Reviews – May 2017

Acrylics Despair / Reassurance 7″ (Iron Lung)
Acrylics’ debut tape-turned-12″ came through here not too long ago and I thought it was good-not-great hardcore-leaning noise-rock, so I was pleased to see the Southern Californian group make the jump into Iron Lung’s domain, a label I greatly appreciate and respect. Two songs here, in and out quicker than your microwavable burrito, and I can see why Iron Lung took a shine to these young men, as the songs they’re offering fit right in: spastic, tough and a little weird. “Despair” sounds like a mosh breakdown Septic Death would’ve considered before it flips into double-time hardcore action. “Reassurance”, on the other hand, is pure speed, fitting snugly next to NASA Space Universe and Double Negative in the way that it has the base-level feel of Die Kreuzen but the guitars insist on flailing in all directions at once, with unexpected tone (it’s not just buzz-saw distortion) and the song’s structure jumping all over the place, ending with another sideways mosh pattern. Rumor has it that Acrylics are dreadfully loud live, and if they’re playing songs like this, it’s a winning combination to be sure.

Angry Skeletons Angry Skeletons 7″ (no label)
I’m quick to bemoan the many ways in which punk and hardcore bands are formulaic or generic, but I don’t want to give off the impression that it’s invariably a negative trait. Look at Copenhagen’s Angry Skeletons, for instance: their band name has me wondering how it wasn’t already taken a dozen times over, but it’s almost so overly generic as to be skipped over, a sort of generic sweet-spot. Musically, while the rest of the Copenhagen underground is trading in their black-metal post-punk tapes for experimental techno 12″s, Angry Skeletons sound like a mix of The Sex Pistols and The Vines, with pleasingly basic Chuck Berry riffs and the whiny sneer to match. Angry Skeletons are so perfectly out of step with the current punk trends that their lack of distinctiveness is what ends up making them so distinctive, brandishing their proudly-rote garage-punk without a care in the world. I’m not sure I’ll end up listening to this self-released 7″ all that much (although it’s an enjoyable spin when I do), but I’m glad to see three young punk dudes acting on their own behalf without concern for underground trends, follows or likes.

David Arvedon & The Psychopaths The White Album 2xLP (Mighty Mouth)
Do you like chocolate chip cookies? Here, eat 70 of them. I feel like that’s the MO of the Mighty Mouth / Last Laugh / Almost Ready label empire: not just digging up a moderate selection of cool garage, punk or associated obscurities (both old and new), but making sure every last inch of material is fully excavated and pressed to vinyl. Take the not-quite-a-household-name of David Arvedon, for example: The White Album follows three LP-sized volumes of material recently issued by Mighty Mouth. That’s five LPs total – I don’t even need to own five Black Sabbath albums, let’s be real! Perhaps pressing records can be just as severe an addiction as collecting them. I get the impression this double album is recently recorded and not an unearthed artifact from decades prior, and it’s right on par with those other albums, measurable time be damned. Arvedon is a quirky, kooky singer-songwriter who clearly savors bubblegum pop, acid-fried garage and proto-punk grooves, giving it all a Zappa-esque nose tweak and using phrases like “that would be peachy fine” in a song about getting turned down for a date. It’s pretty entertaining for the most part, so long as you’re not too uptight about corny goofball rock – I can’t help but picture the Muppet band playing these songs. I just wanna meet the freaks who need five LPs of this stuff!

Batu Murmur EP 12″ (Timedance)
Timedance is a quality spot for modern British techno practice, a space for dudes like Lurka (and personal favorite Bruce) to drop all sorts of forward-thinking club music engineered for professional system playback. Batu has been kicking around a bit, so I figured Murmur would be a nice way to check in on both camps. The title track holds down the a-side with a glorious set of thumps: morse code is transformed into dance-floor artillery here, a nervous and skittery track with a great set of alien drums adding a melodic element to the workout. “Groundwork” opens the flip, violently wobbling as the bass kick leaves a sinkhole deep enough to claim a Honda Civic, while “Whisper”, the longest cut here, slowly teases the beat with a mighty donk as hats and synths chop above like a helicopter awaiting lift off. Batu really has the knack for crafting music that feels paradoxically dense and light, in motion and paused in stasis… it’s a strange and sublime sensation. If I had the slightest clue how to make my own music like this, I’d be doing it round the clock, I swear to you.

Stefan Christensen Open Day 7″ (I Dischi Del Barone)
Guitar-slinger Stefan Christensen returns after his Ever/Never 12″ EP with a single on the always intriguing I Dischi Del Barone label, a label for which I would’ve expected Christensen’s inherent tunefulness to immediately disqualify his participation. Shows what I know! Much like his recent 12″, Christensen fills this 7″ with five tracks of introspective guitar work; songs that sound like they’re yearning for a real band to find them, and instrumental passages that linger on the most basic appealing aspects of amplified, distorted guitar. I’m reminded of The Dead C at times, in the way that Christensen consistently approaches his guitar as if no one else is watching – I can’t help but feel like a voyeur to whatever his little recording setup is (it has to be little), bearing witness as he locks himself in a moody pattern of chords or flickers some magnetic tape over top. An easy-listening EP for individuals who favor difficult listening, to be sure.

Cube My Cube LP (Left Hand Path)
Cube’s debut album has been out for a few months now, and I’m kicking myself for not finding out about it sooner – or rather, I should be kicking anyone who was already jamming it and neglecting to tell me (I know you’re out there). It’s the solo project of Adam Keith, he also of the great San Francisco neo-no-wave unit Mansion, and Cube is even more to my liking: demented basement electronics that fuse the worlds of techno, noise, synth-punk and any suitable repulsive nonsense. Imagine if Beau Wanzer, Siobhan and other noisy American techno artists approached their beats from a distinctly punk point of view, or if the antagonistic synth experiments of early Severed Heads and Scattered Order gave subtle acknowledgement to the dynamics of a club, and you’re close to what My Cube is all about. It opens with a Harry Pussy-esque squall of distortion but doesn’t stay there too long, as there are thirteen tracks here and Cube never lets an idea linger too long. Cube’s music isn’t geared for locking into an extended, gritty groove anyway – his music feels more like “songs” than “tracks”, often replete with vocals, and are more befitting a Subterranean Records compilation circa 1983 than a L.I.E.S. 12″ (although my mind wouldn’t be blown if that were to happen in the future). I’m really quite amazed at the varied successes of My Cube, with nary a misstep or wasted moment, just a bunch of corrosive electro-punk noise that I’m so glad I’ve heard and get to share with you.

Dark Blue Start Of The World LP (12XU)
To a certain quantity of punks, John Sharkey (the third) will forever be defined as the destructive, improprietous leader of ’00s noise-rockers Clockcleaner, but his post-‘Cleaner projects Puerto Rico Flowers and Dark Blue have gone on for just as long, if not longer, than the entirety of Clockcleaner’s existence. He’s been steadily cleaning up his act ever since, or at least sharpening goofy insults and violence into cunning wit and cynical observation, and Dark Blue’s second album, Start Of The World, is his most tuneful offering yet. Dark Blue seemed to start as a rough concept, an attempt to answer the question “what would sad skinheads listen to on Valentine’s Day?”, and that basic template is richly developed here, easily the group’s most dynamic offering. Sure, the tempos are still slower than you’d expect anyone associated with punk to choose, and Sharkey continues to intone bitterness and disgust in his expressive baritone, but Start Of The World is full of a confidence and swagger that I haven’t heard from him since Clockcleaner wrote “Vomiting Mirrors”. Not only do Dark Blue get away with a piano ballad and a song that opts out of guitar entirely, they’re two of the hottest cuts on the record, tackling political misery-fatigue and human suffering with a nuance I didn’t know was possible, let alone from these seppos. And I swear, opener “Union Of Buffoons” is rich with the feel of Oasis, not just in guitar tone and vocal delivery but in its sense of conviction and unassailable pride. Fred Perry would be wise to start sending Dark Blue promotional garments while they still can.

