Oren Ambarchi Hubris LP (Editions Mego)
I was overdue to check back in with the work of Australia’s busiest avant-garde guitarist, Oren Ambarchi, who seems to collaborate with an interesting array of characters with a frequency similar to how often I go through a pint of Ben & Jerry’s (we’re talking weekly). This new “solo” album, Hubris, features a big-band jam to include Arto Lindsay, Keith Fullerton Whitman and Ricardo Villalobos (it’s Villalobos’s presence that had me particularly excited), so I picked up a copy and am mighty pleased I did. Hubris comes in three parts: the first is Ambarchi by himself, interlocking synth-sounding guitars to create a fabric as impenetrable and ingenious as Kevlar. Briefly opening the b-side, “Part 2” has Ambarchi and Jim O’Rourke offering a soothing little snippet of guitar and “six string bass” interplay, but it’s “Part 3” that steals the show. It shares the basic framework of “Part 1”, confidently churning with the perpetual motion of Manuel Göttsching, but it’s blown out with layer upon layer of synths, guitars, live drums, edited percussion and anything else that sticks. At times, it approaches an overloaded mess, but what a mess to make! Everyone is playing off each other and having a grand old time; Ambarchi’s fuzz-baked guitar ripples through the mix while the rest of the crew follows the collective spirit. It ends with an abrupt robot voice saying “stop”, and each time I’ve listened I’ve felt disappointed that it isn’t longer than the sixteen minutes it already is. I certainly wouldn’t mind a touring act based on “Part 3”, would you?
Ancient Filth Earth Brains 7″ flexi (no label)
The one-sided 7″ flexi-disc continues to provide a budget-friendly way to get some tracks pressed on the increasingly-expensive 7″ format. All things considered, it sounds decent, looks cool (although why can’t any of these companies take the extra step to cut them into circles?), and gives a band like Ancient Filth another commodity to put out on their merch table that you listen to rather than wear. Their 2012 7″ EP was reviewed in these pages, and I’ve seen them perform live, so I can confidently confirm their status as a fun, inclusive hardcore-punk group. I wanna call them “posi-crust”, as they’ve got the fast, frantic mid-’00s hardcore sound for fans of Deathreat, What Happens Next? and The Rites and inject it with a well-wishing, optimistic world view. They’re one of those bands that probably do a lot of reading and really try to think about how they participate in the world on a socio-economic level, yet even with all that knowledge, they still fail to shower on a routine basis. Funny how that can be. It’s a good vibe to carry (if not necessarily to whiff), and these three concise songs offer good reason why you should invite Ancient Filth to play your next punk benefit fest.
Bad Noids It’s A Doggie Bag World 7″ (Feel It)
I must be hanging in the wrong circles, because I rarely hear Bad Noids come up in conversation, but they remain one of the best and gnarliest hardcore-punk bands around. My guess is that anyone who makes hardcore music this unhinged and gross must be uncomfortable to be around, and it seems as though so much of today’s hardcore popularity comes from not only one’s music but the social networks their members exist within – I can imagine Bad Noids are sending out friend requests and getting denied, their social status a poorly-updated page of broken links and blurry prank videos. “Into The Future” is the a-side and it’s a doozy, a raucous cut of rock n’ roll with a vocal delivery that has me thinking of fellow Ohioan Ron House with one of GG Allin’s most obscure backing bands behind him (haven’t we all stumbled across random bootlegs of “GG Allin and the Malibu Butt-Touchers” and wondered to ourselves?). “12 Years Old” kicks off the b-side with a speedy kick that sounds like Gordon Solie Motherfuckers on 45 instead of 33 (the Ohio connections continue!) and “My Friend Greg” feels like Electric Eels covering Angry Samoans. Three fantastic tracks here, performed so recklessly that I can’t help but imagine Bad Noids are the type of band that leave for a six-week tour with two pairs of socks, another dirty t-shirt and a deflated football. Time to see if the Bad Noids Facebook group will grant me with administrator status so I can really get their career moving.
Bib Pop 7″ (Deranged)
I chuckled when I first saw there was a modern hardcore band calling themselves “Bib” – truly all the cool words are taken at this point, I suppose. Maybe they should do a split with Pampers? Anyway, they’re from Omaha, and pretty much right on schedule for this noisy, down-tuned, moshable-yet-echo-laced hardcore sound in that they are arriving three to four years after it took over New York and Boston’s respective hardcore-punk scenes. Lots of speedy fist-pumpers on here, heavy on the toms, with barked vocals slathered in prerequisite cavernous reverb, a sound that’s admittedly cool but comes with diminishing returns each time I hear a new band play it. I think Bib’s vocalist wears black leather gloves while performing (also prominently displayed on the cover), and I dunno, maybe I am paying too close of attention to modern hardcore to be able to carelessly enjoy it, but it pains me to see trends being so clearly adhered to in a scene wherein I admire creativity and uniqueness over solid, strictly-by-the-books efforts. That said, Bib are certainly fine for the genre, and I would argue that every city, large or small, should have at least one up-to-date hardcore band playing in its basements and fire-halls, so why not Omaha, and why not Bib?
Botany Deepak Verbera LP (Western Vinyl)
I don’t know about you, but I sure could use as many escapes from reality as possible these days… fantasy-themed metal is nice (maybe it’s finally time to get deep into The Lord Weird Slough Feg), but I often gravitate toward psychedelic sonic spa treatments like this new LP from Austin, TX’s Botany, Deepak Verbera. As every other conceivable form of underground music that was once played by bands is now the careful craft of single people with studio access (or a decent bedroom laptop setup) as well, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that spiritual and psychedelic jazz can be the work of one person (in this case, Spencer Stephenson). What does surprise me though is how good this sounds. Stephenson melds free-jazz drumming with electronic programming and a dozen other instruments, from those as organic and pure as flutes and zithers to the modern technology of samplers and synthesizers, and he does so in a way that it seems unfathomable to think they haven’t been commingling for years. I’m imagining Boards Of Canada remixes of Brainticket and Joe McPhee, where inorganic blips casually brush past the strings of a harp into a sampled guitar with intoxicating results. But really, it’s most fun to glaze over a bit while Deepak Verbera spins and forget about picking out what instrumentation you’re hearing at any given moment, allowing the record’s graceful ambiance and peaceful clarity to transport one’s self to an existence far beyond this troubling planet.
Brando’s Island Duplicaat / Natural Order 7″ (Million Dollar)
The world’s leading xylophone-based punk band returns with a new two-song single, and it’s as fine a time as one can have lugging a concert xylophone into a cruddy basement. “Duplicaat” is built on drums and synth with the xylophone peppering in a little pumpkin spice here and there, and it’s kind of a lurching dirge until halfway through when the drummer starts playing a disco-punk beat and everyone wakes up a little. Nice! “Natural Order” is a bit more abstract, but still pretty rocking – imagine if Eddy Current had to cover a track from one of the first couple Liars albums using only the instruments found in a prep school’s band room, and you’re in the ballpark of Brando’s Island’s particular post-punk flavor. It’s an impressive feat to do a punk band that sounds like a punk band without guitar or bass, but Brando’s Island make it seem as though stringed instruments are optional when it comes to punk rock. Good on ’em!
Breakdown The ’87 Demo LP (Painkiller / 540)
2016 is nearly over and the appreciation for ’80s NYHC style is at an all-time high. Who would’ve guessed? From boutique street-wear labels to exclusivity-valuing underground punk bands and numerous spots between, it seems like everyone wants to pose with their crew as if they were invited to contribute tracks to the New Breed tape comp, and while I can’t deny the staying-power of this particular style and era of American hardcore, it’s still a little surprising. This probably helps explain the fact that Breakdown now has two fully-furnished LP releases of archival demo and radio show material, complete with thoughtfully-considered liner notes and copious flyer reproductions (which very well might be the greatest aspect of NYHC). I didn’t realize the ’87 demo, previously released on 7″, was hard to come by, but I got mine in the ’90s and haven’t really searched for it since, so my awareness is probably horribly outdated. There’s no denying the greatness of a track like “Sick People”, with its very un-Cappo-esque chestnut “my only release is when I get smashed”, but if I already have Breakdown’s Runnin’ Scared reissue, which compiles their WNYU “Crucial Chaos” set from March 10, 1989, do I need this demo reissue, which includes their WNYU “Crucial Chaos” set from August 6, 1987? By even asking the question, I have revealed my non-lifer NYHC poseur status, although if it’s any consolation, I’d champion a No Redeeming Social Value live/outtakes/demos box-set the moment one of these selfless hardcore archivists steps up to the plate.
Marie Davidson Adieux Au Dancefloor LP (Cititrax)
Marie Davidson is half of Canadian synth-wave duo Essaie Pas, but she’s been cutting cool tracks on her own for just as long. I greatly enjoy both, and this new solo LP is what I’d consider one of her finest works yet. She may be kissing off the clubs with this title, but Adieux Au Dancefloor is still full of energetic drum programming and somewhat traditional EDM / acid techno, not unlike Factory Floor (or at least how I remember them as I haven’t kept up with the last record or two) or the gritty simplicity of Levon Vincent. It’s impossible to deny the infectious funk of a track like “Good Vibes (Mocking Birds)” by the instrumental alone, but Davidson’s power lies with her vocals, a confident spoken-word delivery that displays restlessness, wit and style. At times, listening to Adieux Au Dancefloor feels like watching a DVD with the director’s commentary on, enriching the album in a unique way. I’m reminded of the abstract poetry of AGF, Christabelle’s fantastic collaboration with Lindstrøm Real Life Is No Cool and Lizzy Mercier Descloux’s effortless self-assurance, but Davidson taps into the foolish trappings of modern society with an ease all her own. With the combined presence of her efficient beats and entertaining vocals, I am immediately suspicious of anyone who doesn’t find some sort of satisfaction in listening to Adieux Au Dancefloor.
Exploded View Exploded View LP (Sacred Bones)
I was caught by surprise by this Exploded View album – I had seen the name around, but until recently I failed to make the connection that it’s Annika Henderson’s newest group! She’s the voice behind Anika, whose debut album from a few years ago is still on frequent rotation in my household, so I was psyched to get more of her gauzy, Nico-esque voice in my life. Exploded View is Henderson with three people she met in Mexico City, initially as some sort of loose backing band but now a fully-formed unit, and this self-titled album is great. Henderson’s voice dominates, sauntering around the songs like a gracious host, but the music is quite nice as well and more diverse than Anika. The heavy inflection of dub and its sonic properties that guided Anika are mostly absent here, replaced by a cooler-than-cool form of laid-back, no-wave-inspired post-punk – imagine if Jonathan Fire*Eater auditioned for No New York and you’ve got the idea. The drums generally maintain some sort of slick off-disco beat and the guitar and bass fill in the color, with a synth either coasting above it all or thickening the groove. The songs are diverse enough that Exploded View never lags, yet Henderson’s imposing presence unifies the self-titled debut as an album that stands strongly on its own. So glad I caught on!
Haan Sing Praises 12″ (Kaos Kontrol)
Nope, Haan isn’t a solo project (get it?), it’s a Brooklyn band taking their heavy metal music with utter seriousness. Like anyone in 2016 with a penchant for heavy guitars and pummeling drums, they’ve surely devoured a wide range of works, from Pantera to Swans to Sleep to Baroness to Deadguy et al., and they smooth it out into an easily-digestible four-track 12″ EP. It works pretty well – they’re clearly capable musicians, shaking up the time signature just enough to have you smirk at its ingenuity but not so much that you lose the ability to steadily bang your head. Vocalist Chuck Berrett showcases a wide range of vocals in this fairly compact set of songs, calling to mind Alabama Thunderpussy’s Kyle Thomas, Cavity’s Rene Barge and Josh Homme at his most throat-veined. There isn’t a clear distinction to Haan’s sound, but that probably works in their favor, as I could see Tool-worshiping mall-goths, Neurosis-hoodie tattoo artists and nerds who notate Dillinger Escape Plan tablature enjoying Haan in unison. It just might be a while before they become anyone’s favorite band, so much as highly-satisfactory filler between favorites.
Heavy Lids We Believe In The Night LP (Pelican Pow Wow / Backhaus)
Heavy Lids are a New Orleans punk quartet, and like many other Southern garage-punk bands, the lingering shadow of Jay Reatard is palpable. In the case of Heavy Lids, they favor speedy hi-hats, simple Killed By Death-ready song titles like “Stab Your Face”, purposely-bad attitudes and the continuous space-fuzz of an electric organ. Prime for a one-sided Rip Off Records single in 1997, but without the slight pop-punk influence – if anything Heavy Lids are spending more of their time with classic Mountain and Free LPs while cooking their beans on the stove than The Zodiac Killers or Registrators, but there’s also enough of that out-of-control-party vibe that The Mummies perfected as well. If you’re waiting for a clear and present hit, you won’t find it here – the songs are basic, which is good, but lack a sharp, unflinching dose of personality to really push it over the top. There’s no one aspect of Heavy Lids that goes above and beyond the call of duty, but if you’re looking for a budget-rock punk band to act as your current excuse to get drunk, Heavy Lids will gladly pass you the bottle opener.
Horse Lords Interventions LP (Northern Spy)
The question of whether or not these guys are lords with domain over horses or horses who rule over a specific entity is just the sort of pointless syntax exercise one can enjoy while listening to their fancy, intricate music. I’ve seen their name around but never checked them out previous to Interventions, and it’s a nice example of how complex algorithmic music can occasionally make for fun entertainment. The instrumentation isn’t listed, but I’m hearing live drums, guitars, bass, strings, horns, computer bloops and other elements that escape my keen ears, often working out some sort of complex equation for the sake of everyone’s good time, well beyond our mere-mortal 4/4 time signature. I’m reminded of the earliest Zs material, if they had a penchant for ZZ Top and krautrock, or perhaps some breezy form of dance-punk if you infused it with the buzzwords “just intonation”, “microtonal” and “Glenn Branca”. It’s undoubtedly intellectual music, but with more than enough cowbell to go around, and plenty of songs that make me want to bop side to side buffered by shorter pieces that offer welcome breaks to the otherwise joyous energy Horse Lords invoke. Who knew music requiring such a severe level of intellect to perform could be so dumbly engaging to listen to?
Graham Lambkin Community LP (Kye)
In a time of such tumult and uncertainty, who could resist the chance to have Graham Lambkin shuffle their deck a bit with another one of his non-musical serenades? I was eager to get my hands on this one, and it delivers, as Community immediately thrusts you into Lambkin’s distinct world of unloved and obscure sound. This one is fairly heavy on the vocals, complete with printed lyrics so the truly eager among us can study and eventually mumble alongside Lambkin. There’s a bit of violin too, played in the traditional sense, as if it was a family member entertaining relatives after a holiday meal with some classics. Most insidiously, Lambkin injects nearly all of Community with extended annoying high-pitch frequencies, as if someone is rubbing the moistened rim of a wine glass throughout, the sort of sound that eventually becomes so numbing, you notice its absence more than its presence once the grooves eventually run out. Community isn’t Lambkin’s busiest material, nor is it his most minimal – each track has plenty of grip, even as they float by in a semi-conscious state, like final transmissions of The Shadow Ring located on a hard drive that was previously thought to be erased. Hoping this is the start of a theme and Lambkin’s follow-up Parks & Recreation is up next.
Lanark Artefax Glasz EP 12″ (UIQ)
While I love electronic music for the fact that it is constantly pushing toward an unknown future and away from the confines of traditional rules of thumb, I have to say that I’m already getting a little restless with all the post-Arca avant-garde malware that is showing up these days. Like the debut EP from Lanark Artefax, for instance – there’s plenty of intricate, unpredictable and ostentatious sound engineering, surely the meticulous work of a bleary-eyed laptop master, but after you listen through once, how many more times do you need to hear it? Drum machines will pop off indiscriminately, synths are just as likely to fizzle and smoke as deluge the screen with long soothing drones, and the ghosts of grime and dubstep occasionally appear to form a functional beat or two, at least until you turn on the lights and everything scatters. I really enjoy this sort of thing if the artist has demonstrated a constantly-morphing sonic trajectory (Arca and Lee Gamble) or crafted a deeply unique universe of sound (Brood Ma) or incorporated the feel of hyper-modern luxury architecture into their tracks (Egyptrixx) but when Lanark Artefax is just firing off cool patches and pads without any notable substance beyond it, I start to question my love of progress and wonder if Lanark Artefax shouldn’t have just picked up a guitar and learned some Ramones covers with his friends instead. I’d check that out too.
Brad Laner Micro-Awakenings 2xLP (Drawing Room)
This one’s a doozy – two LPs filled with as much music as possible from Brad Laner, he of ’90s shoegazers Medicine. Apparently he recorded these sixty-one tracks from 2003-2009, originally offered as a free download on the Mutant Sounds blog (those were the days), and now they’re gussied up and properly presented on two slabs of 180-gram virgin vinyl (clearly nothing less would be acceptable). If you’ve heard Medicine before, forget it, as Laner’s solo work has as much to do with shoegaze as a pair of shoes. Rather, the music within Micro-Awakenings runs the gamut of instrumental composition, from math-rock to Muzak to drone to Badalamenti-esque soundtracking to baroque composition to Elephant 6-ish pop-rock, breathlessly edited without breaks. It’s essentially the best possible result one could have from tuning into WFMU at like 2:00 AM on a Wednesday: a jumble of melodic compositions that seemingly have nothing in common with each other, played out with the frantic speed of a demented genius. I’d say the album feels an epic collage, but the word “collage” seems to betray the fact that the music here is very much music indeed – nearly every track is thoughtfully composed with an ear for melodic twists and pop chord changes, songs that Laner’s brain quickly whipped up that other actual bands would be happy to call their own. There are more notes played here than a hundred Orthrelm records, which has me feeling exhausted by its end but ultimately glad I made it through. They should sell this one with complimentary sippy-pouches of Gatorade gel, lest the exhaustion lawsuits start piling up.
Levitations Dust LP (Adagio830)
Modern dreary post-punk is a brew so tantalizing to artists, creatives, punks and former punks that it only makes sense a good portion of it would be coming out of Berlin, a city bursting at the seams with bored artistic youth. Dust is Levitations’ debut album, and it certainly fits the genre well – cloudy riffs, a tonic of distortion and echo, gothy motifs – although that’s mostly all it does. I’ve spun it a few times, hoping that if I squeeze hard enough Levitations’ inherent charm will reveal itself to me, but nothing here really sticks out. The riffs fall in the unmemorable chasm between shoegaze and garage-y post-punk, the drumming is awkward and amateurish (and I usually love unpolished and awkward drumming more than any other drumming out there), and the vocals keep time with little excitement or intrigue. This is starting to sound harsher than I want it to be, because of course Levitations are a perfectly acceptable gothy post-punk group, it’s just that passing-grade genre exercises of exhumed ’80s and ’90s rock tropes are often my least favorite sounds being made, and Levitations have yet to offer any sort of personal stamp on their work.
Liquids E.P. 7″ (Yeah You!)
Over the last year, Liquids have taken the lead from Coneheads as the most active NWI punk group, scattering their self-released tapes in person or on YouTube with total disregard for the preexisting standard way punk bands are supposed to share their recordings. And much like Coneheads thumbed their nose at traditional distribution channels, Liquids vinyl debut is on a Brazilian label with shipping costs so extreme, only a guy who runs a middling music blog could afford to order it. What can I say, I’ve been following their random tape-comp contributions on YouTube and was psyched to grab their first vinyl platter. Thankfully, the music makes it worthwhile – they’re like a less-wavey, snottier version of Coneheads, which certainly works for me. They share Coneheads’ distinct recording sound: clean and punchy bass that sounds like it was recorded direct to four-track, dollar-store guitar fuzz and ultra-precise drum fills, which ends up sounding like Back To Samoa played on 45. It’s poppy but not pop-punk and occasionally rockin’ but never garage, just classic-sounding basement punk the way most of us wish we could make it. I’m holding my copy dear, unless of course a Brazilian who missed out has some old Sarcofago they’d be willing to swap.
Peder Mannerfelt Black Homes, Or How We Lost Solidarity 12″ (Hinge Finger)
Hinge Finger is a subtle techno imprint run by Joy Orbison, and it’s one of those spots where artists seem to push their own boundaries and achieve greatness while doing so: see the fantastic CO/R EP from earlier this year, or perhaps the best hard-techno 12″ of the ’10s, Blawan’s His He She & She. Case in point is this new EP from Peder Mannerfelt, who I’ve been keeping up with but neglect to review half the time – his music often falls in the category of “music I dig but forgot that I listened to”… perhaps you can relate. I won’t be forgetting Black Holes, Or How We Lost Solidarity, though, as it’s a monster four-track EP of aggressive house warfare. Opener “Cry To Your Soul” clears the air immediately, with rapid-fire electronic artillery and a stuttering house groove, as if Shake Shakir was suddenly dropped into a Call Of Duty mission to assassinate Objekt. It’s followed by “Clear Eyes, Full Heart”, which is easily the best Friday Night Lights-themed techno banger I’ve heard, coming through like a silkier take on Blawan’s Hinge Finger EP. The techno abstraction continues on the second side, with “Savvy” busting from its cage like a rabid iteration of Sistol’s techno conservatism, and “The Great Attractor” sounding as though Metroid got caught in one of Kerridge’s industrial-techno prisons during a riot lockdown. Each track is great, but combined it’s one of the most interesting takes on hard-nosed techno I’ve heard this year and my favorite Mannerfelt since The Swedish Congo Record.
Minor Science Whities 008 12″ (Whities)
I’m still playing Avalon Emerson’s Whities EP practically daily, but I’ve been sneaking this newer Whities EP care of Minor Science a whole bunch too. The a-side “Naturally Spineless” is immediate – it chimes like light dappling through a prism, resulting in a feeling of weightlessness, at least until the melody is cut and harsh jabs of bass whiz by like a crew of mean dudes on tricked-out Ninjas. