Best of 2020

Top Singles of 2020
1. Xylitol I’m Pretty Sure I Would Know If Reality Was Fundamentally Different Than I Perceived It To Be 7″
2. Healer Resurgence 7″
3. Lolina Who Is Experimental Music? 12″
4. DJ Central Passion 12″
5. P22 Human Snake 12″
6. CS + Kreme howwouldyoufeelwithoutthatthought 12″
7. Ishai Adar feat. Maurice Sarfati Ana Belephoneq 7″
8. Zaliva-D Immorality 12″
9. Prutser Netels 7″
10. Beau Wanzer Kitchen Clock 12″
11. CB Radio Gorgeous EP 7″
12. Flower Crime Kalte Fliesen 12″
13. Home Blitz All Through The Year 12″
14. Glen Schenau Jhumble / Jearnest 7″
15. Reek Minds Reek Minds 7″
16. The Reds, Pinks & Purples I Should Have Helped You 7″
17. Lxury Tokyo 10″
18. O$VMV$M Phase 4 / Witch Linen 10″
19. Mosquitoes Minus Objects 12″
20. The Native Cats Two Creation Myths 7″

Honorable Mention:
Anunaku Stargate EP 12″
Black Merlin SFORMATOR 2 12″
Brannten Schnüre Ei, Wir Tun Dir Nichts Zuleide! 7″
AngstLust Animal Shelter 12″
ISS Too Punk For Heavy Metal 7″

Top Albums of 2020
1. Sweeping Promises Hunger For A Way Out
2. The Cool Greenhouse The Cool Greenhouse
3. Pavel Milyakov Masse Métal
4. Lewsberg In This House
5. Haus Arafna Asche
6. Straw Man Army Age Of Exile
7. On The Ifness U-Udios 4
8. Twinkle³ Minor Planets
9. Bill Nace & Graham Lambkin The Dishwashers
10. Beatrice Dillon Workaround
11. Fried E/M Modern World
12. Sleeparchive Trust
13. Profligate Too Numb To Know
14. CS + Kreme Snoopy
15. Ulla Tumbling Towards A Wall
16. Metal Preyers Metal Preyers
17. Patois Counselors The Optimal Seat
18. Chronophage Th’ Pig Kiss’d Album
19. Lemon Quartet Crestless
20. Narrow Head 12th House Rock

Honorable Mention:
Regis Hidden In This Is The Light That You Miss
Actress Karma & Desire
Hum Inlet
DJ Metatron Loops Of Infinity (A Rave Loveletter)
Choir Boy Gathering Swans

Decided to switch up the year-end statement this time around, and instead of providing any sort of commentary on this unbelievable year (I don’t want to write it and you probably don’t want to read it), I’m gonna talk about myself for a minute. I’ve never done this here before, and doubt I’ll do it again anytime soon, so after nearly a dozen years of Yellow Green Red’s existence, allow me to break the ice: hi, my name’s Matt! Outside of doing this website, I sing for Pissed Jeans. A new song of ours was included in the Cyberpunk 2077 video game that just came out (hopefully it winds up on YouTube or something soon – I’m really proud of it), and we are (slowly) working on writing a new album, with intentions of continuing the usual smattering of gigs both local and abroad as soon as it’s safe to do so. Obviously no band has done much this year, the Jeans included, so here’s a chronological list of some of the extracurricular things I’ve done in 2020:

– Was interviewed about books and writing for the first zine released by Seattle’s Hex Enduction Records
– Briefly appeared in Stephen Malkmus’s “Shadowbanned” music video
– My gabber techno project Fine Jewelers released a track called “Running Mix”
– Published a couple of poems over on Wax Nine’s poetry journal
– Was quoted in Nick Soulsby’s Lydia Lunch biography The War Is Never Over
– Released a collaborative track with Mary Lattimore for the Distant Duos series
– Put together a mix of mostly sedate and obscure tunes for Silvox Recordings
– Made yet another mix, this one Christmas-themed, because why not
– Appeared on Lydia Lunch’s The Lydian Spin podcast
– Contributed poems to a new book and audio cassette release entitled Medicine For A Nightmare

Whew, that’s surely more than you ever wanted to know! I can also be followed on both Instagram and Twitter under the handle @mattkorvette if you’d like. And if you ever considered reaching out to drop me a line, by all means, now is the time! Actual communication with real people has never felt more valuable, especially if you want to tell me about the best record I’ve never heard. Now, onto my two faves of the year!

Xylitol I’m Pretty Sure I Would Know If Reality Was Fundamentally Different Than I Perceived It To Be (Thrilling Living)
It was an unprecedented year for all of us, constantly reacting to bad news and worse news and the arrival of new tragedies before the other recent tragedies could be fully mourned and processed. Go figure, then, that the most artful and contemporarily-reckoning musical response I’ve heard comes from Olympia’s Xylitol! Their earlier EP was great, but this new one absolutely destroys, distilling the overstimulated sense of disbelief we encounter on a daily basis with force and wit. It certainly contains my favorite punk lyrics of the year, with “I Want A Refund” constantly echoing through my head as I continue to wander through my daily tasks and not see my friends, wondering if there will ever be a point to all this. Of course, the music absolutely rules too: Xylitol have somehow found a way to distill Negative Approach’s formative moments into a bludgeoning device, mutated and evil but also timeless, too. My vinyl copy was actually pretty defective, skipping all over the place, though I realized it started to skip less with each consecutive listen. I literally played this record over and over again until it made it through without malfunction – if that shouldn’t be my record of the year, what should be?

