Best of 2017

Top Singles of 2017
1. Alek Lee Sfarot 12″
2. Total Control Laughing At The System 12″
3. DJ Central & Erika Casier Drive 12″
4. Edward Giigoog 12″
5. Neutral När 12″
6. Joe Tail Lift / MPH 12″
7. Carla dal Forno The Garden 12″
8. The Minneapolis Uranium Club All Of Them Naturals 12″
9. Minor Science Whities 012 12″
10. As Longitude Blauer Part 12″
11. De-Bons-en-Pierre Crepes 12″
12. Burial Pre-Dawn / Indoors 12″
13. The Bug Humbug; Or, So Many Awful Things 7″
14. Samuel Kerridge The Silence Between Us 12″
15. Avalon Emerson Whities 013 12″
16. Anxiety Wild Life 7″
17. Niagara Comboios EP 7″
18. Giant Swan Celebrate The Last 30 Years Of Human Ego 12″
19. Newworldaquarium Chubby Knuckles 12″
20. Molly Nilsson Single 7″

Honorable Mention:
Neon Neon Is Life cassette
Burial Rodent 10″
Machine Woman When Lobster Comes Home 12″
Edward Shufflehead 12″
CCFX CCFX 12″

Top Albums of 2017
1. Charly Bliss Guppy
2. Davy Kehoe Short Passing Game
3. Kettenkarussell Insecurity Guard
4. Absolutely Wino compilation
5. Porter Ricks Anguilla Electrica
6. Charles Manier Luxus Steroid Abamita
7. Mount Kimbie Love What Survives
8. Exit Hippies Dance Maniac
9. Laurel Halo Dust
10. Leda Gitarrmusik III-X
11. Tilliander Compuriddim
12. Lone Taxidermist Trifle
13. Galcher Lustwerk Dark Bliss
14. Priests Nothing Feels Natural
15. B-Ball Joints Blue Boy Joints
16. Phew Light Sleep
17. Taiwan Housing Project Veblen Death Mask
18. Trapped Under Ice Heatwave
19. Roll The Dice Born To Ruin
20. girlSperm gSp

Honorable Mention:
Maraudeur Maraudeur
FNU Clone Binary Or Die
Civilized Chopping Block
Body Four Body Four
Horrendous New Wave compilation

Let’s raise a glass to another year worth forgetting – at some point, things have to turn around, right? Thankfully, even as streaming playlists continue to elbow out more respectful forms of underground music listening, helping to ensure less direct support for actual artists and indie labels (go read Liz Pelly’s article in The Baffler immediately if you haven’t already!), there is still a vast bounty of great new music coming out, even if it can be tricky to locate. And although it seems like every other music publication telepathically agreed that the same dozen albums were great this year (yes, we know, you all coincidentally love The War On Drugs, Kendrick Lamar, Lorde, zzz…), I’m at least happy to share my personal faves, zeitgeist be damned. From a live setting, two performances really stood out as mind-altering this year: Una Bèstia Incontrolable in a batting cage, and Kite, who managed to squeeze their massive lighting rig into a fifty-square-foot bar. Kite didn’t put out any records recently, but I discovered them this year and have been playing their EPs incessantly – I strongly urge you to type “Kite Dance Again” in your YouTube search bar and start there. Besides Kite, I discovered Hey Ø Hansen a few months ago (from reading a harsh review of Actress’s AZD on Amazon, of all places), and their Sno Dub LP from 2016 blew me away – my favorite new-to-me-but-not-actually-new record of the year! I could get into favorite books of the year too (Alissa Nutting, Lindsay Hunter, Jac Jemc), and desserts (Natasha Pickowicz at Café Altro Paradiso), and wrestling matches, and runway shows, but I’ll save that for some other blog…

Alek Lee Sfarot (Antinote)
This one was immediate – the drums kick in like a Miami cop putting on his sunglasses, the melody hits like a gang of graffiti artists crawling the streets for vengeance, and by the time the gang-of-children vocal line arrives, I’ve already melted into the leather upholstery. “Sfarot” is so slick, so bad-ass, so righteously rude that I immediately transport to the fantasy world it invokes whenever I hear it. Dancing all the way, of course. The b-side cut “Harabait” is nearly as slick, a more reigned-in take on a similar motif, and it’s preceded by another “Sfarot” edit, because the world simply cannot have enough “Sfarot”. It took a friend to point out the inherent similarity between “Sfarot” and Eddie Guerrero’s WCW theme music (available for review on YouTube), and I can certainly hear it. Much like the theme, “Sfarot” has the ability to instantly transform the room’s mood into its own image, one of oceanside cliffs decked with colorful stone houses and winding staircases, speckled with roving crews of sunburned kids looking to settle a score. It’s like there’s an entire novel waiting inside “Sfarot” to be written, and I get wrapped into it deeper with each subsequent listen.

