful of EPs, Verona, Italy’s Hallelujah! continue their march toward synth-punk numbskullery with their debut album. The cover image prominently displays a wedgie being picked, and these songs fit right into that sort of sensibility – for example, there’s the song “Your Duck”, which features a repeated chorus of “now I wanna be your duck”. Mmhmm, that’s what we’re dealing with here. I vaguely recall there being guitar on previous records, but they’re operating with a streamlined approach of bass/drums/synths on Wanna Dance, and to be honest I don’t miss the guitar at all, were it ever there to begin with. Whereas most synth-punk tends to favor rigid, jittery rhythms, this plays out looser and (presumably a bit) drunker, feeling like a band that would’ve found itself in Load Records’ orbit in the early ’00s rather than something directly indebted to Screamers or Primitive Calculators. And more than anything else, the title track sounds like an early LCD Soundsystem practice recording, with its repetitive staccato vocals and insistent groove. Not a bad one to add to your ever-growing “belligerent dance party” playlist.

Harsh R The Burden 12″ (no label)
After four cassettes, Olympia’s Harsh R takes it to vinyl with this succinct and aggressive five-track EP. The Burden is an industrial EBM record, for sure, but rather than stretch things out into lengthy dance mixes, these five tracks are in and out quickly, none over three minutes. The music hits hard, focusing on aggression over any sense of melody, with shouted vocals to drive the point home… straightforwardness wielded with conscious intent, as I can’t think of many other EBM acts who cut their tracks this short. These tunes would fit alongside Klinik, A Split – Second and Mike Berdan’s Canal Street Electronics project, and while no guitars are found on this recording, it carries enough of a metallic swagger that your Korn-obsessed cousins wouldn’t commandeer the aux cable if you blasted “The Shroud” at a family gathering (or, in a tent at The Gathering). What I find most interesting and unique about this record is the booklet that comes with it, providing not only lyrics and lyrical explanations, but a track-by-track listing of the way in which the songs themselves were inspired and then crafted, going into specific technical detail. It’s a thoughtful update on the “it was easy it was cheap go and do it” ethos set forth by Desperate Bicycles, with Harsh R welcoming the listener to not only enjoy his music, but to take from his knowledge and experience to make noise of their own.

Paul Haslinger Exit Ghost LP (Artificial Instinct)
Austrian composer Paul Haslinger has a pretty solid resume: join Tangerine Dream in 1986, proceed to make fifteen albums with them over the next five years (wow), then shift toward soundtrack work for big-budget Hollywood flicks like the Underworld series, Resident Evil and The Three Musketeers. He must have a sick house somewhere in the Hollywood Hills, and while I’m sitting here fantasizing about the Eames recliners and Nakashima credenzas that surely furnish his home, Exit Ghost is a suitable soundtrack in its own right. As someone clearly skilled at making music that colors a scene without overpowering it, this album is pretty content to fade into the recesses of one’s mind while listening, even if the listener isn’t doing anything particularly engaging. Somber, elegiac piano is the prominent instrumentation, and it’s aided by soft electronic squiggles, ambient drifts and calm electronics. I’d imagine Haslinger can toss off an album like this before finishing his morning cup of coffee, although I’m assuming he labored over these tracks a little longer than that. Pleasantly unobtrusive, but seeing as I hear the work of Haslinger whenever I watch an episode of Halt And Catch Fire or the 2008 Death Race remake (to name but a couple more of his soundtrack jobs), I feel as though he’s already been capturing plenty of my time, if not my focused attention.

Kalle Hygien Absolute Bomber 7″ (Push My Buttons)
Kalle Hygien used to play in The Manikins (no, not the Kim Salmon one, the Swedish power-poppers on P. Trash), and like many current-day punkers, he has found solace in making punk music under his own name (although to be fair, a couple of friends are credited here on drums and synths). There definitely seems to be kind of a distinct sound to many “one man band” punk projects – rudimentary drum programming, direct-to-digital fuzz guitars, a subtle sense of buffoonery – and while this four-song EP mostly checks those same boxes, it’s also a pretty fun listen, and certainly better than the median average. “Absolute Bomber” recalls Attentat or maybe even a touch of Kalashnikov, but the morse-code rhythm box makes it a little less threatening and a little more fun. “Troubles” is similar if a bit more ‘core, but the two songs on the flipside push into weirder territory, not entirely removed from what Urochromes are up to with a menacingly bleepy synth hook reminiscent of first-wave Midwestern mutant-punks like Count Vertigo or Dow Jones & The Industrials. A fairly overdone conceit, the synth-laden weirdo-hardcore solo project, but Hygien is clearly intent on writing actual memorable songs instead of just filling the air with a vibe, and Absolute Bomber succeeds because of it.

Isotope Soap An Artifact Of Insects LP (Push My Buttons)
After a handful of EPs, Stockholm’s Isotope Soap molecularly-expand onto their first full-length, An Artifact Of Insects. Named in homage to Geza X’s best-known tune, they’re clearly going for mutant sci-fi synth-powered punk, and I’d say they pretty much succeed. If anything, it might be a little too polished and pro-sounding for the slimy chaos they’re looking to conjure, but it’s not a detriment overall, as their tight playing, ridiculous synths and vocal effects deserve to be heard without a crusty lo-fi barrier. I’m reminded of Nervous Gender, FNU Ronnies and the synth-ier Lumpy Records stuff (The Wad in particular), although Isotope Soap often take things a step further with ridiculously processed vocals, almost to the point where one might feel justified in calling them “fake” vocals. The result sounds like various Space Ghost villains on the mic, which provides a cartoonish aspect most punk groups would stop short of. It’s over the top, and certainly endangers the group from being taken seriously, but those who are interested in groups that are looking to push the limits of good-taste and suspended disbelief might relish this one – let’s call it the Gutalax Effect.

JASSS Whities 027 12″ (Whities)
Surprised to see JASSS dropping a single on the Whities label – her music always struck me as closer to Throbbing Gristle than Aphex Twin in the great continuum of electronic music, whereas Whities was more of a post-modern techno concern. You can then imagine my surprise when throwing on the a-side, “Turbo Olé”, which references neither – this is a full-on cyber-rave meltdown. Staccato trance horns are deployed like common vampire thugs impeding Blade’s path through the catacombs, with a striking junglist-goth rhythm and heavy duty percussive elements. Throw a railing guitar line on top, and it could’ve worked as an instrumental on Cold Cave’s Cherish The Light Years, I swear! It’s so unembarrassed by its own cheesiness that it quickly transcends it, and while I do not understand why JASSS wrote it and why Whities released it, I’m in full agreement with their decisions. B-side “We Solve This Talking” is much closer to what I’d expect, a restless and jagged deployment of post-industrial artillery not unlike Objekt’s last album or something Rrose and Lucy would’ve conspired to create. It slowly blooms into rave formation as well, an army of glowstick-wielding ninjas locked into some basic choreo as the slower BPM chops away. Is this where JASSS is firmly headed, or is Whities 027 a neon anomaly? I look forward to finding out.

Kürøishi Sound The Alarm LP (SPHC)
Finnish punks of a Japanophile persuasion have existed for quite nearly as long as hardcore has utilized the d-beat, and I find it both intriguing and understandable. Japanese hardcore rules, but there comes a point where tasteful homage turns into unnerving replication, which is closer to where Oulu, Finland’s Kürøishi (presumably named after the Japanese city of the same name) lands. Their artwork and design is both tribute and rip-off of classic Japanese hardcore, or perhaps more accurately, Japanese-imitating Finnish hardcore, as Selfish seems to be a particularly strong influence, along with the typical reappropriated Crass-style stencil logo (and Japanese lettering). Anyway, let’s get to the music, which could elevate Kürøishi beyond copycat pastiche, but sadly I’m not particularly impressed. They play a well-oiled, proficient form of stadium-crust, with vocals that emulate Todd Burdette of the mighty His Hero Is Gone and Tragedy. These songs maintain basically the same fast d-beat tempo throughout, raging through rote and conventional riffs with a seemingly endless supply of heavy-metal guitar solos. They certainly nail the style, but in all its well-produced, technically-sound glory, Sound The Alarm maintains the same general energy and pitch for its duration. If you’re down for that specific cause, you’ve hit the jackpot, whereas otherwise you might find yourself hankering for some actual Japanese crust instead, the type that doesn’t mind flashing its inherent weirdness or opts for a dirtier sound and presentation.

Jonny Kurt Und Die Hühnerficker Kombo Jonny Kurt Und Die Hühnerficker Kombo LP (PHantom / Plaste)
Chalk some of it up to the cultural divide, but this album from Jonny Kurt Und Die Hühnerficker Kombo is a confoundingly nutty album that can be tied to punk in spirit if not necessarily sound. A German fantasy of American hillbilly farm-life translated into loose, ugly songs? I can’t begin to understand the why of this record’s existence, but as for a ridiculous fake-country album filled with barnyard sounds (some sampled, some imitated by human mouths), this one is surprisingly listenable (and dare I say enjoyable?). Imagine Mojo Nixon’s music interpreted by Die Tödliche Doris, or the Government Issue side-project The Wanktones given a modern lo-fi nihilist-punk makeover. Some moments even remind me of Reynols in their song(ish) form, the way that untuned guitars clamber ever forward and vocals chortle and wheeze, in spite of the centuries of music history begging them not to. Jonny Kurt and crew certainly don’t take themselves too seriously, because really how could they, but they approach the barnyard setting with a Mummies-level of mania and have certainly earned my respect, if not quite adoration.

Muro Pacificar LP (Beach Impediment)
Pacificar is the second album from Bogota, Colombia’s Muro to come through these pages, and for the record, I was lukewarm on the first. Thinking the problem might’ve been me, not them, I came into Pacificar with an open mind (if you can’t trust Beach Impediment for burly, brick-and-mortar hardcore, who can you trust?), and I dunno… my feelings toward Muro generally remain the same. Their fast n’ raw pogo-core attack remains in place, as if Rattus was playing the belligerent street-punk riffs one might associate with No Future Records and recorded with the thick n’ heavy sound of Destino Final, but somehow it doesn’t move me the way such an equation should. Perhaps it’s that these songs sound more controlled than I’d hope, as if the members of Muro are not bursting at their physical limits but playing these songs well within their capabilities, or that they have the fist-pumping rhythms of The Casualties without the same memorable hooks, or maybe I’m simply hitting an overload of this particular strain of hardcore at the moment. The vocalist’s reverby bark is nearly interchangeable from so many other groups of a similar style, and while it’s certainly an appropriate approach, I find my mind drifting as Pacificar plays on. If we were in a drought of great current hardcore music, Pacificar would be a godsend, but in this era of sprawling hardcore bounty, it fails to make a splash.

Nag Dead Deer LP (Die Slaughterhaus)
Atlanta’s Nag are one of the most underrated punk bands playing today, but maybe that’ll change now that they have this great album available to the public. It’s their first full-length following a handful of singles, and it doesn’t change up their formula (pounding, repetitive, grayscale punk) so much as add to the number of great tunes they’ve already got. The mood is certainly “dark side of Posh Boy”, with an occasional resemblance to early Total Control in the way that the riffs are more mechanical than emotional, with plenty of fast down-picking. Perhaps if you melded the opposite sounds of A Frames and Carbonas, you’d get something akin to Dead Deer? I suppose the same equation might fit for Rank/Xerox, in a way, and I like them a lot too. Nag’s songs are certainly more punk than post-punk, but there’s a dreary maturity to these tunes that a person of my age and social standing finds quite appealing. I liked Dead Deer upon first listen, and have only grown more attached through repeated plays, as the unique shapes of these songs continue to reveal themselves. “Day Glow”, for example, is a dagger-shaped shard that’ll cut through most anything.

Neinzer Whities 025 12″ (Whities)
It was maybe a couple of months ago that I commented something to the effect that Whities had fallen off a bit, and it stands out as one of the more regrettable opinions I’ve shared on here in recent times. The last few Whities releases have been knockouts, or at least perplexingly cool, as is the case with Neinzer’s new one. There are two tracks on the a-side, “Voyager” and “Deff”, both of which pump out eccentric forms of techno. I’m reminded of Hessle Audio’s prime, when weird new 12″s by producers like Elgato and Bandshell would spring up seemingly out of an alternate reality. “Voyager” is like a T++ track guided by the cutest little tugboat, whereas “Deff” is oddly calming, at least until the punchy vocal snippets arrive. I was ready for three more tracks like this on the b-side, but Neinzer screeched across three lanes and took the exit ramp to peculiar new realms. “Elliptical Footsteps” is a hypnotic lullaby flashback sequence, a beatless dream-state I’d expect the ghost of Ken Nordine to be wandering through. Hmm! “Ronda” utilizes similar slumber-y tones and adds some ASMR vocal trickery, to ensure the room I’m inhabiting slightly tilts. Just when I’m wondering if I’ve been dosed, “Falafalus” saunters in on softly frantic kalimbas, with more ASMR sound-effects tickling the inner hairs of my ears. Whities 025 starts weird and gets progressively weirder, a journey from dance-floor to Lynchian nether-zones that I suggest you strongly consider.

New Primals Horse Girl Energy LP (Learning Curve)
It’s about time spastic post-hardcore noise-rock was injected with a strong dose of horse girl energy, don’t you agree? Lord knows there’s a surplus of sausage Albini energy that’ll seemingly never deplete. Minneapolis’s New Primals are stepping out with their debut on the Minneapolis-based Learning Curve, and I for one enjoy when there’s an actual real-life community taking place within DIY culture, particularly in this age of online-centric connection, so I hope the relationship between this band and this label continues to grow. Anyway, New Primals opt for a fairly tried-and-true take on the mathy post-hardcore form, emulating the itchy grooves of The Jesus Lizard, …Trail Of Dead and Les Savy Fav with the irritating-on-purpose guitar tricks of groups like Mount Shasta and Dazzling Killmen. They find time to get obnoxiously funky as well as hard rocking, and imbue these songs with more, umm, energy than your average Jesus Lizard tribute. I’m not sure New Primates have really carved out their own voice yet with this one – there’s not much in these songs that stands out from the bands that came before them – but they sure seem excited and fired up about what they’re doing, which is an excellent place for any band to start.

Noxeema Noxeema 7″ (…)
This Noxeema 7″ came to me in an absolutely destroyed package: waterlogged, gloppy cardboard stuffed in one of those “oops, our mistake!” postal-service bags that only hurried the growth of toxic mold within the packaging. Real punk survives such minor setbacks, though, and this 7″ is proof. The label “…” comes from Berlin but Noxeema are from Portland, OR, and they stomp and slip through these eight tracks; surely a debut of which they are proud. It’s almost impossible to go wrong with a sloppy punk 7″ with eight songs on it, and Noxeema certainly succeed on their terms. I’m reminded of the too-cool art-punk of Kleenex mixed with the youthful spazz-rock of Sheep Squeeze or FYP when listening to Noxeema make their way through these tunes. One riff will have me thinking of The Gossip, the next will sound like 7 Seconds… it’s a grab-bag of rudimentary punk, to be sure. I’m even coming around to the musky scent the soaked-and-dried sleeve has been emitting!

Pender Street Steppers Faling / Our Time 12″ (Mood Hut)
My tolerance for ultra-nostalgic synth-pop dance music lessens with each passing year, a natural result from an overwhelming glut of producers looking to mine the exact same period and influences. Good thing for me, then, that this Pender Street Steppers single, which clearly tries to replicate a very specific ’80s Eurodance sound, is so exceptional! Either bring the hits or don’t bring anything at all – these two cuts (and their respective instrumental dub versions) are perfectly rendered and pristine, activating all my brain’s pleasure-receptors when it comes to dance-club synth-pop such as this. “Falling” pops and locks across a skipping beat, Italo effects in place and a shyly romantic vocal capping off the hook. Truly satisfying, even on repeat. “Our Time” pays just as much homage to the same era, but the shades are down for this one – dramatic romance teetering on heartbreak is in order. Maybe a little Jan Hammer in its confident beat, and a vocalist who melodically deadpans in a voice incredibly close to Heatsick’s Steven Warwick (the British cousin to this Canadian tongue, perhaps). Really fantastic material from this Vancouver-based duo, which manages to celebrate dance music’s past by whipping up a couple of shoulda-been classics.

Pleroma Vitriol 12″ (Push My Buttons)
Remember that Swedish post-punk group from a couple years back, Holograms, that sounded like a mix of Iceage’s first album and The Cure’s first couple? I thought they were pretty good, if derivative in an easily-spotted way, and now their guitarist/vocalist, Anton Spetze, has a new group, Pleroma, who sound like… Iceage’s last two albums. Seriously! If you told me Vitriol was a collection of unreleased tracks from Iceage’s most recent sessions, I wouldn’t have trouble believing it, and I consider myself a fan of the group familiar with their sound. Of course, there are some differences: whereas Iceage are perpetually sloppy, grandiose, and uncannily talented at pulling a hook out of some inebriated post-punk melodrama, Pleroma are less peculiar and more musically-adept, which renders these songs a bit more regular than anything Iceage would write, for better or worse. Martial drums pound forth over a super-serious guitar lead and pleading, moaning vocals, while a candle in the shape of Nick Cave’s bust burns softly in the corner. Seriously, go listen to “Night Of Pan”: I’m fairly certain Iceage already wrote this song. A song like “Inferno Valley” sounds more like Tamaryn’s music with Elias Rønnenfelt on vocals, but I’m really splitting hairs at this point. If you can get past the somewhat blatant similarities, or simply aren’t bothered by it (which is certainly reasonable), Vitriol is a promising debut of capable and assuredly hard-edged post-punk goth, but Anton Spetze’s continued sonic similarities to Iceage hit a little too close for my personal comfort.

Popp Laya LP (Squama)
Can’t seem to get enough of records like this one, the debut album by Munich-based drummer Simon Popp. It’s another album of precise and dreamy “fourth world” percussion, music that seems to be borne of natural sounds that are then processed and deployed via covertly synthetic means. File it next to Beatrice Dillon & Rupert Clervaux’s Studies I-XVII For Samplers And Percussion, the great De Leon album, both Mkwaju Ensemble records or any other modern takes on percussion-centric new-age musics. Popp’s percussion runs a wide array of tones, from wooden to metallic, melodically tuned to atonal clanging (but mostly pretty melodic), and he layers his sounds nicely, providing plenty of breathing room without leaving the songs understaffed. Laya certainly fits within the bounds of this sub-genre that seems to be growing in popularity (and rightfully so, as these are some delicately lovely sounds), but Popp is no dilettante – these tracks are inquisitive and playful while also technically solid and masterfully executed. I’d love to see a rig rundown for the track “Partially Ordered”, mostly because I’m expecting a pile of exotic spoons and one long bow hair.

Raspberry Bulbs Before The Age Of Mirrors LP (Relapse)
It’s rare to find a band these days that hasn’t positioned itself firmly into some easily-defined aesthetic slot – even though everyone likes every kind of music now, it feels like bands are expected to stay within the formal guidelines of their chosen sub-genre, lest they be misunderstood and ignored. Thankfully, there are still groups bucking this trend, like New York’s Raspberry Bulbs for instance, who have a surface-level black-metal vibe that doesn’t quite equate to the songs they’re playing, much to my delight. There’s a photo of the trio on the insert, who amazingly look like the same guy at 20, 40 and 60 years of age, and while they’ve certainly ensured their music is blackened and grim, the songs themselves offer a variety of strange pathways beyond black-metal’s cloak. “Missing Teeth”, for example, sounds like it could’ve come directly from Ceremony’s Rohnert Park album, whereas other tunes recall Crowbar’s strangulated sludge-metal, Flux Of Pink Indians’ subterranean punk and the Sisyphean chug of Bone Awl (with whom Raspberry Bulbs share a member). The songs themselves are tucked between a number of uneasy interludes, restless little storm clouds that intensify the bleak moods within which Raspberry Bulbs seem to thrive. Before The Age Of Mirrors doesn’t significantly depart from their previous albums, perhaps more a refinement of their dirge-like dungeon-punk, but seeing as Raspberry Bulbs’ particular brew of songwriting and production styles is entirely their own, it’s a welcome addition to an uncrowded field.

ROT T.V. F.D.A. / Transylvanian Nights 7″ (RTV Recs)
Here’s a Melbourne rock checklist for you: Miss Destiny, Cut Sick, Deaf Wish and Slug Guts. Not a bad mix, but what if you cranked it up a little louder and added Annihilation Time? Why, then you’d have a list of the bands that members of ROT T.V. have previously played in! Yup, Annihilation Time’s Graham Clise made the right move (leaving the US for Australia) and presumably wedded Harriet Hudson-Clise, and now they’ve got a new band together that shares their sensibilities of hard-livin’ punk rock. “F.D.A.” chugs along a classic chord progression reminiscent of The Damned, played with the loose n’ boozy attitude of Brutal Knights and the lingering aftertaste of late-period Annihilation Time, to be honest. “Transylvanian Nights” cools it down a bit, a steamy rocker ready for The Cathay De Grande circa 1987, part Joan Jett and part Murder City Devils, sure to make your leather motorcycle jacket smell more like Jack Daniels than it usually does. On the whole, probably a little too Trash and Vaudeville-y for me, in that sort of stylized rocker sorta way (you can already picture those classic Iggy Pop, Joey Ramone and David Bowie posters, can’t you?), but perfectly reasonable for those enamored by that style. Others have bastardized it, but ROT T.V. clearly keep it real.

Rubber Blanket Our Album LP (Spacecase)
It’s always inspiring when musicians whose bands I’ve enjoyed over the decades – like say, Lars Finberg of The Intelligence and A Frames, for example – move forward with new groups that are interesting, enjoyable and fresh. Finberg’s got that with Rubber Blanket, a new trio (the other two folks coming from Wounded Lion), and following their great debut single, Our Album is something they should all be proud of. I suppose a diligent record-shop employee might file this one under “post-punk / new wave”, but this isn’t the same-old same-old. It’s… pretty odd. I’m reminded of German Shepherds without even the slightest hint of maliciousness, or maybe if Jonathan Richman found himself trapped on an Earcom compilation. The music is simplistic and clunky post-punk synth-wave stuff (in a good way), occasionally reminiscent of The Intelligence’s earliest recordings, but the vocals of Brad Eberhard establish the Rubber Blanket Sound, as he sings in an entertaining awkward-guy-at-karaoke sorta voice, or simply speaks his way through. It’s great, and his lyrics are worth hearing, at turns insightful, curious, eloquent and very, very funny. Opening track “Scented Candle” is a great example: the band’s devious electro-chug is met with hilarious lyrics (it’s about time someone roasted that Vandals song!), resulting in a highly-replayable tune. Fans of Batang Frisco’s sole album, Voice Farm’s first few records and of course The Intelligence should step up and claim this prize.

Street Weapon Quick To Die 7″ (Not For The Weak)
Not For The Weak continue to rep big bad hardcore outta Virginia and its associated communities via 7″ EP format. This time it’s the debut of Virginia Beach’s Street Weapon, a new band with members “barely out of high school” as per the label’s note. While I am disappointed to learn that this band graduated high school (true hardcore punks drop out by the 7th grade, duh!), they’re stomping through some mean-spirited hardcore here, old-fashioned and pure. These songs recall Virginia hardcore toughies like Wasted Time, perhaps with a slower NYHC edge, as if Street Weapon spent more time listening to Krakdown than Government Warning. Vocalist Zach has a good schoolyard-bully voice, as though he were the spunky younger brother of Boston Strangler’s Ban Reilly. Basic and true, these tracks complete the mission without adding anything new or vital to the tapestry of hardcore, but that’s usually how it goes. I liked Street Weapon after spinning this disc a few times, and after I perused the liner notes and noticed that drummer Ben’s dad was given photo credit for Ben’s live shot, I liked Street Weapon a little bit more. More supportive fathers in hardcore, please!

The Strokes The New Abnormal LP (RCA / Cult)
Personal anecdote time: I bought the first Strokes album shortly after it came out, on CD, at Best Buy, because it was one of those inexplicable deals where they’d price certain new CDs at like $9.99 (and there weren’t any No Limit Records CDs tempting me instead). It was love at first listen, and while the group has strayed from that pitch-perfect script over the following nineteen years, I’ve always found something to enjoy in their albums, usually due in no small part to the voice of the precocious and inscrutable Julian Casablancas. It seems The New Abnormal is being hailed as a return to form, the old Strokes returning to the acutely hip, retro-winking, metropolitan rock of yore, and I’m not particularly seeing that so much as a steady continuation of their third and fourth albums. The same old parts are here and clearly in well-oiled shape, and while it’s no disappointment, there isn’t much to get truly excited about either, unlike the Julian Casablancas solo album and his first record with The Voidz (underrated semi-mainstream rippers to be sure). The good is that Casablancas continues to whip his voice up into a blinding falsetto, at what seems to be the pleasure and insistence of only himself, whereas the bad is that The Strokes somehow managed to drag these Strokes-y songs to an average of five minutes’ length, songs that would’ve benefitted from nips and tucks against the tendency to bloat. Is there any popular rock band that has slowly shortened the average length of their songs as they progressed? If one exists, they’re my heroes. I suppose all I really wanted was one new Strokes hit from The New Abnormal, which I’ve got in “Brooklyn Bridge To Chorus”: it invokes Survivor-style synths before leading into a weirdly sincere and self-deprecating chorus. In a time where it seems like the worst case scenario is also the most likely outcome, this underwhelming-but-not-disappointing new Strokes album feels like a subtle relief.