Sweeping Promises Hunger For A Way Out (Feel It)
Even as I age, both mentally and visibly (okay, mostly visibly), I love that new music continually knocks me out, pumps me up, invigorates my spirit and leaves me feeling better than I was before it came along. That’s certainly the case with Boston’s Sweeping Promises and their full-length debut (care of the crucial Feel It Records label). I’m not sure how they found each other, but I’m thrilled they did, as this band comes hurtling out of the gate fully formed, clearly enlightened by the best punk and indie-rock of the past forty years and using that knowledge to create their own musical language. These songs are immediately gratifying and comprehensible – tough-as-nails scrappy post-punk with melodic hooks – but there’s an internal logic going on there that can’t be matched to anyone besides Sweeping Promises. Plus, vocalist Lira Mondal has the most forceful voice I’ve heard in a rock band in forever, distinctly bursting with emotion and range. I hear Mission Of Burma, I hear Erase Errata, I hear Desperate Bicycles, I hear Sleater-Kinney, but honestly I’d rather just throw on Hunger For A Way Out than any of those others right now (well, except for maybe the Desperate Bicycles’ “Advice On Arrest”, which I really need to make into my ringtone). It’s crazy that they came out with this, people loved it, and they were able to play a whopping zero shows in support of it. Can you imagine how great it’ll be the first time we get to see Sweeping Promises on a stage? It’s one of the bright thoughts keeping me hopeful through the end of this year.

Reviews – December 2020

The Archaeas The Archaeas LP (Goner)
Debut single on Total Punk; debut album on Goner: is there a more desirable trajectory for a garage-punk band? I hope The Archaeas are satisfied with themselves, as they couldn’t have asked for a more reputable start. I enjoyed their Total Punk 7″ for its primitive punk joy and extreme brevity, and this album reveals the trio as somewhat more developed without risking alienating the Total Punkers out there. They’ve certainly got a sound that should sit well with the Goner crowd, a melodically-pleasing, slightly-glammy, very-fuzzy garage-punk style with big choruses and a sassy attitude. I’m hearing Ty Segall, Jay Reatard and Cheap Time in these tunes; hallmarks of this century’s garage-rock scene that I’m assuming have informed The Archaeas’s sonic approach. Thankfully, as underground music has been trending in general over the past few years, I get the impression that The Archaeas move without the casual misogyny and general bad-guy-behavior that was a staple of prior iterations of this scene – there’s no lyric sheet, but I get the impression that the lip gloss referenced in “Lip Gloss” might be that of their own, not a female conquest. Feel-good garage-punk in these feel-bad times, no doubt.

Avery Plains Soon LP (Flat Plastix)
The cover of Avery Plains’ sophomore album is giving me waves of ’90s nostalgia so strong as to almost reach a Mandela Effect: I swear this was the art for a 1994 DGC CD sampler featuring Screaming Trees and Teenage Fanclub. Fair enough, as the music of Avery Plains certainly matches that post-grunge alt-rock-explosion sound, but they do it really, really well! I’m as surprised as you, but they really do nail it, that sense of post-shoegaze, post-grunge, didn’t-quite-make-it major-label rock groups that turned into cult favorites years after the fact. Opener “Two Sad Wings” sounds like it should’ve been on The Crow soundtrack had that soundtrack been released by 4AD… gloomy adult-rock that could forge a connection to Jeff Buckley as easily as Afghan Whigs and Belly. Maybe this is what The National sounds like? Nah, I truly doubt The National are this free-wheeling and unself-conscious. The music is cool, but the weathered vocals of Jurgen Veenstra (I forgot to mention, Avery Plains are from the Netherlands) really elevate the group to the superior sound they’ve arrived at here. Unless some random break happens in their favor, I presume Avery Plains will remain somewhat unknown here in the states, but that’s cool with me – I always prefer to feel like I’m the only one listening to bands as private and personal-sounding as this.

Carnivorous Bells The Upturned Stone LP (Human Headstone Presents)
Let us not neglect Philly hardcore: this vinyl debut from new-ish group Carnivorous Bells is certainly worth a peep! Featuring Matthew Adis from Salvation, David Vassalotti from Merchandise and Michael Bachich from the virally-sensational @catatonicyouths Instagram account, this group is filled with young men on the verge of no longer being young, raised on hardcore and still in love with hardcore but also willing to tie it up in knots for fun. That’s probably why The Upturned Stone manages to rage like hardcore-punk in spite of songs that are undeniably math-rock in nature. I’ve admired Vassalotti’s guitar playing for years now, and he really lets it fly here, with riffs that recall Don Caballero, Slint and even goddamn Orthrelm, tailored for the feral rhythm section that lurches and strikes like Saccharine Trust and Scratch Acid. I kinda feel a little bad for Adis, honestly, as he’s supposed to somehow find a place for his voice within these turbulent and non-traditional riffs. Any decent punk can sing for a group that writes songs like SOA or 86 Mentality, but good luck figuring out how to shout over these jazzy and peculiar songs! Adis tends to extend his phrases across these intricate patterns, squealing like a boardwalk game attendant trying to catch your attention; he also wisely steps away from the mic for extended stretches, most often when the music reaches a near-total impenetrability. It’s understandably a little awkward at times, but Carnivorous Bells are clearly trying something new, entering an artistic territory that’s bound to include little failures or misses among moments of next-level greatness (like opener “Big Bronze Allegory”). At least they’re fucking, trying… what the something-something…