Charly Bliss Guppy (Barsuk)
If you told me on January 1st, 2017 that the best record I’d hear this year would be a pop-punk album made by twenty-somethings, I’d have softly cried into my turtleneck, as it seems a fitting punishment for what would be a brutal year. But once I’d actually hear Guppy, Charly Bliss’s debut album, I’d realize what a joyous godsend it truly is! Charly Bliss are all smiles, fun-loving posi kids from theater class who found out about punk through the Josie & The Pussycats movie, and I’ll be damned if that isn’t somehow the key to pop-punk perfection. Every track on Guppy is a winner, detailing some hilarious and relatable anecdotes of teenaged loserdom with flair, overloaded with layers of hooks. It’s like they borrowed handily from Weezer, The Strokes, The Get-Up Kids and Blink 182 but never to the point of pastiche, only to help enhance their own creations. And for all that feel-good familiarity, vocalist Eva Hendricks has a voice like no other – maybe That Dog’s Anna Waronker on a full balloon’s worth of helium? It’s alien and comforting, fresh and immediately canon, and sitting here writing about it just makes me want to go run and listen to it again. Bye!

Reviews – December 2017

Fatima Al Qadiri Shaneera EP 12″ (Hyperdub)
Fatima Al Qadiri is one of electronic music’s greatest conceptualists, no doubt about it. Last year’s Brute was a gut punch of police-state realness, perhaps resonating even more poignantly and ominously now than a year ago, but she’s moved in a new direction with this five-track EP, Shaneera. The title is apparently an Americanized (read: bastardized) form of an Arabic word pejoratively referring to queerness, a word that’s been reclaimed by those persecuted beneath it. I’m probably getting some of this wrong, and if you’re looking for a lesson in Middle Eastern queer theory I suggest you locate your web browser elsewhere, but that’s the attitude and style that pervades this new EP, right down to Al Qadiri sporting “drag” makeup on the cover, channeling Rita Repulsa en route to a Bartschland party. The music follows suit, with cascading synths in minor-keys, tumbling Arabian rhythms and a dark sense of eroticism often highlighted by the vocal toasting of Bobo Secret and Naygow. While released on the British label Hyperdub, like much of Al Qadiri’s music, this one isn’t aimed for a white Western audience, but rather her Kuwaiti family and friends, a point that has been made bluntly clear in the few recent interviews I’ve read (she doesn’t suffer fools gladly). I’m glad I got to steal a peek into this fascinating world, and with such a talented guide, no less.

Bodykit NO NRG LP (New Body)
Hot on the heels of that great ISS LP, Rich Ivey (the main Whatever Brains brain) is at it with Bodykit, his new-ish electronic project, of which this is its debut full-length. Over the past decade or so, Ivey has really honed his own voice (literally and figuratively) in the world of underground punk, which extends to Bodykit as well – I can’t help but notice that the rhythmic patterns, vocal melodies and general sonic attitude are closely related to Whatever Brains. It’s almost as if these songs could be fully electronic interpretations of the Whatever Brains’ post-punk sound, that they could’ve been just as easily performed with guitar/bass/drums, even as the primary focus is on the rhythms, with often little to no melodic accompaniment. I wonder if Whatever Brains is an ongoing concern, or if after their multitude of releases, Ivey is moving ahead in a less traditional fashion? The tunes on NO NRG are definitely entertaining, but fairly familiar and predictable as well… I get the feeling Ivey is still sussing out electronic music programming, and talented as he may be, he has yet to utilize his gear in a distinct or striking fashion. Wouldn’t put it past him to blow my mind with Bodykit at a later date, though!

Burial Pre-Dawn / Indoors 12″ (Nonplus)
Quite a busy year for Burial, churning out EPs at a furious pace, not to mention an ace remix (Mønic’s “Deep Summer”). Most recent is this two-track single on Nonplus, and while choosing favorites between Burial records is often on par with a parent choosing their favorite child (difficult but also not that difficult), this might be my favorite Burial of the year. “Pre-Dawn” comes on strong – it has that classic Burial style, but it’s pure cardio, a high-BPM thumper with a hypnotic melodic squeal and at least four different layers of intentional vinyl static churning at all times. Like most Burial tracks of the past five years, there are a number of cinematic interruptions, but that foreboding melodic whistle is never far behind. “Indoors” is just as fast and filthy, this time affixed to a pitched-up vocal loop and a startling refrain that seems to be hummed by an inhuman replicant. Hardcore rave material for sure, especially in a room filled with people wearing the iconic masks of Scream, Mr. Robot, V For Vendetta and probably one or two oversized latex Cartmans (it’s the giggling goblin samples). I love when Burial is introspective and weepy, but I love it even more when he goes hard like this.

CCFX CCFX 12″ (DFA)
What a treat, here’s the debut from CCFX, the collaboration between Olympia’s CC Dust and Trans FX (although their current home-bases may vary). If I owned a CC Dust t-shirt I’d wear it every day (probably a good thing I don’t own a CC Dust t-shirt), and Trans FX seems to get better with each successive album (which means they’re quite good as they’re at like album number ten at this point), so I had high hopes for this collab, and the four songs here don’t let me down. Unlike some collaborations, this one is a clear merging of the two projects’ musical styles, where it’s possible to pick out who’s responsible for what. The simplistic melodies of CC Dust are here (most songs are pinned by little more than two alternating notes), as is vocalist Maryjane Dunphe’s unmistakable voice, but Trans FX pulls them from any sort of cold-wave synth behavior toward ’90s Brit-pop lounging. The beats are straight from Primal Scream and EMF’s samplers, although brought down to a tempo that encourages La-Z-Boy reclining as much as dance-floor grinding. I’m quite glad that they left it at that, and didn’t attempt to complicate their songwriting or programming – CC Dust’s charm is 90% Dunphe’s captivating voice and presence, but the other 10% is their amateurish musical approach (Xeno & Oaklander they are not), and that remains the case here. Nothing on this 12″ tops “Never Going To Die”, but that’s probably the best song of the decade, so go enjoy the autumnal grooves of CCFX and make sure you peep the thanks list on the back, it’s hilarious!

Chain & The Gang Experimental Music LP (Radical Elite)
There is simply no stopping Ian Svenonius – I picture him on his deathbed (hopefully many decades from now), still cranking out hilarious satire and intentionally nutty social mythology over retro soul-punk riffs. It’s nearly impossible to keep track of all his output, from recent The Make Up reunion gigs to this new LP by Chain & The Gang, Experimental Music, but it’s worth trying! This record’s as consistently fun and raucous and acerbic as you might’ve hoped, the sort of album you’d expect to soundtrack an episode of The Brady Bunch where Greg and Marsha seize the means of control from their bosses and empower the people to joyously riot (not sure it ever aired). While it’s incredibly familiar music for anyone who followed America’s Sassiest Boy’s journey to become America’s Sassiest Man, it’s not short on hooks: “The Logic Of Night” has a great Monks-esque groove and catchy chorus in particular. Somehow, the Valley Of The Dolls / Crazy World Of Arthur Brown aesthetic axis works exceptionally well for Svenonius and his crew in this modern age – he’s clearly got such a deep knowledge of what makes this sort of sound work well (and what to avoid), and it’s a wide open platform, ripe for his complex ideas to flourish.

Choke Chains Trace Amounts LP (Heel Turn)
I know what you’re thinking: the band name, the distorted font, the harsh collage artwork, the album title (referring to some sort of poison left by the band in one of their many murder plots?)… it conjures an evil and transgressive hardcore band hellbent on a Youth Attack Records contract. Sorry, incorrect! Maybe this band should consider changing their name to Choke Chainz, as they’re got the sort of drunk n’ druggy, unhinged punk n’ roll approach that lends itself to pluralizing things with a z. For the style they’ve chosen, Trace Amounts is kinda basic – it never fully ignites into a tantrum, nor does it drag deep in the lowest depths of humanity. Rather, it rocks in a straightforward manner, like a group of friends inspired by Thin Lizzy and Teengenerate who wanna enjoy a slice of that fun for themselves. I certainly can’t blame ’em, but I’m not sure their tunes are fresh or inspiring enough for me to sing along, although I’ll admit that I picked up the words to “Degenerate” (“I’m a degenerate”) quickly enough.

Colleen A Flame My Love, A Frequency LP (Thrill Jockey)
Surely I can be given some leeway for not checking out an artist that simply goes by the name “Colleen” until now, right? Not much leeway, though, as Cécile Schott (her name’s not even really Colleen!) has a thick discography under her belt, and if any of it’s like A Flame My Love, A Frequency, I need to stop wasting time and grab some more of her stuff without further delay. It’s a captivating album, based around one (or two at max) synth sounds per song and vocal accompaniment (or often, no voice at all). This album is simplistic and sweet, but don’t confuse that for easy and sappy – Colleen masterfully extracts spirals of light through her rippling synth, singing over it when the feeling compels her. It’s like a stereophonic Broadcast album played on a system with only one working speaker, or Morton Subotnick if he ever drank too much red wine and unwittingly entered an emo phase. For such sparse instrumentation, Colleen pulls an abundance of color and emotion out of her rig, with her voice adding a near-pop element that any reasonable listener would find irresistible. A Flame My Love, A Frequency was apparently written and recorded in the wake of the tragic Bataclan shooting, but it’s an album rich with peace and nourishment, not anguish and despair.

Computer Internet LP (Skrot Up)
Computer is the result of Jim Vail (FNU Ronnies) and John Laux (Musk), but if you were hoping for some sort of ultra-distorted noise-punk meltdown like I was, prepare to be disappointed! Disappointment is probably one of the main sensations those two were going for with Computer’s Internet, an album full of random unwanted samples, sounds and snippets. It’s like the sonic equivalent of the crud that flies out of a computer keyboard vigorously shaken upside down (I dare you to shake yours now and see what you get!). Or perhaps more accurately, the dankest of memes turned into song: a queasy saxophone, digital delay, a confused man muttering, a corny television sound effect, sampled hip-hop loops and Alvin & The Chipmunk vocals, all mashed together like a jpeg of lasagna with substandard resolution. One might think this would lead to hilarity, or at least attempts at humor, but somehow most of Internet doesn’t come across as silly or lighthearted – it’s more as though Vail and Laux are reminding us that this is our miserable modern existence and forcing us to lay down in it, or at least stare it in the face. It’s of a similar mindset as James Ferraro, minus any sense of musicality or specificity, just a big dump of digital trash that cannot be avoided. Just like the real internet!

Carla dal Forno The Garden 12″ (Blackest Ever Black)
It was around this time last year that Carla dal Forno dropped her debut LP, and while I thought it was great, this new one really takes the cake. I’m still spinning the recent F ingers LP frequently (that’s dal Forno and two buddies going the abstract experimental route in case you forgot), and I can’t help but wonder if it didn’t clear the way for a more directly song-based solo release in The Garden. This four-track EP is funereal post-punk music that lodges itself in the listener’s brain with the potency of pop, and it’s great. I suppose there are many gothic elements at play, but I couldn’t rightfully file The Garden under goth as it’s not remotely corny, fanciful or melodramatic, just stark and impenetrable. The bass is rugged and hefty, the drum machines sound like they’re puffing their last gasps, and dal Forno’s vocals are enchantingly cold and heartless. I’d imagine that if Lana Del Rey spent a year inside the sketchy catacombs of Berlin’s Berghain club, accidentally exposed to the harsh personalities of Vatican Shadow and Regis, her music might sound like this. There’s apparently some sort of nod to Einstürzende Neubauten in the title, either real or imagined by the press, and while nothing here sounds like Neubauten, I can certainly imagine dal Forno and Blixa Bargeld sharing some herbal tea at an outdoor cafe on a gloomy weekday, comparing their all-black wardrobes and cruel artistic intents.

David Nance Band Summer Singles Series 2017 7″ (Richie)
While Richie Records generally keeps things local (the artist almost always resides within a five mile radius of any decent hoagie counter), David Nance is a staunch resident of Omaha. His music is guitar-centric, hazy, loose and just a tiny bit demented, so geography aside, he’s a solid fit for the Richie roster. “Amethyst” is the a-side and it’s a slow burner: think The Dead C covering Neil Young, but in Nebraska, surrounded by corn and nothing else. Very pleasantly raw. I prefer the b-side though, a raucous clap of garage-rock thunder that amazingly seems to come from little more than one guitar, a snare drum and a tambourine. Maybe if Tetuzi Akiyama wanted to secure an Estrus Records contract, he’d have come up with something like this? It’s sweaty and brief, the sort of thing of which I would’ve happily enjoyed four more subtle variations (and even on the side of a 7″, there is plenty of room). I keep hearing how I need to check out David Nance and his Band’s full-lengths, and this single cements the thought.

Dendö Marionette 傀儡電伝 LP (Bitter Lake Recordings / Mouse)
Japanese hardcore and punk have been so deeply excavated in the past twenty years (and the supply of fresh mind-blowing obscurities still isn’t dwindling), but it’s time someone dug into Japan’s equally deep synth-wave / post-punk / experimental history. That seems to be what Katorga Works offshoot label Bitter Lake is doing, teaming with Japan’s Mouse Records for a reissue of Dendö Marionette’s impossible-to-find 7″ flexi alongside a previously-unreleased EP. It’s new to me, and definitely ripe for the reissue treatment, as Dendö Marionette certainly had it going on: experimental synth-wave music that exists on its own level, free of contemporary influence (which is the blessing and curse of today’s music climate). The opening cut reminds of me Kitchen & The Plastic Spoons, with its speedy and ratchety drum machine coasting over some oddball Devo motifs, but they quickly change it up, from rhythmless drones to bent Kraftwerk worship (or is it Yellow Magic Orchestra they were envisioning?) to primitive electronic wizardry ala the M Squared label. The unreleased material is of equal caliber, and I am eager to see what Bitter Lake unearths next – if I might make a suggestion, the Vanity Records label is ripe for modern accessibility and critical reassessment!

Eel Night Parade Of 100 Demons LP (Beach Impediment)
My first exposure to Eel came in the form of a YouTube video, a live show wherein some fan got his head brutally wounded by an angle grinder and eventually sought medical attention. So that’s something! It seems as though the band formed with the intent to be the Bad Luck 13 of Japanese hardcore (replace all pro-wrestling inspiration with a dedication to classic Japanese noise-core violence), and on Night Parade Of 100 Demons they come across as a pretty faithful interpretation of all those Zouo, Gudon, G.I.S.M. and Confuse favorites. I was expecting a little more dedication to the No Fucker school of anti-music (sound effects of bombs in lieu of vocals, a completely incomprehensible recording, more power tools, etc.) but Eel play it pretty straight here, with plenty of Randy Uchida-inspired soloing. The recording is properly rough and trebly, with a thin layer of distortion coating each instrument (and a thick molten one over the vocals), but in 2017, American bands playing unabashed Japanese hardcore like this isn’t particularly startling, but rather just another thing that lots of people like to do. I certainly can’t blame them, as this style kicks significant ass, and Eel do it substantial justice, after all. Your mileage will depend on whether you’re a listener who needs to hear more of it, deliberate re-enactments and all, or if you’re content with the originals. Either way, bring a helmet if you go see them live.

Emptyset Skin 12″ (Thrill Jockey)
Here’s an appealing concept: perhaps the heaviest of all British electro-brutes, Emptyset, recording an EP that is entirely acoustic, with no post-production processing. The title had me hoping it was the sound of James Ginzburg and Paul Purgas spanking each other’s bare bottoms ’til they glowed pink, but sadly we’ll have to wait for them to get around to that. Rather, this one is focused on what sounds like a hammered dulcimer, initially played percussively, and then either the same instrument or something similar-but-different mercilessly strummed with some light devotional chanting beneath. It ends up reminding me a lot of recent Earth, albeit a little too fast for Earth’s measured pace, but the same sense of transcendental heaviness is there, repetition utilized as the key to enlightenment. If this was the first I heard of Emptyset, I might not be as impressed, as while it sounds great I know at least half a dozen people who could bang out a work of similar style and quality over a weekend. Still, I know that it’s Emptyset who did it, and I appreciate that they are finding ways to channel their lead-plated aesthetic through fresh and unexpected means.

Ero Guro Ero Guro 7″ (Ronny Rex)
Self-recorded, self-produced, friend-funded Belgian punk is what this Ero Guro 7″ EP is all about. That’s the way to do it – have all the fun and get a friend to pay for it! It’s a heartwarming scene I’m envisioning. Maybe I’m particularly prone to admiration here, as the label sent a two-page hand-written note explaining how Ero Guro and this debut 7″ EP came to be, but musically it’s pretty cool too. It’s mostly mid-tempo punk with lightly distorted vocals, conniving riffs and a general sense of mischief – somewhere between early Mekons and the noisy garage-punk revival of the ’00s. Nothing remotely mind-blowing or a must-listen situation, but I can get the sense that Ero Guro is a fun and exciting thing for all involved parties, right down to the hand-stamping of the center stickers. Worth a Bandcamp perusal, especially if you are either living in Belgium or plan to swing by and wanna see what the kids are up to.

Gap Whip In A Room 12″ (Ever/Never)
While centralized in New York City and its various boroughs, Ever/Never scans the globe for various cantankerous forms of rock and anti-rock music, this time touching base in Yorkshire, UK with Gad Whip. Gad Whip have self-released a number of tapes previously, but this is their first vinyl offering, a one-sided 12″ with a stately b-side etching of what I presume to be the Gad Whip family crest. I’m glad to have made their acquaintance, as these four tunes are highly enjoyable (and highly British) artsy post-punk. The most obvious sonic correlation is Sleaford Mods (I bet they’re already sick of hearing it), thanks the the vocalist’s sharp rap/rant delivery and accent, but the music comes from live drums, guitars, keyboards, what-have-you, recalling downer Kiwi pop, not entirely far from Tall Dwarfs or The Bats, with a touch of Talking Heads, maybe even some tougher, leathery post-punk like Crisis (particularly on the final cut, “Train Song #2”). It’s a combo that works quite easily, and Gad Whip have the proper mindset to deliver it with just enough bile, just enough tuneful accompaniment, and just enough whip, lest they merely gad.

Gen Pop On The Screen 7″ (Upset The Rhythm / Lumpy)
Excellent debut here from Olympia’s Gen Pop. They feature Maryjane Dunphe and Ian Corrigan of Vexx, but I get the impression that this is Corrigan’s baby, and what an adorable little sprout it is! It couldn’t have been easy to start a new punk group in the shadow of Vexx (best rock group of the ’10s?), but Gen Pop have their own sound and style while still bearing some delightful similarities. First off, Corrigan sings on most tracks, and maybe there’s a burp caught in the bottom of his throat or something, but he has this stately Australian accent somehow, as if he just found out his biological father was in The Scientists and couldn’t help but sing accordingly. The music rips like Vexx at their most straightforward ‘core, but also like cool agitated hardcore punk rock from the early ’80s like The Fastbacks or Screaming Sneakers, groups that were slick enough to write a speedy pop ballad on one side of the record and blast a handful of ragers on the other. The co-release info should’ve tipped you off to Gen Pop’s versatility anyway, as what other band would receive the tacit approval of hip UK post-punk tastemakers Upset The Rhythm as well as Midwestern mutant nerds Lumpy? If there’s a head not being turned by Gen Pop in the punk scene, I have to assume it’s wearing a neck brace.

Giant Swan The Last 30 Years Of Human Ego 12″ (Timedance)
Giant Swan are a techno duo out of Bristol, UK, but unlike most British techno folks, Giant Swan come from a rock background, as they are half of the long-running psych-rock group The Naturals. It seems like most British techno producers were raised on raves and DJ sets and wouldn’t even know how to hold a guitar if you gave them one, but I appreciate Giant Swan’s origin story, as it lends a roughness and rowdy belligerence to their tunes, as though they are less concerned with the rules that govern hard-edged electronic bass music than the rest of the well-schooled pack. “Celebrate The Last 30 Years Of Human Ego” is a real bruiser, operating with cut-up noise ala Russell Haswell and the elastic snap of labelmates Batu and Lurka. Love those minced vocals! I presume the flip-side’s track title “IFTLOYL” is a texting acronym I’m not yet hip to, and it’s different yet also great, like Blawan fresh from spending a night drinking cider with crust punks. Cool vocals too, like a post-punk Kerridge, perhaps. I’m often wary of rockers who want to become techno DJs, particularly as the trend continues to rise, but Giant Swan are no dilettantes – if your tracks are this grotesque and mighty, I don’t care if you used to be in Skankin’ Pickle.

girlSperm gSp LP (Thrilling Living)
Generally speaking I’m not a fan of bands that insist on capitalizing or punctuating their name in unorthodox ways, but what am I gonna do, mess with girlSperm? I’m not that stupid! This Bay Area punk trio is all business, and what righteous business it is – minimal and messy post-punk, full of spite and vitriol and equipped with the intelligence to spew said spite and vitriol in a series of direct hits. The drums tend to lead the charge over the two guitars (often plucked one string at a time), and the vocals seem to come from every angle, often all at once. If there was ever an argument to be made for punk rock as a collective action, heralding the communal gang over individual showboats, it’s within gSp. My only gripe is that I wish the record came with a lyric sheet (or, in a consolation prize, were published on the album’s corresponding Bandcamp page), because I’d love to know for sure what they’re yelling about. “20K Band” is probably my favorite cut, and besides the chanted refrain of “just give us twenty K!”, I would be tickled to know exactly what girlSperm are saying. Same goes for closing track “You Are Like An Art Object”, which plays out like Coïtus Int. with the vocal approach of Le Tigre’s “What’s Yr Take On Cassavetes”, although they hereby obliviate both of those references. The list of this trio’s prior bands is a mile long (and a very necessary playlist in its own right), but girlSperm strike me as a unit fiercely dedicated to stirring up the now, not reminiscing on former glories. Famous dude-punk bands should consider a similar approach!

The Gotobeds Definitely Not A Redd Kross EP 7″ (Chunklet Industries)
Not sure why this was made, but lo, here it is: The Gotobeds covering Red Cross’s eponymous 12″ EP (before they became the non-copyright-infringing “Redd Kross”) on a gold-vinyl 7″ in its entirety, complete with replica disco-sleeve artwork. The Gotobeds play the concept pretty straight, offering faithful representations of these six tracks, and while I am open to the idea of a wildly creative reinterpretation, there’s really no need: Redd Kross’s original record is pure teen-punk perfection. It’s really kind of crazy how effortlessly Redd Kross wrote six of the greatest punk songs of all time and put them all on the same record – they simply had that elusive magic. It’s essentially perfect punk music, so when it comes to another talented bunch of punks playing these tunes, albeit very much not teenagers, it sounds great just the same. I’m not a big fan of entire records being covered, but if this was the start of a thirty-volume Chunklet series of various bands covering Red Cross, I would gladly listen to all of them, and I bet they’d all be pretty great. Either way, The Gotobeds have certainly done justice to this holy punk artifact.

Hothead Summer Singles Series 2017 7″ (Richie)
Last but not least, Hothead complete the trio of Richie Records’ 2017 singles series. They’re a group based equally in Baltimore and Philadelphia, so you can imagine the miles they’ve clocked on I-95 with plenty of time to listen to music, talk and think about what they wanna do with themselves. This is their first vinyl appearance (following a debut tape on Sister Polygon), and they surprisingly use it for two covers, one of Townes Van Zandt’s “Snake Song” and the other Danny Whitten’s “I Don’t Wanna”. “Snake Song” is a mean horseback march through the desert, with vocalist and bandleader Laurie Spector’s full-moon croon adding the necessary gravitas before an unmarked saxophone solo threatens the campfire. The brief original “Jammed Together” opens the flip with a pleasant psych stumble, like one of those early Kurt Vile toss-offs, before “I Don’t Wanna” hits. It’s a slow-dance while the world burns, like that brief moment of clarity you have walking into a movie theater when you realize you forgot to take your Pepcid after that spicy meatball submarine sandwich.

Joe Tail Lift / MPH 12″ (Hessle Audio)
It’s ironic that Joe’s new single is called “Tail Lift”, because that’s exactly what my tail did when I first heard it! Joe’s productions are both idiosyncratic and populist – his style is distinct in a sea of similar producers, but I’d be hard pressed to find someone who wouldn’t appreciate the man’s music. This new 12″ is another fantastic entry, for which “Tail Lift” is mostly responsible. It’s a colorful, breezy jam, shifting down various paths in the same delightful ecosystem. For the literary-minded, I’m reminded of the wedding celebration scene in Jean de Brunhoff’s 1931 classic Histoire de Babar (recommended reading): all sorts of different species intermingling for the sake of a good time. “MPH” is sleeker and not as immediate, a post-modern cool-down after the sweaty fun of “Tail Lift”. It’s not too far from Kode9’s recent Burial remix, although Joe seems to be dealing in early ’80s ECM jazz / new-age sounds, albeit with a squeaky, queasy, Actress-esque nose tweak. Pretty essential dance music for any reasonable person’s 2017, if you ask me.

Samuel Kerridge The Silence Between Us 12″ (Downwards)
Gotta hand it to Samuel Kerridge for such a consistent level of reinvention. His music has always fallen under the banner of industrial techno, but within that framework his style and sound has shifted dramatically, from precision steam-engine techno to neck-deep sludge dirges to scorched drum n’ bass, and now however you care to classify the frantic new offerings on this 12″ EP. “Possession/Control” is startling, even for a seasoned Kerridge fan like myself – it shoots through with an unusual speed and dexterity, like something off his pal Objekt’s Flatland played on 45 instead of 33. It’s high velocity mayhem, subjected to various interruptions before wrapping up, as if the hazmat crew were trying to contain this violent chemical reaction but their results were ultimately futile. “Ascension” kicks off the flip, a pumped-up electro-acid workout that seems to exist in the fallout of the a-side, extra contaminated and astringent (and still much too fast). Same goes for the last cut, “Radical Possibilities Of Pleasure”, which works in some wide-range saw-toothed synths typical to previous Kerridge records, as if to say he’s still in there, somewhere, even as the smoke and dust obscure his figure. Quite a bloody ripper, and although I have no idea where Kerridge can take things from here, I have no doubt that he somehow will.

Maraudeur Maraudeur LP (Bruit Direct Disques)
Here’s an album that exudes so much cool, I swear I wasn’t wearing these sunglasses when I put it on ten minutes ago. Maraudeur are part of the current Swiss post-punk scene that I wish I knew more about, and following a killer split 10″ (who knew anyone could release a killer split 10″ anymore?), this is their full-length debut. They play slowish, grooving post-punk that touches on no-wave’s off kilter structuring as well as the deviant pop aspiration of The Vaselines as well as the Sister Polygon scene of minimal and non-macho post-punk. Generally speaking, the bass moves through a series of melodic corridors and the drums (or drum machine) clank along, while the guitar favors the high strings, the keyboard fills in the sonic range and the vocalist talks herself through it all. It feels like a missing Rough Trade release from 1980, some lonesome project featuring a couple Young Marble Giants, one Swell Map and maybe one of Cabaret Voltaire’s roadies rounding it out – at the very least, it sounds as timelessly cool as such a collaboration would’ve been.

Metz Strange Peace LP (Sub Pop)
Never would have guessed that heavy post-hardcore screamo would have such staying power into the ’10s and beyond, but not only are Metz out here kicking butt, it seems as though they’ve inspired a legion of younger bands to follow in their sonic footsteps (just as they themselves were inspired by the ’90s Gravity Records roster that came before them). And who knew that they’d only improve in strength and skill as they move ahead with album #3! Strange Peace reveals the band to be well aware of their strengths, and they highlight them here. Drummer Hayden Menzies pounds with the power of a dozen Grohls, a metronomic jackhammer that is Metz’s secret (or not-so-secret) weapon – when this man fires up a beat, it really doesn’t matter what the guitar and bass are doing so long as they’re loud and discordant. It’s what they’ve done for the past two records, but this time around it’s enhanced by an openness to pop hooks, or if not exactly pop, choruses and melodies that are engineered to stick to one’s memory. Alex Edkins figured out how to tune his snarling Canadian Johnny Rotten vocal into more than just an additional layer of noise, and it pushes these songs much farther – first single “Cellophane” sounds like Public Image Ltd. covering something off Bush’s Razorblade Suitcase, a conceit I hope Metz continue to explore. That is of course presuming Menzies doesn’t render them all deaf first.

Midwives No LP (Holy Family Players Theatre)
To anyone bold enough to proclaim a lack of Wisconsin hardcore, I present you with Midwives’ No. They’re a Milwaukee quartet and they pressed a scant one hundred copies of this LP, replete with handcrafted cover and stamped labels. In an earlier time, all copies would’ve sold immediately, but we’re living in an era where the vast majority of physical music products are passed over, so chances are good that if you like the ensuing description of the record, you can still obtain one with relative ease. Midwives have a decent thing going on: messy and tricky riffs with a vocalist who opens the album on a cathartic “woo!” and spends the rest of it shout-ranting in or out of time. I’m no psychic but I wouldn’t be surprised if bands like Drive Like Jehu, John Henry West, Angel Hair and The Jesus Lizard offered inspiration, or perhaps more recently, groups like Slices, Paint It Black and Double Negative. Something for the button-up office attire and black band t-shirt crowds alike.

Neutral När LP (Omlott)
Praise be, a new Neutral album! At six tracks, I guess they’re calling it a “mini-album”, but I’ll take Neutral in any dosage I can get. It should be fairly evident that my expectations are high with this Swedish duo, but they continue to rule with När, which I assume translates to “gnar”, short for “gnarly”, an apt description for this record. They move away from guitars and embryonic formations of guitars here, utilizing corroded electronics and bleak rhythms as the basis for these tracks. Bass (guitar?) waddles through many of these tracks, however, and Sophie Herner’s vocals remain cryptic and translucent, like a ripple of microfiche across a fiery projector screen. Some of the sonic textures remind me of Demdike Stare, even, in the way that evil dub grooves and harsh effects are brandished, although Neutral are far deeper in the dirt. Tracks like “Du” and “Berg 211” are a shaky rope bridge between Broadcast and Macronympha, and while it’s as precarious as that sounds, I can’t help but walk it over and over and over. Neutral are so good.

Plaque Marks Anxiety Driven Nervous Worship LP (Learning Curve)
Plaque Marks are a Philadelphia trio that I’m fairly certain all work at the same bar together, or at least used to. Don’t let images of Huey Lewis bar-rock fill your head, though, as Plaque Marks stomp and grind out some professional-grade noise-rock here, complete with a heavy back-end and screamed vocals mixed low in the cacophony. They might be a new band, but they’ve certainly got the style down pat: the bass is vibrant and vulgar, the drums are boomy and loose, and the guitar balances it out nicely. The b-side is fully owned by the title track, and it’s a sleazy, queasy cut; it’s certainly my favorite of the bunch, somewhere in the outer orbits of Tar, Rusted Shut and Black Mayonnaise. If that doesn’t offer a vivid image of Plaque Marks, try to imagine a band that formed specifically to open a full Unsane tour, which you actually don’t even have to imagine, because that’s exactly what Plaque Marks did earlier this year!

Proto Idiot Leisure Opportunity LP (Slovenly)
Forget Protomartyr and all their book-learnin’, here’s Proto Idiot, locking themselves out of the car while it’s still running and proud of it! They’re a Mancunian punk group, and they’ve found a space for themselves in the proud tradition of goofball British punk. Think The Undertones, The Lurkers, maybe even some Cockney Rejects too, with the American polish of The Dickies, The Briefs, and Jay Reatard (who were really just spitting back all those British influences in the first place anyway). Proto Idiot seem to be thrilled with the idea that they tricked people into believing they’re a real band, with songs shouting out their instruments, a band theme opening the album, and a general sense of proudly foolish fun. Proto Idiot might not have the costumes and grease makeup of The Rezillos and The Adicts, but they brandish that same sort of carefree attitude, the type of punks that step in gum and dog poo and find it hysterical rather than annoying, proudly sticking to the cement and stinking past other pedestrians. I pray these lads may never locate intelligence.

Rash / C.H.E.W. split 7″ (Slugsalt)
For months now, the Chicago hardcore scene has been in a state of violent disarray – Rash fans going crazy, and C.H.E.W. fans trying to take them out. It’s gotten pretty ugly, but thankfully there is peace in sight, as C.H.E.W. and Rash are finally on the same piece of vinyl! Both have been discussed in these pages before, and silliness aside, this is a proper pairing of two Chicago hardcore groups on a Philadelphia-based label. Two tunes from Rash here, which remind me of a slightly slower Warthog, or a less frantic Acrylics, perhaps. Kind of a hardcore carb-loader, which is necessary for any mosh-pit workout. C.H.E.W. spice it up with their three tunes, performing a similar tone of hardcore, just with more manic energy and speedier riffing. Rash strikes me as more of the Butthead, and C.H.E.W. the Beavis, but just like those two, how can you appreciate one without sharing a fondness for the other? And like practically every American hardcore record I’ve reviewed this year or last, this split EP is mastered by Will Killingsworth. How is this possible? Are there multiple Will Killingsworths?

The Sickness Complete Sickness LP (ОПАЧИНА)
Seemed only a matter of time before Boston’s obscure proto-sludge-punk pioneers received the reissue treatment. The group only released one 7″, but they later spawned The Groinoids and Kilslug (one of the all-time greats, who even came back with a mind-bogglingly great album in 2012), and come on, what aspect of early Boston hardcore (or anti-hardcore as the case may be) hasn’t been revisited in the past couple decades? In a strange fashion that suits The Sickness, this album comes on a new Macedonian label, with a variety of limited colored vinyl variants, and it features the Sickness’s sole 7″ alongside tracks recorded at Radiobeat and a small handful of live and rehearsal tunes. The best stuff is the studio work (unless you’re really into purposely-godawful “Louie Louie” covers), but don’t expect the word “studio” to insinuate some form of professionalism – The Sickness perform their music with a low level of competence, and a disregard for whatever competence they may actually have. It’s like no-wave without the effort to purposely annoy, or punk that’s too lazy to rock. On a busy rush-hour highway, The Sickness aren’t that freak cutting people off and swerving between lanes, they’re the rusted jalopy driving thirty miles below the speed limit in the passing lane, smoke pouring from the hood, oblivious to the traffic around them. If it wasn’t clear, I love this music, and urge you to check it out if you consider yourself a fan of impotent and bawdy punk rock. If you only pick one punk reissue this year to be down with…

Sweet Knives Sweet Knives LP (Big Neck)
More than a couple people I know hold The Lost Sounds in incredibly high regard, although I never fully got the hype myself. The remaining members of that group (RIP Jay Reatard) have apparently reconvened as Sweet Knives, and from my point of view the sound remains more or less the same. They play driving, menacing-yet-melodic garage-punk, taking nods from greats like Dead Moon and The Wipers and inflecting things with an understated dash of synthesizer. They’re not out to thrash and bash, or use their synths in a Nots-like fashion (frenzied alien abduction), but rather simmer through studied rock moves as the seasoned vets they are. Of course, they can’t help but find solace in a soft touch of snot-nosed Killed By Death aesthetics, too. (There’s a song called “Isolation Deprivation”, in the classic syllablizing of The Authorities’ “Radiation Masturbation”.) I didn’t expect to love Sweet Knives, but I came around to their sound pretty quickly, so if you’re already got a trusty leather vest with a neon Lost Sounds pin on the lapel, your satisfaction will be immediate.