Da-Sein Death Is The Most Certain Possibility LP (Galakthorrö)
Fresh for Spring, a new Galakthorrö batch! It’s irresistible as always, even if nothing new from Haus Arafna and November Növelet this time around, the bread and butter (or steak and red wine) of the label. I’ve been a fan of the label for a number of years now, probably reviewing everything they’ve released since, I don’t know, 2010, and yet if you were to play me Death Is The Most Certain Possibility sight unseen and tell me it’s actually a new album by November Növelet, I wouldn’t bat a shadowed eye. Go figure: when a hardcore label is run by a band and only puts out other bands that sounds like the label’s founding artist, it’s maddening, but I find Galakthorrö’s striking lack of sonic diversity to be something closer to aesthetic pureness, a trait to be praised. It doesn’t hurt that this Da-Sein album, judged alone, sounds great: the bookish, passive synths and pitter-patter drum programming of Fernando O. Paino lead the way for the morbid, near-catatonic vocals of Kas Visions (and just like November Növelet, Da-Sein is a tragically beautiful male / female duo). The music is soothing and alluring in its subtlety, each song operating with little more than a basic skeleton and the vital organs necessary to sustain a pulse, and they’re armed with a pile of romantic and morbid lyrics (a quick sample: “We are entering the ghost town / Only one step from the joy / And It’s staring at our souls / All the shadows of the past”). I’d say “buy or die!”, but there’s probably a good portion of Galakthorrö’s audience that are already dead, so I don’t want to discriminate.

Feral Ohms Feral Ohms LP (Silver Current)
Those still mourning the loss of Comets On Fire, I bring you hope: Ethan Miller’s Feral Ohms. Sure, Heron Oblivion are way cool, but they’re a far cry from the amphetamine-fueled guitar-rock explosion of Comets On Fire’s first couple albums, of which Miller, founding member of Comets (and also Heron Oblivion), brings us here. Feral Ohms’ self-titled debut album (not counting last year’s live record) is a callback to the earliest Comets On Fire days, where ZZ Top riffs were pushed to a High Rise state of mind, resulting in a raucous garage-rock sound (and burning wire smell). Feral Ohms are pure id, with every song boasting frantic guitar solos, kinetic drumming and Miller’s familiar yowl, somehow still in top form. The crusty haze (and live echo effects) of Comets On Fire has been scraped off, resulting in a leaner, more discernible recording, probably even more energetic and certainly tighter. “Teenage God Born To Die” is my personal favorite: a guitar typhoon, wild drum fills and a central riff that recalls The MC5 at their most incendiary combine forces with one of the coolest song titles I’ve heard in a while for an immediate rock gem. I think they’re gigging over on the East Coast this summer, I’ll see you there!

Gary Wrong Group Gary Wrong Group 2xLP (12XU)
I know that 12XU “gets it”, but this double-LP singles/EPs compilation of Gary Wrong Group proves that they really get it. I’ve been extolling the virtues of Gary Wrong Group on here for a while now (even did an interview a couple years back, check the links!), but his audience certainly seemed limited to basement-dwelling punk mutants, even though his music deserves the legitimacy that a label like 12XU inherently brings. Although I’m already familiar with the majority of the tracks here, listening to two LPs’ worth of Gary Wrong Group reveals a depth to their work that I didn’t realize was there, at least consciously – Gary Wrong Group travel from Hawkwind- and Chrome-based space exploration to the filthy carpeted basements of the Total Punk label and the synth-y grease of Quintron (which makes sense as Quintron is a frequent if not permanent member of the ‘Group). It all fits within the cult-y horror aesthetic of Gary Wrong Group, so that the eerie jangle of “Dream Smasher” and the inebriated shuffle of “Knights Of Misery” flow seamlessly into the Stick Men With Ray Guns-styled “Setting Fire To Your Loft”. I’ll pretend to understand what it’s like to not already have snatched up all the various Gary Wrong Group records and assume you’ll check this package out, lest I start admonishing at will.

Hawks No Cash Value LP (Rejuvenation / Learning Curve)
No Cash Value is the fifth and final album from Atlanta’s Hawks (heh, I didn’t make the basketball connection until typing it out now), and I can’t blame a group for calling it quits after five albums – how much tense n’ groovy post-hardcore noise-rock can any group of four men be expected to produce? Can’t say I’m overly familiar with their prior output, but I’ll assume they’re going out on top as this is a fine album (or if it’s actually their worst record, I need to check out the rest ASAP). Ten tracks here (including three short noise-based instrumentals) and they offer a proud display of all the noise-rock emotions: disgust, inebriation, cruelty, obsession and anger. So many groups of Hawks’ ilk get stuck in a tempo or song structure, but Hawks do a fine job of keeping things lively without any sense of forced eclecticism. I’m picking up plenty of Jesus Lizard and Cherubs (particularly a link to that nice and unexpected recent Cherubs record), but also the stoner-sludge of the Man’s Ruin label and maybe even just a touch of tasteful nu-metal (if such a thing exists). Vocalist Michael Keenan has a great throat for the job, simultaneously shredded but intelligible, calling to mind Iron Monkey’s Johnny Morrow (RIP) and Bloodyminded’s Mark Solotroff (may he live forever). Sad I never got to see Hawks, but I get the feeling guys like them can’t stay away from beer-stained stages and loud amps for too long, one way or another.

James Arthur’s Manhunt Staring At The Sun / Cherry Red 7″ (Spacecase)
This ain’t your mama’s manhunt! Nope, it belongs to James Arthur, and he’s following last year’s 12XU album with a fine two-song single, more agitated hard rock with nods to both punk and psych. “Staring At The Sun” repeats a three-note progression through passages of tense quiet and raging energy, the tried-and-true “soft/loud, soft/loud” template that remains irresistible. I like what the Manhunt do with it here! “Cherry Red” is a Groundhogs cover, and while I’m not overly familiar with the original, they certainly make it sound like a James Arthur’s Manhunt song, in the way that a steadfast rock pulse underpins various explosions of guitar-based joy, thanks in no small part to the frantic and tight drumming of Mr. Orville Bateman Neeley. The riff is righteously simple, but when you’ve got a drummer losing his mind over it, a tasteful amount of Wah pedal and Arthur’s cool-but-wild vocals, it’s an easy bet. They play this sort of stuff over the intercom when your plane lands in Austin, don’t they?

Jepeto Solutions Jepeto Solutions 7″ (Nicey)
Jepeto Solutions seems to be the newest version of CE Schneider Topical, which was also closely related to Blanche Blanche Blanche, and by default, half of the OSR Tapes scene. I like the name, as if Pinocchio’s master opened a corporate call center or something, and as is the usual case with CE Schneider and her crew, there’s no less than six members credited to this 7″, all with varying contributions meticulously spelled out on the back cover (God forbid that Derek Baron not receive proper percussive credit on track three). Musically, Jepeto Solutions is a logical continuation of the CE Schneider Topical model, although it remains so distinct and idiosyncratic – I don’t know of anyone else making music as oddly tuneful and scatterbrained. It seems like each band member is playing a separate song half the time, but they all interlock perfectly… it’s like they discovered the melodic link between an early Apples In Stereo seven-inch and the Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood theme, so they drank a bunch of coffee and laid their discoveries to tape. Even the errant electric-guitar solo on “Little Women” feels perfectly appropriate, like a living room filled with thrift store junk that still maintains excellent feng shui. I have a feeling this isn’t the last we’ll hear from Jepeto Solutions, which is probably why I’ve been sleeping so well at night.

Alek Lee Sfartot 12″ (Antinote)
Wow, I’ve had “Sfartot” on repeat since I first heard it, and not just because of the subliminal fart reference – this will be one of my favorite tracks of the year, no doubt! Alek Lee is new to me (and as it’s apparently his first vinyl release, probably you too), but it is a stone-cold, bad-news Balearic rocker, thick with a wild hook, bongos and a rude ‘tude. Lee plays nearly all the instruments here (with a little help on the bass, electric sitar and clarinet from some friends), and while this is pristine and exacting dance music, it also feels like it could be performed by the world’s coolest band. “Sfartot” has a slow roll, coasting in manual over a mean melody, but it’s all over when Lee drops in some children chanting – I’m reminded of Ricardo Villalobos’ “Enfants (Chants)” in the best of ways, like this crew of undead children are slowly coming to smoke you out. I don’t want the groove to end, but thankfully the b-side opens with “Sfarot Dub”, which extends the groove sans children for many more blissful minutes. (It’s also not a typo when I say “Sfarot Dub” – wonder why it’s not “Sfartot Dub”? This is a mere glimpse into my level of obsession with this record.) The EP wraps with “Harabait”, which makes the finest work of a finger sliding across a bass’s fretboard I’ve ever heard and continues to probe the moodiest, slowest form of dance music to which Tel Aviv (the home of Alek Lee) or any other populated city could rightfully claim responsibility. Truly fantastic and unique music that I can’t recommend strongly enough!

Life Stinks Hanging From The Ceiling 7″ (Total Punk)
What better than a new Life Stinks single, and who better to deliver it than Total Punk! The band ups the ante on Total Punk cover art here, brandishing a few chain links hastily photocopied and nothing more. Musically, they continue their distinctive approach to classically-styled unfriendly punk on these two tidy tracks. “Hanging From The Ceiling” starts with a nice percussive blast before settling into a pretty standard mid-tempo tune, to be filed next to The Dogs (think “Teen Slime”) and The Eat (think “Communist Radio”). “Shadow Chilling On The Sidewalk” kicks up a bit more dirt, sounding far more like early Hank-era Black Flag than I ever thought Life Stinks to be capable, although the group never pushes things outside their comfort zone – don’t even think about requesting a Ginn-styled solo, Life Stinks don’t play those games. I’ve come to expect smart-stupid hooks out of Life Stinks, who have written some great ones in their day, but these two tracks restrain the pop memorability in pursuit of punk purity, and I know better than to tell Life Stinks and Total Punk how to do their jobs.

Los Tres Pericos Los Tres Pericos LP (no label)
Here’s a fun obscurity coming from a different angle than most fun obscurities that pass through Yellow Green Red, the debut LP by Los Tres Pericos. They appear to be a loose collective of Los Angeles-based artists / musicians / non-musicians, at least one of whom is involved in the capital-A art world (a quick Google search reveals more art galleries selling Los Tres Pericos than record shops / distros). I’m not sure which one of these folks is the artiste, but it doesn’t make much of a difference to me what these people are doing outside of the band as it’s a glorious jumble of DIY rock, mutant R&B, screwball basement experiments and druggy grooves. I’m hearing the cut-up, experimental nature and jagged wit of artists like John Watermann and The Family Fodder alongside the early days of Not Not Fun’s gleeful amateurism and, maybe it’s just the inherent nature of Southern California synth music, the sense that this could just as easily all be a giant in-joke from Peanut Butter Wolf and Madlib (although I assure you it’s not). Think Dam Funk entering (and quickly leaving) a closet-sized studio where Angus Andrew was taping some Liars demos circa 2004, all broken down into bite-size tracks (there are eighteen here). And it’s not even on Discogs! Adventurous seekers of the strange will leave satisfied, it’s my promise to you.

Milk Music Mystic 100’s LP (Dom America)
Part of the fun of Milk Music is comparing your take on their particular brand of rock music with your friends’ – they manage to do one of the most difficult things a rock band full of stoner-y dudes can accomplish in 2017, which is provoke strong opinions from listeners, both adoring and scorning. To update you on mine, I found Beyond Living to be an enjoyable quick-fix of indie-grunge, and thought Cruise Your Illusion was a bloated example of uncompelling rock excess (although the endless and poorly-scripted guitar solos were great fun to torture my talented-guitarist friends with, in the similar way that it was great to bring those friends to go see Iceage for their disgusted reactions). I was anxious and skeptical to hear Mystic 100’s, and I’m not entirely confident that it was Milk Music who changed rather than myself, but I love it! Maybe it was the extended time between releases, their various life changes, etc., but they put together an LP that is far more relaxed, colorful and charismatic than anything they’d done before. I mean, within the first two minutes, there’s a sample of canned applause and a drum machine – this is a record that was meant to amuse and entertain themselves first and foremost, rather than fill a role as today’s scruffy Neil Young-but-punk desert acolytes. They’ve got long ones, slow ones, chill meandering, Mountain Cult-esque buffoonery, a krautrock pulse brimming through much of it (which works quite well) and lyrics that are occasionally actually quite resonant. You probably already bought one, hoping to join the conversation yourself – no matter what side of the fence you’re on, Milk Music made it a fun one to have.

Natural Causes Deirdre / Fashion Device 7″ (Acid Etch Recordings)
Got this one in the mail and upon first glance I was thinking “techno”, maybe from the lack of picture sleeve and label name (it has me thinking of Tin Man and his Acid Test series). I guess I was half right, as Natural Causes are a synthy punk band by nature who also aren’t afraid to engage in dance remixes. “Deirdre” is their tune entirely, with plenty of rolling toms, alien-abduction synths, lobotomized geek vocals and a sprinkling of additional percussion to really get the pit moving in some sort of oval shape. Cool tune, reminds me of Pop. 1280 if they fetishized Devo instead of Marilyn Manson, or perhaps some sort of ex-screamo synth-wave that got caught up in a Birthday Party fascination (in a good way). The flip is credited to Natural Causes but noted as a “Sponge Bath version”, which I take not as the style in which the tune was remixed but the artist responsible (someone calling themselves Sponge Bath). It reminds me of when GSL and Three.One.G got into remixes, in the way that the song isn’t much more than a fairly basic acid-house beat and an echoed snippet of the vocal hook – I swear I have some I Am Spoonbender, Black Cat #13 and Sunshine 12″s deep within my record vault that have tracks that sound like this. I won’t be leading off my NTS radio mix with it, but if this is how Natural Causes and crew like to party, more power to ’em.

Nearly Dead Weathered Meat LP (Geriatric)
Nearly Dead’s self-titled debut LP came through here in 2014, and I gave it a big thumb’s down back then, writing it off as pointless and uninspired Brainbombs worship. They released a follow-up in 2016, whose song titles lead me to believe a similar aesthetic was pursued, and they continue down this unlikely path on Weathered Meat. I really don’t want to hate it, particularly as they were kind enough to send an email inquiry about sending this one in (I said sure, send it in for a review), and Canadian postage for an LP isn’t cheap, but man… it’s more of the same, and I cannot abide. Weathered Meat continues the theme of elderly-based diagnoses as modern horror (incontinence, Alzheimer’s, reliance on medications, etc.) with the exact musical MO of Brainbombs: one heavy Stooges-esque riff per song, thick guitars, vocals that read a script rather than follow any sort of structured cadence, and a trumpet pronouncing a couple of sustained notes throughout. I’m trying to imagine the willingness of any small group of individuals to pursue this specific and scatological aesthetic for one full album, let alone three (and in such a humorless fashion, wherein the narrator is a disgusting elderly creep with ill intentions), but Nearly Dead remain committed to what seems to be a mean-spirited mockery / ironic celebration of old people who pee themselves via monotonous noise-punk. I sincerely enjoy a lot of stupid crap, no doubt, but I’ll be forever scratching my noggin over Nearly Dead.

Nurse Nurse 7″ (Scavenger Of Death)
Atlanta’s Nurse are back with their second self-titled / untitled 7″ on Scavenger Of Death (although the insert has “II” at the top of one side, and as they acknowledge the Japanese Nurse who came before them, perhaps this is some sort of homage?). I liked the first Nurse EP a lot, and this new one is probably better, or at least more in-your-face, as I’m sitting and blasting it this very moment. They’ve got four tracks here, and they steamroll through all four with a classic, menace-filled sound. Mecht Mensch and Die Kreuzen are undeniable influences, and I mean if you decide to play hardcore in 2017, why wouldn’t you go there? The riffs are mostly evil and the vocals verge on black-metal larynx torture, but the drumming ensures that this is purely a hardcore concern – they’re always cruising just a little faster than comfortable, throwing fills or extraneous rolls in the tiniest of crevasses and ensuring that each song is punchy and frantic. The recording is fuzzy but thick with power, a balance that is usually tipped one way or the other, but Nurse bolster both attributes to great success. When is everyone gonna care about the raging Atlanta hardcore scene, once they all move to Brooklyn or LA?

Orion Orion LP (Cool Death)
I’m always a little wary of albums that have foil-embossing on the cover… it instantly calls to mind “collector’s item”-style X-Men comics from the early ’90s, fancy packaging used to trick consumers into buying something sparkly that ultimately lacks substance. I won’t hold it against Orion, though, as their decidedly retro, new-romantic synth-pop stands on its own, foil be damned. They appear to be a bunch of punks (a couple ex-members of Oily Boys are in Orion, and one band member sports a Sadistik Exekution tee on the poster insert), but the music offered here is the sort of thing that scoffed at punk rock back in 1985, instead obsessing over The Cure, The Durutti Column, Tears For Fears and OMD as the music of the future. Electronic drums, bass run through vintage flange, chiming guitar and the light dusting of a synth make up the music, as vocalist Yuta Matsumura swings between iconic new-wave vocal stylings, going from Bernard Sumner to Morrissey sometimes in the same song (check “After Day”, which comes sauntering down the alley with a Smiths-y shake). These songs are moody and introspective without ever feeling generically gothy, and while my tolerance for new takes on this old style is running thin, Orion add to the enduring legacy of pop-minded new-wave rather than help wear it out.

Pharmakon Contact LP (Sacred Bones)
Pharmakon has been spoiling us with albums since 2013 – this is her third, and her reign as American power-electronics master remains firm. It seems as though Pharmakon’s general sonic approach to noise hasn’t changed since Bestial Burden, and that’s fine with me. Through Contact, she favors plodding electronic pulses, synth tones that slowly shift their pitch higher or lower (but always with a sense of dread or unease), the occasional rusty chain unfurling upon sheet metal, and a thick, sludgy feedback that doesn’t coat things so much as suffocate them entirely. The music of Contact is slow and deliberate, a nice change of pace for a genre that has so often been enamored with the fast, cut-up, throw-everything-on-everything style of Merzbow or Macronympha. Pharmakon is not only a keen sonic auteur, but her self-penned album statements send the otherwise noise-unfriendly indie-music press into a tizzy, happy to have an artistic philosophical explanation for harsh industrial noise – it’s clear that some people need to ruminate on the anguish of the corporeal form or humanity’s animal instincts in order to appreciate the sonic side of Pharmakon. Not me, though! I love when power-electronics are harsh, slow, refined, well-considered, and replete with a variety of throat-slicing vocal terror – Pharmakon’s next album could be a sonic exposition on catching all the Pokémon, I’d still buy the fancy limited version and righteously clench my fists to it.

Claude Rodap Bélétronic 12″ (Rush Hour)
Claude Rodap is a French Caribbean producer who dropped an album in 1982 and little else until Rush Hour put together this fantastic three-track EP, collecting recordings from the late ’90s and 2000. I’m sure he was quite busy, refining his synthesized dance-pop and zouk over the decades, and I can’t blame him for not trying to reach American or European audiences in that time: who cares what mainland people think? I’m glad Rush Hour put this together though, and I’m glad I took the chance, as I can practically smell the freshly machete-chopped coconuts while Bélétronic spins. All three tracks are dressed with cushion-soft synth rhythms, boozy leads and a technical prowess I thought was reserved for prog-rock. It’s interesting that they were recorded at the turn of the century, as I would’ve guessed 2016 or 1982 instead: Rodap’s sound is essentially timeless, as his zouk grooves are instantly affecting and untethered to any specific era of history. “Zouk Love” might be my favorite, recalling Mr. Raoul K’s most tender house moments with a Balearic sensuality, the sort of emotion that the Secrets resort chain was founded upon. The only problem is that these three tracks fly by (the first two are barely over three minutes a piece) – time for a full-on retrospective, Rush Hour guys!

Schizos Fuck Iggy Pop 7″ (Neck Chop)
First thing’s first, I want to support the sentiment behind Schizos’ new EP. Whatever happened to punk bands spitting on the graves of rock idols, even cool ones? I could compile a hundred great punk songs celebrating the death of merely Elvis, Jerry Garcia and Sid Vicious alone, but nowadays punks are likely to DJ David Bowie and Prince tribute nights in full sincere admiration. What gives? Thankfully, there are still some punk bands filled with terrible people, even if their numbers are fewer, like Schizos, for example. Their music is pretty fittingly terrible, too! Josh sings, Kevin plays a synth on its gassiest setting and Bill plays the drums, and they all share the last name Schizo. The lack of guitar comes through painfully clear, leaving plenty of room for good punk rock were it ever to decide to join the group. Instead, Fuck Iggy Pop is filled with fumbly horsing around, with a sonic link to Neon Hunk, Let’s Put The X In Sex and the true masters of the genre, Pillow Talk (can’t believe their sole Columbus Discount single isn’t a punk-rock holy grail just yet). I won’t be listening to this Schizos 7″ much more, if ever again, but am I with them in spirit? Absolutely.

Coby Sey Whities 010 10″ (Whities)
The Whities label has my full attention, and when it comes forward with a new beautifully-packaged 10″ by an unfamiliar name, I’m all over it – one of the main things I look for from Whities is to be introduced to the vanguard of the new. Coby Sey seems to be new on the scene, but he certainly fits right in with the rest of the hip young British beatmakers riding the tube everyday. His music fits in on the “experimental” side of things, which means he works with unusual sounds (pops, clicks, fuzz and other forms of sonic flora) just as much as bass-lines and snares. The tapping of a wine glass might lead way into a field recording of neighborhood traffic while a Microkorg slurps a bowl of noodles on any given track. What’s most unusual is that Sey opted to rap over the whole thing, laying down vocals and rhymes over rickety, half-imagined beats, tracks that any average rapper would slowly back away from. He’s confident and compelling though, although the vocal mix (and his British accent) ensure I only understand half of what he’s saying at best. The closer “Ticket” is my favorite, a melancholy dub somewhere between Mount Kimbie and Nicolas Jaar (and perhaps tellingly, it’s an instrumental). Sey’s combination of avant-garde electronic textures and steady-stream rapping certainly sets him apart, and lends a pop functionality to music that is otherwise expected to be rendered deep within a Young Echo radio show and far from the consumption habits of unadventurous music listeners. Plus, it’s a 10″, the bastard child of vinyl formats. It may not be my favorite Whities release, but I urge you to stay fresh and acclimate yourself.

Te/DIS Interrogation Gloom LP (Galakthorrö)
Alongside Da-Sein, Te/DIS come correct with their sophomore full-length for Galakthorrö. Unlike Da-Sein, Te/DIS (short for “Tempted Dissident”) is not the work of a duo of ambiguous romantic status, but one guy on his own, tweaking knobs and holding keys while also intoning his stern voice. Also unlike Da-Sein (sorry but I can’t help but compare the Galakthorrö b-team), Te/DIS does not bear an uncannily close sonic relation to Haus Arafna and/or November Növelet, although musically and aesthetically Interrogation Gloom is perfectly suited to Galakthorrö’s haunted corridor. Te/DIS’s tracks have a bit more motion in them, either by more complex drum programming (or at least far less one-two one-two simplicity), as well as varying temperatures of synth, not just ice cold. The vocals are probably my least favorite part, though: he’s clearly a German native singing in English, with a sonorous quaver not unlike Depeche Mode’s Dave Gahan, although a little more cartoony goth and limited in range. Still, I give Galakthorrö a wide berth when it comes to accepting extravagant and sometimes over-the-top gothiness, I just need to find a particularly dark and cobwebby portion of my record shelves to slip Interrogation Gloom into.

Tropical Trash Decisions’ Empty Nest 7″ (Sophomore Lounge)
Big RIP to Load Records, who released Tropical Trash’s sole vinyl LP a couple years ago. Thankfully there will always be new, younger freaks to carry the torch of bothersome and noisy rock music, like the suspiciously successful Sophomore Lounge label. This new Tropical Trash 7″ is a real treat – I’ve always enjoyed the group, but this three-track EP is psychotic noise-punk perfection. “Early Wish” is the a-side, and it comes on a bucking motorik beat, guitars (and synths? who knows?) tunneling a hole in the earth while the vocalist wields the stuttered delivery of Landed’s Dan St. Jacques with the toxic mutation processing of FNU Clone. “Early Wish” actually continues on the flip side, pulling itself out of quicksand for a final gasp of life. “Exit Dust” comes next, sort of splitting the difference between the garage-rock menace of Six Finger Satellite and the rogue behavior of Landed (if I may continue with the Load references), and “Trouble Shot” closes the set, certainly the easiest track to mosh to on the EP and another disgruntled resignation from civilian life. The b-side tracks are nearly all about 90 seconds long, which is essentially the perfect length of time for any musical idea to begin, develop and conclude. A tropical smash is more like it!

US Weekly US Weekly LP (Night Moves)
US Weekly’s debut album brought to light a grammatical error I may have been guilty of for some time now: it’s gotta be US, as in “United States”, not Us, as in “me and you”, yet I’ve been calling the mag Us Weekly all along. Whoops! It seems as though throwing back in our faces our own reliance on modern-day depressive conveniences might be one of US Weekly’s main aims, at least lyrically: a wide variety of brand names are mentioned through these songs, from Snapchat to Subway to Percocet to sourcing lyrics from “found poems via Google image search”. Ultra-specific real things is a worthy lyrical device, albeit one that can be overdone, and while I think US Weekly might be on the verge of naming products we use as a means to profoundly shame us a little too frequently, it still works overall. I should probably mention the music too, but it’s fun when there’s a punk band who actually writes lyrics with intent; I got a little overly excited. Vocalist Christopher Nordahl has a phlegm-y yelp – I’d put him in good crust-punk company with Filth and Crucifix, although the music of US Weekly would never be caught in a patch-covered ass-flap. They come from an aggro school of post-punk that verges on hardcore-punk, meshing early antagonistic SST punk with the groove of The Fall and the ghosts of Texas punk doing donuts in the parking lot (imagine Parquet Courts covering / disemboweling Really Red’s Teaching You The Fear). Great album, although if they really wanted to get some attention, Night Moves would be selling this for $2.98 at your grocer’s checkout aisle.

Warm Bodies My Burning Love 7″ (Thrilling Living)
Warm Bodies continue to stake out their territory in punk’s rowdy pen with a new 7″ EP on the watch-listed Thrilling Living label. They’ve got four songs here that speak to modern hardcore-punk’s penchant for frantic rhythms as well as classic youthful snot, and it’s quite good indeed! Not too far from Thrilling Living’s recent Lemonade EP, as far as the general approach to hardcore as an art (or a fart, maybe), but Warm Bodies can’t resist pushing away from the standard downhill path with stranger guitar textures, lower levels of distortion and a curious sense of disgust that at times recalls the earliest no-wave groups. “Stinky” sounds like a Suburban Lawns track played on one of Christian Marclay’s intentionally-damaged turntables, for instance, and vocalist Olivia Gibb sings each line with a sense of stupefied horror, as if a surprise birthday party entered the vocal booth. They’re still a dirty basement punk band, though, the sort of status you either naturally inhabit or clearly are faking. To quote my old pal Eric Adams, Warm Bodies want to rock, not pose!

Wishgift Wishgift LP (Sophomore Lounge / Lake Paradise)
Wishgift are a Chicago-based trio, and I don’t know about you but I always take some bit of pleasure when bands sound like where they’re from – in an age of borderless, internet-rendered homogeny, I appreciate local flavor. This is Wishgift’s debut LP, and it has all the markings of a Chicago-based proggy noise-punk group, as if Wishgift was snatched from the hands of Skin Graft at the final second. Their songs generally have a million parts each, give or take, and while the riffing can be quite fast, this is a band where their fret-working hands develop Carpal Tunnel far quicker than the picking ones. Musically, I find myself reminded of Dazzling Killmen, Melt Banana, KARP, maybe even a little Scissor Girls and a dash of Crom Tech too – I’m starting to sound like a Troubleman sampler, but I don’t have a problem with that if you don’t. All three members are credited with vocals, but it seems to mostly be one guy, who shouts with an appropriate level of toughness, as if anyone got the wrong idea that all their shifting riffs and intricate changes meant they were to be messed with. It’s all a little too dizzying for me – I prefer one really good idea per song instead of half a dozen motifs set to skill level “difficult” in a single track, but I’m not here to tell Wishgift how to live their lives.

Reviews – April 2017

Artefact Votive Offering LP (Adagio830)
Artefact are a gothy post-punk band out of Wales, and if you’re at all like me, your tolerance for new gothy post-punk bands is running thin – too much flange and reverb and smoke with little backing it up. Thankfully, Artefact make good on the genre with Votive Offering, a rigid and well-balanced album that aspires to match the genre’s early greats. So many groups in this genre strike me as non-committal: they don’t want to give up the basic riffing and distortion of punk rock, they don’t want to go overboard with pop songwriting or tunefulness, they just want the heavy makeup and dour aesthetic to which “goth” lazily equates. Artefact, on the other hand, go full in with their songwriting, essentially eschewing punk from the equation besides its urgency and energy. Vocalist Hannah Saunders doesn’t mask her voice with a wall of echo and a placement deep within the mix; rather, she forcefully sings in a demanding tenor not unlike Keluar’s Alison Lewis. I’m also reminded of Pleasure Leftists in the way the songs coil outward, but Artefact are even less ambiguous in their approach (and the production is as crisp as any Duran Duran EMI single – just listen to “Styx”). I might not throw out my eyeliner after all!

Black Abba Lost Dog 7″ (Total Punk)
I haven’t yet figured out the significance of the name “Black Abba” (besides the inherent Black Sabbath gag?) but I’m not sure that I have to in order to get into their belligerent synth-punk. Their form of music is decidedly “so easy that any idiot could play it”, which is almost always how I prefer my punk rock to be. “Lost Dog” seems to be about cocaine or poor life choices (or both) and it’s a one-and-a-half note jangler guided by a bloopy thrift-store synth, all of which recalls vintage Le Shok. So many tried, but so few have it… Black Abba have it! “The Manager” has a similar vibe, less hurried than “Lost Dog” and full of vitriol aimed at anyone who might dare to attempt to help Black Abba become more professional or popular (and rightly so). Multiple band members are singing the same words, which really makes it feel like the entire band is ready to kick your butt, not just the lead singer. It’s a rare group that prints lyrics on their Total Punk 7″ insert, but I appreciate the gesture… I need to see if their debut EP on Goner is floating around anywhere. What good are used 7″ bins if not for finding records like that, or someday, this?

Borzoi Surrender The Farm 7″ (12XU)
The sheer number of guitar bands that continue to sprout in Austin, TX is overwhelming – it’s almost no longer a descriptor that offers much specificity, like I might as well say they hail from Earth. Maybe we need to split it into North Austin and South Austin, or maybe East Of Nueces Street / West Of Nueces Street? Whatever the case, I’m glad that town is pumping out such fine crap, like this new four-song EP by Borzoi. They play a mangy form of post-punky garage-rock, equipped with a nimble heaviness and plenty of dirt under the nails. There’s no confusing their rough-and-tumble punk with noise or no-wave, and yet I feel like subtle hints of Sightings, Liars and Harvey Milk creep through, in a most pleasant way. Borzoi run through a variety of tempos and moods on these four tracks, from inebriated and confused to spastic and scared, all of which suit these three young men nicely. They also do that thing where they take an old picture of random people out of a history book and then use it as their band photo, listing their names and instruments beneath. Classic move.

Burning Itch Intergalactic Ass Hat LP (Heel Turn)
It just occurred to me – is the band name a play on Burning Witch? Probably not, as I doubt these punk-rock goofballs think about anything more sophisticated than the limited-edition Doritos flavor they plan on cozying up to later in the evening. I mean, the four of them agreed on the title Intergalactic Ass Hat, although technically vocalist / guitarist Ian Lawrence performed all the music on this record himself (couldn’t fit more than one person in the studio?) so maybe it was just an awful surprise to the rest of the group. Anyway, they (or should I say, he) play(s) a fun and bouncy form of punk rock, the sort of thing that feels strongly informed by the classic white-guy first-wave (Dead Boys, Vibrators, New York Dolls, etc.), but also touches upon the ’90s pop-punk that worked under similar influence (The Briefs, Mr. T Experience, hell even The Riverdales) and the most recent garage-y pop wave of which Jay Reatard will forever be king. It’s a very easy listen, and although Lawrence’s vocals are coated in a crisp layer of distortion, he’s got a solid range and a compelling “crazy party punk” approach that only a true fun-hater could fully dismiss. Intergalactic Ass Hat is fairly interchangeable for the genre: don’t expect any surprises, good or bad, to disrupt the good time – they didn’t even bother to bust out a zany synth solo, as bands of this ilk often like to do. I just wish I could’ve been there when Lawrence explained to his mom what an “ass hat” is.

CVX Zibaldone I Of CVX 12″ (Laura Lies In)
Don’t let the ho-hum acronym allow you to skim past this review, because this CVX EP is probably my favorite of the month! It’s a moniker chosen by Rupert Clervaux, whose work with Beatrice Dillon I’ve heartily enjoyed, and it turns out that Dillon wasn’t carrying all the creative weight in that partnership. For CVX, the traditional rules don’t apply, which makes for a stunningly singular-minded EP. There are brief spoken word passages to open each side (and occasionally throughout), as well as some tasteful sax on the second cut and a xylophone moment that recalls Ken Nordine’s Word Jazz on the flip, but the heart of Zibaldone I Of CVX is percussion, presumably live drums (or at least initially live before some subtle production tricks were applied) that whip up some beautiful and intricate grooves – it feels about as “free” as organized rhythms can be. They are sharp and detailed, as if a Han Bennink record was edited for Shackleton’s playbook. Synths and samples work within the shadows, and the whole thing is just so masterfully delivered (and without obvious musical peer) that I simply can’t stop spinning it. If you ever wished the untethered spirit of ESP Disk would seep its way into experimental techno’s groundwater, look no further, friend.

Darkest Hour Godless Prophets & The Migrant Flora LP (Southern Lord)
I would’ve never guessed that Darkest Hour were still a band – I clearly recall the ads for their Art Monk Construction CDs in Punk Planet and the Very distribution catalog (the singer was wearing a (frontwards) baseball cap low on his forehead) and apparently they’re still going strong over two decades later. I get the impression there are few original members remaining, but the one thing you can’t instantly achieve in today’s underground is an established name, so I understand Darkest Hour’s desire to still exist, even if far removed from its original form. They’ve certainly got their sound down at this point, somewhere between late ’90s Converge and Cave In (before they went emo-prog), metal-core that leans heavily on the metal side of the spectrum, expertly written and produced and utterly devoid of surprises or quirks. Godless Prophets is their tenth album, and by that point most metal groups have either totally watered down their sound or ventured down a different path entirely, but Darkest Hour retain the classic Hydra Head sound – as I listen, I can picture their professional-grade drum and amp cases with their band logo spraypainted on them being loaded into a club for soundcheck, metal built from experience and repetition. They made it to Southern Lord, lead American arbiter of all things metallic, so good for them!

Device Control Device Control 12″ (L.I.E.S.)
L.I.E.S. continues to be one of the most trusted names in American underground techno (and techno’s various offshoots), and while I’ve been enjoying a bunch of the label’s recent crop, this Device Control EP has me stomping my feet and dislocating my shoulders more than the rest. Not sure if you’re like me and recently went back to the Wax Trax! and TVT catalogs in hopes of finding some deep cuts that sound fresh for 2017, only to find out that Revolting Cocks use Seinfeld bass, but this Device Control 12″ makes up for things by rewriting history exactly as I wish it’d happened. This is definitely industrial synth-pop circa 1990 with the poorly-aging aspects removed and replaced with a cunning sleekness and modern efficiency. “Most People” sets the tone immediately, a persistent New Beat thump with a randomized arpeggio that perfectly communicates fear alongside various sampled sounds of angry crowds and authoritarian leaders. “Lexington King” and “Damaged” feel like Beau Wanzer if he ever bothered to shower and brush his teeth – taut industrial rhythms wheeze and sputter much to my delight, as punchy as anyone’s favorite Portion Control track but never too noisy. Same goes for “Pit Dynamics” (how is this not a Trapped Under Ice song title?), which scratches out various CPU processes in a language I do not understand. Exciting debut!

The Dogs Slash Your Face 7″ (Last Laugh)
I feel a pathetically smug sense of satisfaction when a classic reissue rolls in and I already own the original (collecting records is one of the least sympathetic mental illnesses a person can have), but this Dogs 7″ is just taunting me – I’ve wanted it for years, and the timing has just never been right for me to scrape up three hundred dollars (or probably more, at this point) and finally bring one home. In case you haven’t heard it, by all means, pull it up on YouTube with the quickness, or if you’re feeling particularly consumery, send some well-concealed cash to Last Laugh pronto. “Slash Your Face” is an undeniable punk rock classic, the sort of song that even the most stingy snob will agree stands shoulder-to-shoulder with The Stooges or Black Flag. “Fed Up” and “Are You A Boy Or Are You A Girl?” are nearly as potent, combining caveman proto-punk riffs (think Blue Cheer) with wild punk energy (think Dead Boys), and amazingly, it was all recorded in front of a live audience. How they managed to be so raging and execute it perfectly (and capture the sound so crisply!) I’ll never know, but I’m still willing to pay hundreds of dollars to claim the original artifact as my own. Thanks for the reminder, Last Laugh.

Dreamdecay LP (Iron Lung)
Seattle’s Dreamdecay are back, four years after their debut Iron Lung full-length with its followup, . I haven’t listened to the first recently, but I remember it being a pretty heavy, long-form take on psych-rock and industrial in a hardcore-punk context, with lengthy tunes and colorful garbage on the cover. Nice to hear them once more, this time with a wider palate of influences and a stronger hand with which to use them. Sure, their core is still heavy, drone- and dirge-based rock, but they reach a little deeper into their record collections this time around, finding ways to fit the early experimentalism of Sonic Youth, the acid-burnt country of Meat Puppets and the devotional intensity of kraut-rock’s guitar-driven end (think Ash Ra Tempel or Agitation Free) into their sound. They do a fine job with it too, as their extended intros, synth-laden interludes and other unexpected digressions always mesh with their meaty core, full of Mayyors riffs and Swans toughness. Dreamdecay clearly have gotten bored with the “cover it all in noise” aesthetic that can initially be such a satisfying pursuit, injecting a bit of melody in their songs – the last track, “ARC”, could easily sneak onto a Spacemen 3 or Loop record without immediately being detected. After the pleasant, trippy haze of , I might have to go soak myself in some Pig Heart Transplant records to remind myself that the world is cruel.

Fallbeil Immun EP 12″ (Hafenschlamm)
Can’t quite remember how I stumbled upon Fallbeil, but there were too many recent 12″s coming out by this artist for me to not snag one. They’re a German duo and, generally speaking, they take the minimal-industrial vibe of Galakthorrö and sculpt it into something people can rap over. Not a bad idea, and this Immun EP showcases a few of those concepts. It opens with a beat rapped over by Sensational, whose direct delivery and lukewarm tone doesn’t do much for me, and it’s followed by a very similar beat that Miss Hawaii raps on, if you want to call it rapping – more like rude babbling, which is much more up my alley. The rest of the EP is instrumental, and while I probably would’ve preferred to hear Miss Hawaii’s manic voice over all of it, the productions are increasingly intriguing. “No Overtaking” sounds like a mix of M Ax Noi Mach and Mammal with robotic TV-static vocals, and “Increasing Action” feels like something Kyle Hall would’ve spray-painted as a teenager. “Black Snow” might be my favorite, an Ekman-styled nerve ending (that also has me thinking of Kyle Hall’s Wild Oats label), but it’s followed by the ninety-second “Game Over”, a rhythmless burst of ogre vocals that I wish was its own separate EP (or triple LP gatefold) for me to enjoy. Hard to get a firm grasp on Fallbeil, but I intend to keep trying.

Firing Squad At Their Mercy EP 7″ (Agitate)
Firing Squad are a new-ish Richmond hardcore band, and they play meat-and-potatoes hardcore with a heartiness that others lack – they’re coming correct with some Grade A sirloin and non-GMO Yukon Golds. They use mean, heard-em-before riffs and push things forward with gruffly barked vocals that call to mind Wasted Time or perhaps even Doom. At first I thought the cover art of a non-specific evil general dropping a bomb on some skulls was a Matthew Bellosi rip, but then I checked the insert and saw that Bellosi lent his distinct style to Firing Squad for the cover (always a nice choice). Lyrics take aim at jerks, losers and society, as hardcore-punk lyrics are wont to do, and none of these six songs deviate from fast, pounding hardcore. I can’t quite put my finger on why, maybe it’s just the sum of their parts, but I find Firing Squad’s debut EP to be highly enjoyable, a hardcore record that never lags or has my mind drifting, wondering if Wolf Eyes posted anything funny on Instagram lately. It’s a fine line between mediocre redundancy and a wholly satisfying re-invention of the wheel when this form of traditional hardcore is at stake, and Firing Squad just do it for me, what can I say.

John T. Gast Overseer 12″ (Apron)
Mr. Gast entered my radar with his cool collaborative 7″ with Inga Copeland, and seeing as Steven Julien’s appealing Apron label dropped this one-sided, one-track 12″ EP, how could I be expected to resist? Glad I didn’t, as Gast conjures a bleary-eyed form of repetitive tech-house here that I find highly appealing. “Overseer” seems to start not at its beginning but sometime after, as if we are merely permitted a brief engagement with this infinite beat. It’s a great rhythm to set on endless repeat, with stuttering snares, a synth that ebbs and flows in the background and various aggro percussive spots, offering just enough variance to feel like a track that is actively managed versus a sonic screensaver. Over it, Gast recites a list of what might be ancient holidays, or myths, or rituals, glumly reading through a Santa-sized list as though it was his job and he just found out layoffs were coming. It’s a great deadpan, and not the first time I’ve wanted to pump my fist along to a disaffected British man’s voice. Seems like Gast is getting busier with releases lately, and I for one look forward to following along.

Manateees Superman Dam Fool LP (Blak Skul)
I didn’t realize that Memphis’s Manateees had released enough singles to qualify for an LP collection, and I bet you didn’t either! They’re a gruff, bare-bones garage-punk trio with releases via Total Punk, Goodbye Boozy and Goner, to name but a few, and this compiles five of them, in an appropriately mixed-up, occasionally-slightly-differently-mixed fashion. I have heard at least one of these singles before, but it didn’t stick with me, and I’m remembering why: Manatees play basic, familiar riffs alongside hoarsely barked vocals. They’re not a dynamic group, and the stuffy recording really hits that point home, leaving me feeling more fatigued than ready-to-riot. Still, I’m not trying to hate on Manateees, as whatever they lack in sonic capability they make up for in bad attitude and stale cigarette smell – a track like “Wolf Creek”, taken on its own and not in the middle of a slog through similar-toned mid-fi garage-rock gets a thumbs up, sounding like Watery Love were they a Headache Records group. Not sure what kinda modern garage-punk fan is into Manateees enough that they want to buy a singles collection, but not enough that they don’t already own the singles, but wherever that person may be, their time has come.

Mordecai Abstract Recipe LP (Richie)
This is at least Mordecai’s fourth album, depending on whether or not you acknowledge tapes (or even worse, live tapes) as albums, and it feels like they’re more comfortable than ever in their unlaundered slacks. Their songs come in somewhat interchangeable shapes of modest and nimble college-rock (also the title of an earlier record), more like general ideas than composed music, which is a nice way to approach such a casual sound. Often, Mordecai sound like they’d come in last in a footrace with the Flying Nun roster, completely content to avoid any sort of competitive participation. Very pleasant stuff, made notable by vocalist Holt Bodish’s vocal style, which is about as commonplace as his name – Bodish’s tone sounds less like a rock front-person and more like a hostage pleading to his captors in hopes of having his life spared. His words come out with a wince (and a subtle British accent?), and they are just the right spice for an otherwise shambolic and standard rock thing that is content to exist without concern for whom it might or might not be entertaining. I’m entertained, at least!

Mothercountry Motherfuckers Confidential Human Source LP (Clean Plate / Empyre)
Mothercountry Motherfuckers’ debut and sole LP is a posthumous release for founding member Sarah Kirsch, whose presence in the seminal emo / hardcore scene can’t be understated (John Henry West, Bread & Circuits, Torches To Rome to name my personal favorites). Half of Ebullition’s discography wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for Kirsch, and while her untimely passing is tragic, Confidential Human Source is a vital, glorious eulogy. In a way, it’s a culmination of the Ebullition sound: righteous politics at the forefront, frantic emo-core riffing with a melodic underpinning, passionately screamed vocals, as well as snarky costuming, dripping sarcasm and hilarious self-mythologizing. These songs are streamlined and unique, recalling plenty of Kirsch’s previous groups, but I’m also hearing the catchy hooks of Kid Dynamite and Hot Water Music mixed with the early Gravity Records sound, hardcore that is compulsively moving forward with an excess of energy. The tunes are interwoven with a variety of strange samples and sonic think-pieces, which call to mind In/Humanity, Uranium Club and even No Less (although Mothercountry Motherfuckers aren’t as overtly enamored with weed and gangsta rap). Even if you’re “over” sincere hardcore and just want to listen to glue-sniffing mongoloids club each other with chains, Mothercountry Motherfuckers are an undeniable force, in life and in death.

Overmono Arla II 12″ (XL Recordings)
Overmono is the combined effort of brothers Tom and Ed Russell, who produce separately as Truss and Tessela (and perhaps will continue to do so), and I dunno about you, but there will always be a special place in my heart for techno siblings. Overmono is a nice fit for XL then, in that these guys already have plenty of experience, and that the sounds of Overmono are perfectly on-time for contemporary electronic dance followers. Opener “O-Coast” sets the tone nicely, with an angelic arpeggio and plenty of sonic interference, building a groove that nods to the more experimental end of things (I’m thinking the PAN label and Oneohtrix Point Never) while maintaining a club-friendly vibe. “Telephax 030” mashes an unlikely sample into an icy groove, the sort of recontextualization one might expect from Actress, whereas “16 Steps” feels like Powell remixing Muslimgauze with its insistent pace and choppy samples. I’m sure the Diagonal label isn’t far from Overmono’s range of interest, as the half-minute “Concorde” follows with a sinister riff right from Not Waving’s playbook, along with a few Powell-ish moments throughout. A lot of modern references here, and that’s because Overmono sounds distinctly modern, where practically every interesting or pleasurable idea from the early ’90s through the present is stirred up and strained by Overmono’s capable hands. Painful as it is, I’d rather look to the future anyway – at least Overmono will be making cool records like this.

Phew Light Sleep LP (Mesh-Key)
Here’s an unexpected delight – a vinyl LP by Hiromi Moritani under her longstanding Phew moniker. She was in the bizarre post-punk group Aunt Sally back in the late ’70s (I still need that LP!), and has been producing music on her own as Phew essentially ever since, taking years off between albums, dropping a handful of CD-rs here and there, just doing whatever she feels like, which of course is the best way for any artist to release music. One might think that a few decades would dull one’s experimental or progressive mindset, but not so with Phew – this record sounds as crucially weird as anything on the Vanity Records label (one of my personal all-time favorites) and as fresh (probably fresher) as any other artist working drum machines, synths and vocals to experimental post-punk ends. Most tracks are based around a particular rhythm-box pulse and enhanced with wavering synths and Moritani’s quizzical vocals, often delivered conversationally or with a sense of confusion, but there’s also a sense of widescreen ambient beauty behind it – it’s like the majesty of electronic Krautrock fused with the beats of early Culturcide or Minimal Man. Suicide and Sympathy Nervous jump out at me as reference points too, as much of Light Sleep is soaked in the excitement and wonder of the early synth-based groups who preferred stark minimalism over overloaded pop, but Phew clearly mines her own territory, not that of her peers (past or present). I’m already holding this album dear to my heart – we’ve barely just met but it already seems so right.

Pierre & Bastien Musique Grecque LP (SDZ)
SDZ is a great French label, responsible for certain artists I doubt I would’ve heard otherwise (Le Villejuif Underground, El-G, and Drosofile to name a few), and as the label switches from nihilistic post-punk to electronic weirdness with ease, I wasn’t sure what Pierre & Bastien were offering. Perhaps that’s why I’m a little let down by Musique Grecque, as it’s a very basic punk album, as thought it were some sort of pre-loaded template. The music features downpicked, back-and-forth alternating chords in the Ramones tradition, with vocals that are also fairly Joey Ramone-ish, although I’m also hearing a bit of Clorox Girls in certain vowel pronunciations. The riffs are a little more unfriendly than your average Ramones selection, however, which has me thinking of mid-’90s Lookout! obscurities like The Hi-Fives and The Smugglers, or perhaps, dare I say, The Wipers (check “Accessoire”, a particularly mean-mugging cut, and tell me if you agree). For what it is, there’s really nothing to complain about, as Pierre & Bastien don’t do the genre any harm, nor do they mishandle minimal punk rock in any way. I’m just used to coming to SDZ for some previously undiscovered interpretation of underground punk music, so it’s really my problem, not Pierre & Bastien’s.

Playboy Celebration 12″ (Negative Jazz)
Very cool release from the always tasty Negative Jazz label, presumably a modern band called Playboy. (You can always tell the modern punk bands from the reissued ones – the reissued bands actually have liner notes or basic band information.) Lots of bands are compared to Flipper these days, usually fairly inaccurately if you ask me, but Playboy carry Flipper’s torch with pride and zest. Pretty sure there’s no guitar, just bass, drums, a synth or two, and someone skronking on a horn, and the riffs have the sort of bouncy, weirdly-happy progressions of a “Way Of The World” or “Shed No Tears”. The bass has a thick warble to recall Church Police, and the vocalist gives plenty of room for the band to jam, as if these four tracks don’t come with fixed lengths, they simply expire when all of the band members look at each other and someone gives a nod. “The Weather” stomps like Gary Wrong but is far more psychedelic than noisy, and “The Outside” is so slow and exhausted, as if Cyanamid’s “Stop The World” was covered by some Residents side-project for a Ralph Records compilation sampler. Celebration really hits all the right notes for me, and as far as modern agitated dirge-punk psychedelia is concerned, they’re a frontrunner.

Quietus Volume Three LP (Ever/Never)
Quietus, eh? They should do a split with a band called Fact Mag! Online journalism jokes aside, they’re an understated group out of New York City, offering a very grown-up form of rock, indebted to both smoky indie-rock and classic troubadour blues-song. An American Bad Seeds is a more succinct way to put it, the sort of music one gravitates toward post-divorce and post-inebriation, when you have the clarity to look back at your younger failings and hopefully learn to not repeat some of them. The perfect record for stroking your beard, right as you first notice that it’s half grey. Moments of slow-motion groove have me thinking of The Black Heart Procession or Pleasure Forever, but Quietus aren’t cloyingly sad or overtly goth – they’re probably closer to the spooky Western style of Angel Olsen in the way that they conjure loss and discontent with cinematic grace. At their most impassioned, I’m picking up a Jonathan Fire*Eater vibe, which is nice. Definitely the sort of group you might reach for when hoping to establish a mood in the room (one of woebegone Manhattanite coolness), rather than something you’d intently follow or sing along with, but records like these certainly have their place in any sophisticated record closet.

Reptile Ranch Reptile Ranch LP (C/Site)
I know what you’ve been thinking: all these UK DIY reissues are nice, but when are Reptile Ranch getting their due? Fear not, Connecticut’s C/Site put together a dapper LP collection of Reptile Ranch’s two singles, comp tracks and unreleased live tracks, and it’s a smash. I’ve enjoyed Reptile Ranch’s Animal Noises EP for years, but hadn’t heard them beyond that, and this LP illuminates their abilities to sound both primitive and sophisticated, often in the same song. Reptile Ranch came from the same scene as Scritti Polliti and Young Marble Giants (Cardiff, to be precise), and their songs display a strong interest in melody, mood and nuance – while I certainly enjoy groups of this era who recorded music before learning how to play any of it, Reptile Ranch are not one of them. Often drumless, the guitars are forced to maintain the rhythm, usually looping through unfamiliar riffs but never overly discordant or abrasive. I’m reminded of Desperate Bicycles and Dry Rib, if we’re talking contemporaries, in the way that Reptile Ranch seem to be more interested in discovering their own form of proggy low-budget pop than sending up the Sex Pistols. With the modern-day ease of laptop recordings and Bandcamp dispersal, I hope some of today’s unknown bands are putting as much thought and artistry into their music as Reptile Ranch did way back when.

Soggy Creep Shallow Drownings LP (Conditions)
Quite appropriately, Soggy Creep hail from Olympia, WA – were they a Tempe, AZ group, I would’ve expected them to go by Arid Creep. They seem downright morbid via the images of bathtub death prominently featured on the cover, like a PG-13 version of an Unsane album, and while there’s plenty of gloom here, they mostly hold back on the doom. I’d describe their music as moody, melodic goth-punk, somewhere between the darker, edgy post-hardcore punk of Southern California circa ’83 and, I dunno, Interpol? Interestingly, rather than finding a mopey Frankenstein to deeply intone his or her words over the music, lead vocalist Anthony Putas sings in what I can only describe as a Epi-Fat sneer, vocals that remind me of the main dudes in No Use For A Name and Propagandhi. I wasn’t so sure of this approach at first, perhaps longing for the cold comfort of another Ian Curtis impersonator, but once I settled into Soggy Creep’s sound, the odd combination of snotty pop-punk vocals and brooding post-punk music isn’t as strange as I initially thought. At six tracks, they don’t overstay their welcome, and I can’t help but wonder if the reverse would work just as well: Lagwagon instrumentals with Haus Arafna vocals. I’m gonna go with yes.

So Stressed PC Duster 7″ (Ghost Ramp)
The band is So Stressed and the single is titled PC Duster, although it took a little online verification to figure it out, as the cover only says PC Duster on each side. I swear, it’s like you can’t release a 7″ in 2017 without some significant obfuscation, as if it’s necessary to transmit a sentiment like “we released a 7″ but we all realize 7″s are obsolete tokens that we don’t actually expect anyone to notice”. Am I taking it too far? Maybe, but at least the music of So Stressed is direct and easy to understand. “Hype Sticker” is a flailing post-hardcore jab, not far from Pinkwash or Metz but with a lot of sideways action, not just up-and-down pummel. The vocalist seems to completely empty his lungs with every scream, so whatever “Hype Sticker” is about he clearly means it. They slow their churn on the b-side “Shaved Fades”, which reminds me of Roomrunner in the way that heavy guitars and winking attitude give ’90s alt-rock a much-needed makeover. Even as it’s somewhat tuneful, the chorus of “don’t wanna get to know you” insists on being rudely punk. Looks like So Stressed has an album that just came out, I wonder if they bothered to write their name on that one!

Stromboli Volume Uno LP (Maple Death)
Yep, a grim Italian noise artist going by the name of “Stromboli”… I’m imagining a world where Throbbing Gristle decided to call themselves “Fish & Chips” instead. Much like an actual stromboli, Stromboli folds numerous layers of sonic harshness into his music, keeping the heat on high even after a boil has been reached. Harsh loops reminiscent of Maurizio Bianchi, Demdike Stare and Esplendor Geométrico are abundant, often starting with a slow seethe and eventually overloaded. Stromboli’s music pumps out like a smoke machine with no off switch, eventually resulting in a sweet form of suffocation. I assume synths are mostly at play here, but who’s really to say, as certain tracks play with harsh noise as the main element, occasionally picking at their crust until some form of inner-beauty is revealed – high points call to mind what Fennesz remixing The Rita might sound like. Nothing groundbreaking, but Volume Uno is quite enjoyable all the same for anyone who finds beauty in decay and peace in loud, bassy distortion. It’s making me pretty darn hungry, at least.

Sumerlands Sumerlands LP (Relapse)
Even if you’ve been living in a nuclear bunker the past couple of years, you’ve probably heard something touched by the hand of Arthur Rizk, metal impresario responsible for producing the newest Power Trip, the Prurient album where he plays rocks, the last Inquisition album, and as I’m ethically obligated to tell you, my own damn group’s last album (I promised to pay him in free Yellow Green Red advertising; hope this counts!). He’s in a million bands – I certainly can’t keep track, but Sumerlands is his “baby”, an idealized project of classic power-metal that is now a reality. Sumerlands’ music is extremely mid-paced, somewhere within the general landscape of Ozzy Osbourne solo albums, Armored Saint, Manilla Road, etc., although I’m sure Rizk would scoff at my pose-dog references were he ever to ever read this. The opening track, “The Seventh Seal”, starts with a brutally Van Halen-esque riff, and moves to “The Guardian” – each song title might as well be the name of a different metal band, and that’s really the way to do it. I’m reminded of a pitched-down Helloween at times too, thanks in part to the vocals of Phil Swanson, whose underground metal pedigree and confident mid-range completes the Sumerlands package. I don’t sit around with a lot of metal, in case you haven’t noticed, but I’m perfectly content to allow Rizk and the gang to distill hundreds of great albums into the artisanally-crafted half hour that is Sumerlands.

SW. Extended Mix / Beat Mix 12″ (SUED)
Were you expecting a new SW. EP to follow his debut album so quickly? I wasn’t! I think I’m only starting to comprehend the luxurious depth of the SW. full length, but I still cook dinner at least a few nights a week and need something sprawling and smooth like this to help me prep, so I’m thankful just the same. “Extended Mix” isn’t kidding, as it’s fourteen minutes of opulent deep house, with the sense that it was crafted through the joy of spontaneous performance as opposed to precise post-production editing. A wavy synth recalls Newworldaquarium as various percussive motifs pass through, like a busy city sidewalk where each pedestrian is in fact a drum loop. It feels like SW. appreciates these sounds as a listener just as much as their creator, and the admiration is contagious. The title “Beat Mix” might have you expecting something a bit more pummeling (if only the song title had “featuring Rob Gee” appended at the end, my dream would be realized), but it’s just a hair more energetic than the a-side, with a Brazilian rhythm underpinning various synthetic sensations, resulting in a track just as suitable for trampolining as sinking into an oversized beanbag chair. I hope SW. never leaves his room!

Bjørn Torske & DJ Sotofett Høst 12″ (Sex Tags Mania)
It’s important that I keep up with not only DJ Sotofett but the Sex Tags Mania label as well, two of the finest options for Swedish deep house; this new 12″ checked both boxes so I had no choice but to peep. Very effortless displays of communal percussion and space echo here, the perfect soundtrack to grilling some gravlax by the pool or however they throw a proper gathering in Sweden. Probably some weed, too? The a-side is a DJ Sotofett mix of “Høst”, originally a Bjørn Torske track, and it is often no more than disco drums, hand percussion and mixing board effects – what else do you need? The occasional synth will squirt its greasy condiment over the beat every now and then, but this is eleven solid minutes of warm and easy-going grooves. DJ Sotofett holds down “Version” on the flip, which is more great bongo action, this time alongside the soothing Rhodes chords of Jens Wohlrab. It gets a little spacey, particularly as Wohlrab examines the various recesses of his mind via clusters of notes and melodies… definitely an after-after-party vibe here, at the point where most people have gone home or passed out but Sotofett still can’t be pulled away from his timbales and bongos. Long may he drum!