The Gagmen The Gagmen LP (iDEAL Recordings)
I’m not as easily tempted by noise collaborations these days as I was ten, fifteen years ago, but this one-off collaboration between Aaron Dilloway and Nate Young (who you surely know as two-thirds of Wolf Eyes during their fantastic early iteration), iDEAL’s Joachim Nordwall, and (unless you believe the conspiracies) the one and only Andrew W.K.? Well, that sounded too good to resist. This comes from a 2013 live performance in NYC, and I was expecting something along the lines of the group’s moniker: molten noise loops and dry heaving, thick with toxic crust. While I suppose that general sensibility is present, The Gagmen is actually much more sparse than I had imagined – it almost doesn’t seem possible that four people could’ve contributed to such a scant amount of sound. A rusty cowbell will flap in a mild dust-storm across the alley; the tick of a kilowatt reader numbly echos into the void; a millisecond snippet of a stuttering male voice will pass over the tape machine’s magnetic reader every few seconds. Very little to hold onto, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing – I find the use of emptiness to work well here, as it presents a strikingly desolate and long-evacuated sonic minefield. The final track (no titles that I can see) finally picks up the pace, with rich bass tones and troubled sonar blips, as well as a mangled vocal performance, the sort of thing I had initially signed up for. I wonder if Andrew W.K. pressed a single button, or if it was merely his presence in the room that provided The Gagmen with a sense of direction? No partying happening here, let alone partying hard.

Gargara Versus Jesus 7″ (ОПАЧИНА)
Delinquent dumb-ass punk is a universal human right as far as I’m concerned, so I’m glad to see some Macedonian youngsters engaging in explicitly that sort of behavior. Their band is called Gargara (though the band logo lettering looks completely different?) and they found the time to write and record this four-song EP, in between extended vape sessions, parking lot loitering and localized nuisance behavior. Their music reminds me of rude and rowdy hardcore not unlike Rupture and Bad Noids, songs played fast and drunkenly with a squealing vocalist and dexterous drummer. As is usually the case these days, they’ve got a blown-out recording that captures the energy more than the clarity of Gargara’s music, tinny drums and thick guitars pushing forward in a sound that has me wondering if it was converted from MP3 format at some point, presumably siphoned from some free-trial recording software (as true present-day punks will do). Jesus doesn’t stand a chance!

Hand Of Food Swimming Mindlessly 12″ (Ever/Never)
Hand Of Food’s vinyl debut is as endearingly head-scratching as their name. Theirs is a mix of uncomfortable ambient music, reminiscent of punkers-turned-post-modern-vérité-artists like Shots and Melkings as well as the old guard of similar sonic trickery such as Culturcide and Negativland. The first side plays out softly and sweetly enough, a slight tumble through the brush-filled sand dunes on an otherwise picturesque beach-side outing, at least until the stock Paid Announcer voice fires off some hilariously disconcerting lines. Can’t help but think of Jayson Musson’s fantastic CVS Bangers mixes which utilize the same effect to essentially the same ends, reminding us that every moment of our lives can quickly be rung through the ringer of capitalism with or without our consent. The happy-hour piano man that opens “Chelo’s By The Sea” is uncomfortably bleary, recalling People Like Us’s knack for revealing pop culture’s ever-present dark side, before a diced-up series of vocal samples has me thinking of Blackhumour’s passion for the curious nature of the human voice. Normally I’d say this is the type of record exclusively geared towards 3:00 AM WFMU DJs, but over the events of the last year, who among us hasn’t turned into some version of a 3:00 AM WFMU DJ at one point or another?

Harry Pussy Superstar 7″ (Palilalia)
You want to find a way into my PayPal account, just whisper the words “unreleased archival Harry Pussy seven-inch” in my ear and watch as I race to my computer in a huff. Some random live set I haven’t heard would be cool with me, but this is actually a studio recording featuring fourteen short blasts of that sweet HP sound, a sound from which I will never tire. The Superstar session finds them in classic Bill Orcutt / Adris Hoyos two-piece mode, with Ian Steinberg accredited to accordion and vocals, though I can’t make out which screams are his (there’s no mistaking the staggering howl of Adris Hoyos!) and I don’t hear any accordion, either. Maybe he’s using it as a stool? These songs are punker and simpler than the manic wall-of-noise Harry Pussy later pursued, less free-form caterwaul and more no-wave-abilly stomps. Certainly a satisfying document of the group in its early form, their discovery of The Harry Pussy Sound still in its nascent stage. We are lucky that Harry Pussy existed, and even more lucky that the group received such diligent documentation since their demise, but if an extended box-set version of Let’s Build A Pussy is up next, my devotion will be tested.

Hum Inlet 2xLP (Earth Analog)
Presenting myself for your merciless flogging: Inlet is my first experience sitting down and listening to cult ’90s alt-rockers Hum. I’ve got lots of excuses, but it’s sometimes nice to witness something everyone else already loves for the first time long after the fact – ask anyone who binged The Sopranos for the first time in the past few years (that’s me as well). It’s my understanding that Inlet is basically a direct continuation of their previous records, maintaining the same level of quality and production detail, and I can certainly see now why there’s been all the fuss. I love heavy, slow, epic stoner-rock with calm vocals too, and this certainly seems to be the apex of that style. Fine-tune a Sabbath riff into something that can be repeated with minimal fatigue, give it an astral coating of shoegaze guitars, lock those drums into place and let ‘er rip for five or six minutes. There are many strains of gear-worship rock-music out there, but I get the impression that Hum’s gear-nerd followers are probably one of the more tolerable fanbases out there, particularly when compared to Rush or Puscifer fanatics. I like that the music twinkles and grooves like Smashing Pumpkins and Torche, but they won’t shy away from a track like “The Summoning”, an epic riff straight out of Spirit Caravan’s playbook with a title to match. It feels like rock blasphemy that Hum are relegated to a niche Bandcamp pressing while Kings Of Leon and Maroon 5 are the current visible mainstream rockers. Society screwed that up, but what else is new?

The Insults The Insults LP (Last Laugh)
Seems like no punk label can resist the allure of the obscure reissue these days, but Last Laugh has been dutifully excavating the graffiti-riddled stalls of punk’s history for many years now, generally coming through with more hits than misses. The Insults released two 7″s in 1979, both want-list staples of any decent punk collector, and Last Laugh hit the jackpot here, locating a 1980 recording session of unreleased tunes and releasing it here. I sure wish Maids or Cracked Actor were sitting on unreleased albums, but I’ll take it from The Insults as well, whose material on this self-titled LP is certainly good enough to have warranted a proper 1980 release. Wonder what happened! Opener “I Hate…” blasts both teenagers and the band’s neighbors, a coulda-been punk anthem, and it’s not long until “Disco Bitch” goes into lyrical territory that, well, I think I’ll leave you to guess. “Trans Am” sounds like it should’ve been a Scientists a-side, whereas “Dummies On Parade” directly and successfully lifts the melody from “Holiday In The Sun” – it’s really quite remarkable how top-shelf these songs are. It’s a classic snot-nosed punk sound with a mix of energy and aloof nihilism that would’ve acclimated well to the burgeoning hardcore-punker scene. No liner notes to explain why this recording languished for forty years, but my imagination is filling in the gaps just fine – I’m picturing an infuriated Ron Rat (vocalist) throwing the tapes in the attic after a drunken Richard Sikk (guitarist) threw up on the pool table.

Itchy Self Here’s The Rub 12″ (Celluloid Lunch)
Toronto’s Protruders are responsible for some of my favorite lo-fi speed-punk of the past couple years, and guitarist Joe Chamandy has apparently left its ranks for Itchy Self, playing guitar and singing here. I suppose one can only maintain that sort of caffeinated buzz for so long, so Chamandy and company bring the pace down a bit with Itchy Self, all while still pledging clear allegiance to the slightly art-damaged first-wave punk they (and I) love dearly. I’m hearing the timeless moody rock moves of Alex Chilton and Roky Erickson channeled through the raw garage-punk fidelity of Thee Oh Sees and Sic Alps, Chamandy’s vocals sending the needle into the red with every winking snarl. “Reprobate” is where I might point you first, as its melodic progression feels like Richard Hell by-way-of The Replacements. It’s easy to find some sullen comfort in a tune like that, at least until the guitar solo reminiscent of Mark Morgan in Sightings drops in toward the end, a fiery cleansing of one’s ear cavities. Itchy Self then ends the EP on “Playin MTV”, which playfully replicates Television’s Velvet Underground obsession – probably my favorite tune here. If Protruders are done, I’ll miss ’em, but Itchy Self is easing my pain, more salve than rash.

Laksa Sen On One 12″ (Timedance)
Big buoyant energy from London’s Laksa on his second EP of the year. True to the spirit of Laksa’s productions, it seems like the Hessle Audio / Timedance realm is constantly shapeshifting and mutating, pulling in and spitting out every nook and cranny of the vast range of electronic dance music styles out there. Their constant push toward fresh new sonic combinations is admirable, and I find Laksa’s current strain of acid-infected alien dancehall to be quite enjoyable. These tracks rely on pumped-up dancehall riddims, but as for everything else, Laksa is untethered to convention. Additional percussive elements hop in and out, affected vocals volley back and forth, tweaked synths glide like escalators and slam like doors. I appreciate the breather provided by “Bane”, a riotous pressure-cooker where the beat never drops and a distorted vocal promises to be frank, recalling the bloodshot eyes of Actress circa Splazsh. In a year where social dancing abruptly ceased to exist worldwide, this is the dance-oriented post-dubstep cyborg music we needed.

LOG LOG ET3RNAL LP (Experiences Ltd.)
Can’t get enough of the enticingly-mysterious Ulla this year, from her killer solo debut to the bizarre grindcore twist of Virtualdemonlaxative to this new collaboration between herself and Sasha Zakharenko. Unlike Virtualdemonlaxative, this one is much closer to what I’d expect from the Experiences Ltd. camp: a high-quality selection of amorphous synthetic blips and turn-of-the-century IDM motifs delivered with a blurred ambient-dub sensibility. Across eleven fairly succinct tracks (at least by experimental dub-techno standards), LOG have located the midpoint between the temporal abstraction of Félicia Atkinson and the cyclical push and pull of Gas… a sweet spot indeed. LOG works this angle with great skill, infusing each track with a richness of tone, melody (when applicable) and an arm’s-length distance that keeps me from ever fully grasping what’s occurring. Much of LOG ET3RNAL has an aquatic feel, too: I’m picturing the lapping of a digital lake onto its shores, prismatic tide pools and the calm drift one inhabits while swimming below the crashing waves. I’m not swimming under crap these days, so this album has been a welcome fantasy to slip down into.

Morwan Zola-Zemlya 12″ (Feel It)
Noooo, Feel It! Don’t start getting enticed by spooky cold-wave goth stuff! You’re so good with modern hardcore-punk and old punk reissues, don’t enter that dark velvet doorway, alluring though it might be! To be fair, this Morwan record isn’t your run of the mill Drab Majesty clone, but it’s certainly not the fare upon which one would expect to see the Feel It label affixed. Morwan is a solo project by the Ukranian artist Alex Ashtaui, and under this moniker, he’s decided to render traditional Slavic and Arabic melodies in the visage of nocturnal post-punk. It’s a formula that repeats with little variation across these five tracks – the drums lay down a basic disco-punk beat, reverb-laden guitars run through Middle Eastern scales and Ashtaui sings through a hazy veil of reverb, usually matching the guitar melody note for note. As I type this, my description sounds kinda interesting, but as I am listening to Zola-Zemlya for at least the fifth time (in hopes it may eventually click), it continues to fall kinda flat. Maybe with a dirtier recording, or some sort of variation in songwriting, Morwan could impress? As it stands now though, with Molchat Doma occupying every Westerner’s “Eastern European cold-wave post-punk” slot this year, Morwan feels destined to be a runner-up at best. And thus, here’s the lesson to be learned: never try anything different, lest I admonish you!

Night Lunch Wall Of Love LP (Celluloid Lunch)
Not to be a know-it-all, but wouldn’t a “night lunch” be better known as… dinner? Maybe that’s an intentional gag? It’s but one of a few confusing aspects to this Montreal-based group, who seem to exist within the vague boundaries of the underground punk scene without playing actual punk themselves (which of course is perfectly fine). I’m fascinated by the younger generations’ interest in the traditionally-suckiest music of the ’80s and ’90s – it can often lead to dazzlingly substantial results, and as someone who believes that every era, niche and sub-genre of music holds the possibility for greatness, my ears are open. Of course, trying to emulate wimpy corporate new-wave is risky business, and Night Lunch’s efforts here turn me off pretty firmly. Their vibe pursues the outrageous schmaltz of Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti and Orville Peck alongside the wavey goth stylings of The Guests (with melancholy undertones befitting a Twin Peaks bar band), but they have neither the hooks nor the charisma to carry it through to the other side. These songs are notably sluggish, and not seductive or memorable enough to sustain such a notable lack of energy – please note that even Squeeze, Steely Dan and The Hooters knew how to get the blood pumping in their flimsy pop-rockers. I have no doubt that someone, somewhere, thinks this record is cool, but that someone surely ain’t me.

Max Nordile Building A Better Void LP (Gilgongo)
Max Nordile plays or has played in commendable Bay Area punk bands like Preening, Uzi Rash and probably my favorite, Violence Creeps, but sometimes you just have to go it alone, y’know? The idea of a “punk solo project” might conjure images of acoustic folk-punk troubadouring, but fear not: Building A Better Void is actually far worse than that! Nordile goes deep into the junk drawer for this one, a formless jumble of percussion, strings and squawks. I wanna somehow relate his work here to punk, to locate some far-from-center Subterranean group that could’ve presaged Nordile’s artistic intentions here, but it’s just not there: this is semi-acoustic homespun noise that would’ve fit right into the RRRecords’ catalog circa 1995, in-between F/i and Crank Sturgeon. Lengthy b-side cut “Diligent Pores” might be my favorite here, combining elastic scrapes with piano and crowd chatter, but nothing here is easy on the ears. Kinda want to ask Nordile’s various bandmates what they think about Building A Better Void, if simply to witness their various strategies in diplomatically changing the subject.

Optic Sink Optic Sink LP (Goner)
Calling all technoid robo-punks, Natalie Hoffmann (from Nots) has a new synth-punk project called Optic Sink! It opens with a track simply titled “Drone”, which lives up to its name. Gotta be honest, drifting industrial drone isn’t what I’m hoping to hear from Hoffmann, whose deliriously twitchy garage-punk made Nots one of the genre’s standouts of the last decade. Thankfully the rest of the record is exactly as I hoped – crisp and squiggly synths and rickety drum machines set on the fastest possible BPM with Hoffmann’s disembodied voice leading the way. It’s very true to the style, directly recalling Screamers, Nervous Gender and Crash Course In Science, but done in such a flawless and speedy manner that I’m too energized and entertained to cast any accusations of genre-proceduralism. Throw on “Soft Quiet Life” for example and you’ll hear what I mean: the rhythms and 8-bit arpeggios are sped-up to unnatural levels, like a Kitchen & The Plastic Spoons 33 played on 45, and it reminds me why I fell in love with this synthetic punk sound in the first place. Not trying to say that Optic Sink is even better than the last couple Nots records, but I suppose I’m not not trying to say that, either!

O$VMV$M Phase 4 / Witch Linen 10″ (Idle Hands)
I’m not claiming that O​$​VMV​$​M started it, but they certainly were out there making albums of inscrutable ambient-dub vignettes filled with dusty loops and field-recordings before everyone else caught on. I’d be happy if they kept doing that for the rest of my life – this Bristol duo’s music is really that fantastic – but they’re moving deeper into basement dub electronics on this new 10″ EP. What’s a better way to fill a 10″ than with some brooding dub behavior from the dark side of the moon? “Phase 4” slinks through the underworld on a bed of downtuned bass, shimmering maracas and occasional laser rocket deployment. Reminds me of Gorgon Sound’s final transmission on a failed shuttle to Mars, or if someone from the Jahtari crowd tried to impersonate Coil. “Witch Linen” (great title) is even better, starting off on the couch watching TV in 1985, only to be transported to a nostalgic alternate-reality wherein James Ferraro meets The Scientist in an abandoned cornfield inhabited by wicked laughing crows (that’s not a completely fantastical analogy – the sound of cackling birds is expertly dropped here). If you buy multiple 10″ records this year, I tip my hat to you, but if you’re in the market for only one…

Patois Counselors The Optimal Seat LP (Ever/Never)
Patois Counselors’ full-length debut was favorite album of 2018, so when this follow-up dropped in my lap with no forewarning, I nearly choked on my kombucha! This band is truly weird: they’ve got like eight members but sound like a band with four members, they’re from North Carolina for chrissakes, and they offer a direct and biting commentary on our present bewildering hellscape existence in a way that feels oddly nice, delivered via funky and catchy post-punk music. They somehow also sound cordial the whole time, as if they are fully acknowledging our pitiful state of affairs but carry no rage or animosity towards it… they paint a picture with vivid details and leave it up to us to evaluate. “Struck dumb by real life, so we submit to reality shows” is a lyric that has stuck with me, not only because it’s deployed as a catchy hook here but because it would also probably work well in the hands of Lebenden Toten – versatile lyrical genius. To be frank, I didn’t expect the ‘Counselors to top their debut album, and I don’t think they did, but that doesn’t mean The Optimal Seat has spent much time off my turntable since it first arrived. Their sonic formula ultimately remains the same, if perhaps a little more traditional in an “indie post-punk” sorta way this time around – drums and bass dig into danceable-yet-oblique patterns, vocalist and bandleader Bo White sings/raps/speaks his words, and the guitars/keys/bleeps/bloops generally defer to everything else, providing these songs with room to groove. White’s voice still rings with an enunciation undeniably similar to Parquet Courts’s Andrew Savage, and the music (warm-welcoming funky post-punk) shares similar strands of sonic DNA, but I don’t smell the slightest hint of biting at play here; it seems more like two thoughtful and art-minded musicians who reached similar conclusions with similar throats, independent of each other. Call me decadent, but I’m going to continue enjoying the hell out of both!

Rocky & The Sweden City Baby Attacked By Buds LP (Bitter Lake Recordings)
When you’re a decades-long Japanese hardcore band featuring at least one member of Bastard, bad weed puns suddenly become an acceptable aesthetic device. This might explain why Rocky & The Sweden’s anticipated third album in over twenty years sold out within minutes, yet you can still pick up any Cannabis Corpse album on the cheap. Of course, if they somehow sucked, that might change things, but Rocky & The Sweden clearly worked and re-worked these blazing hardcore songs in the deeply-respected Japanese tradition, delivering the album only when it was fully prepared – a “quality over quantity” ethos that I truly hope more American punks can take to heart. The music has plenty of that fast-and-uplifting Burning Spirits-style momentum, with a slight metallic bite and plenty of spiky pogo power. They even throw in an Iron Maiden-esque solo or two, to ensure that every punk in the room is engaged, and somehow turn a fragment of the “Hot For Teacher” riff into one of the most manic and crushing hardcore songs I’ve heard this year, bolstered by the magnificent drum style of Masaaki “Koba” Kobayashi. Just like the marijuana wordplay, there are a number of things Rocky & The Sweden can succeed at that you and I cannot.

Sissy Spacek & Smegma Ballast LP (Gilgongo)
How many hours of noise do you think John Wiese has listened to in his life? Maybe it’d be easier to measure by days, or weeks? With over twenty years of recorded noise-based activity under his belt (and still as prolific as ever), it’s incredible to think of the sheer volume of noise (by both measurements) he’s consumed as well as created. It’s news to me that he is also an occasional member of America’s longest-running noise unit, Smegma, and this new album features two lengthy Sissy Spacek reworks of an original Smegma live radio performance. Wiese’s Sissy Spacek style is to generally splice and cut sound at a speed beyond the human brain’s capacity to follow – it’s like trying to count raindrops in a storm – and while there’s plenty of that here, Wiese also lets certain segments linger or overlap in unusual ways. It might only mean that the average length of a sound goes from the usual Sissy Spacek average of around one second up to three seconds, but that makes a difference, particularly with the live drums, which maintain a constant-if-unpredictable presence. Smegma surely provided ample material to work with, their trademark kitchen-sink improvisation a bounty for adventurous ears, and Wiese leaves no stone unturned in these two lengthy pieces. More environmentally-friendly than using a Q-tip for one’s ear-cleaning regimen!

Smarts Who Needs Smarts Anyway? LP (Feel It / Anti Fade)
Big ups to Feel It, big ups to Anti Fade, but I think this Smarts album is where I find myself officially weary of the current cubicle-punk trend. Smarts are a relatively new group featuring a couple of Ausmuteants and one member of Parsnip (on the saxophone), and they seem to be one of the ever-growing number of punk bands who take strong aesthetic influence from Uranium Club. It’s just getting a little tiresome at this point, all the wacky office-drone punk that revels in its own straight-faced nerditude, and Smarts really push it to its natural limits with circus-y riffs, silly singing and, that’s right, buttoned-up tucked-in dress shirts. Maybe if they were the first to do it, I’d be intrigued and entertained by their jittery post-punk songs and horn-laden melodies (which only provide the essence, rather than the substance, of ska-punk), but I can’t shake the thought that they heard Uranium Club and Parquet Courts and Vintage Crop and Toyota and Coneheads and thought “we should do something like that too”. I’m sure it’s a hoot live, as these songs gesticulate wildly with a fun level of energy to boot, and I’m certain Smarts consists of nice punk rockers (whose members’ other bands I sincerely enjoy) – it’s that Who Needs Smarts Anyway? has a very specific and contemporaneously-derivative sound that’s difficult to ignore. I don’t want to start hating the records in this style that I already enjoy, so for my sake and theirs, I’m gonna pass on spinning this one again anytime soon.

Strangelight Adult Themes LP (no label)
Is it unusual that nowadays, underground rock bands are pressing their own records but hiring publicists? I guess it’s probably a smart move at this point, where pressing costs are low but actually engaging with prospective fans is exceedingly difficult? That’s what Oakland’s Strangelight are doing at least, who’ve offered up this well-put-together debut. Don’t let “self-released” fool you, either – they didn’t simply glue a piece of printer paper to a DJ sleeve, this LP comes with a big thick booklet of art and (minimal) text, and they should be proud of it. As for the songs of Adult Themes, they provide a solid sound without much in the way of catchy substance. It’s tough to cut through as a new band that’s doing a post-hardcore sound within the Hot Snakes / Wipers / Metz continuum, and although Strangelight (are they named after the Fugazi song?) are proficient in their duties, nothing here is really sticking for me. “Digressions From Sierra Leone” seems to borrow liberally from Hot Snakes, but it just kinda blends into the scenery rather than popping out or exploding into something entirely its own. The more I read about those top-secret Spotify algorithms that boost the songs that sound the most like a large number of other songs, though, maybe this is simply another strategy at getting their music out there? Adult Themes certainly won’t scare anyone out of the room, but I kinda wish Strangelight found it in their hearts to try.

Straw Man Army Age Of Exile LP (D4MT Labs Inc.)
Fantastic debut here from NY’s Straw Man Army. They’re a duo, featuring one guy from Kaleidoscope (and Kaleidoscope’s leader Shiva Addanki plays drums on a couple of tracks here), and while I could never really connect with Kaleidoscope’s music, no matter how much people I know raved about them, Straw Man Army connected immediately. Like most great modern punk, they manage to trace connections between unlikely sources, grafting together something new and exciting. By my estimation, Straw Man Army’s formula comes from early ’80s political post-punk, ’90s Ebullition-style emo-core (think Moss Icon’s fast songs), and a touch of the manic, post-ironic punk of the Lumpy Records scene. A moody riff will recall the dark-skies punk of Shattered Faith, a random instrumental guitar interlude will have me thinking “didn’t Still Life do this once?”, and the opening psychotic caterwauling reminds me of Mystic Inane’s unregulated existence. Cool combo, right? I suppose even a mediocre band could perk me up by trying to do something with these influences, but Straw Man Army are a superior outfit, coming up with interesting songs that are as catchy and weird as one could hope. The dual-layered vocals add a nice dimension (strangely calling to mind Propagandhi’s vocals at times!), the drumming is innovative and fresh (some dazzling rolls throughout)… these are songs I want to keep listening to, with a sound that’s both contemporary and fresh. Recommended!

Troth Flaws In The Glass LP (Altered States Tapes)
Flaws In The Glass is Troth’s third Altered States release this year, but it’s the largest edition, and pressed to attractive 12″ vinyl, so if you were considering peeping this understated Aussie duo’s recordings, this is probably where you’d wanna go. It’s a nice collection, with various electronic and acoustic instrumentation that take different paths to locate the same general sensations: tranquil isolation, elusive beauty, relaxed restlessness. These tracks remind me of the hot-person-ambient I associate with the current Posh Isolation roster, as well as Civilistjävel! and the formless-drone / experimental sections of the respective discographies of Blackest Ever Black and Not Not Fun. Troth’s main distinction I’m noticing is that many current artists who pursue a similar aesthetic favor post-production processing and sound collaging, whereas Troth seem to have created their songs live, or at least with minimal overdubbing, the sort of music that can be conjured from a folding table of electronics and synths in front of a small but attentive audience. Not all abstract new-age ambient comes from the heart, but Troth’s is warm and beating.

Tsap Flickering Lyghte In Campsite LP (Altered States Tapes)
Sorry to disappoint, acid-folksters, but the album title is a little misleading. This Australian duo is comprised of Chris Nailer (of Low Life) and Cooper Bowman (of quite a number of Altered States-related projects), and they set up shop in the mustiest corner of their basement for some groggy post-industrial electronics. While utilizing synths and rhythms, these tracks veer pretty far from any sort of organized techno music, mostly finding themselves in murkier territory that’s more about conjuring a mood than moving one’s feet. I’m reminded of recent-ish solo efforts by both Ron Morelli and Richard H. Kirk in the way that electronic pulses and lo-fi noise combine to provide the nocturnal outline of an unkempt metropolitan zone. There’s something about the way these sounds are delivered (with cavernous reverb and seemingly on-the-fly) that feels looser and more exploratory than others pursuing post-techno dread, somewhere between noisy industrial and industrial-techno (never has there been a thinner line). “Faith In Stone” might be my favorite cut of the bunch, strongly reminiscent of Morphosis, whose space-station beats and fractured synths always leave me satisfied. And yes, that’s original Nick Blinko art on the cover, sure to trick at least one stubborn punk into accidentally listening to electronic music for the first time.

Twinkle³ Minor Planets LP (Marionette)
My kinda music right here! This British trio look like three medieval history professors collectively trying to summon Sun Ra’s spacecraft, and the music of Minor Planets supports that idea pretty consistently. It’s a great album, apparently the last of an intended trilogy (the first in 2009, followed by the second in 2015) and I’m going to need to go back and check out those first two once I give this one a break. Their sound is more or less an early ’00s sort of electronica (think Oval, Mouse On Mars and Kid606) given a thorough dub rinsing, and fortified with an arrangement of live instruments with dazzling names like “pi saw”, “cosmic bow” and “shakuhachi”. This allows a track like “Bodea 998” to alternate from a syrupy dub-techno shuffle to what sounds like a free-improv meeting of banjo and oboe (although of course neither of those pedestrian instruments are credited). It’s immerse and proudly weird music, sounds whose shapes I can conjure in my mind’s eye: the circular pudgy globs of synths; the bristly strings as coarse as the hair on a pig’s back; gas-filled lava bubbles. Very much in line with today’s popular “Fourth World” sound environs, but way more fun and inquisitive than much of the genre’s contemporary creators. One thing remains true: space is the place, was the place, and always will be the place.

The Zoltars Mystery Kids LP (Rock Tumbler)
Reliable Austin indie-rockers The Zoltars follow last year’s album with Mystery Kids, almost exactly a year since Telling Stories was released. I like this band, but at five albums or so, I feel like I’m running out of things to say, as they don’t particularly progress in any direction, for better or (thankfully not) worse. Their songs are soft and dusky, some sort of amalgam of slow-core aesthetics (The American Analog Set bear distinct similarities), emo’s first entirely-separate-from-hardcore wave (ala Braid or The Promise Ring) and REM. Guitars twinkle like the lights that top electrical towers, the songs are soft as fleece even at their most up-tempo, and the vocals of Jared Leibowich remain the distinct focal point, a sweet nasal hue that makes Rivers Cuomo sound like Phil Anselmo by comparison. Every time I put on one of these Zoltars records, I’m entertained and satisfied, but there’s something so slight about their presence that causes the group to fade from my memory shortly after shifting their records out of my line of sight. Maybe it’s the kind of uninspired design of their artwork (their font choices consistently appear to be Microsoft Word defaults), and the awkward fit of their name, that has kept me from truly pledging my allegiance? They’re hairs that I’m splitting, but if there’s one thing my daily listening regimen isn’t suffering from, it’s lack of choice. If I want to be wowed by musical extroverts, I’ll probably pass on The Zoltars, but if I want to sit calmly through some tender and well-crafted indie lullabies while I sip herbal tea and gaze out a rain-soaked window, there’s hardly a better-suited group.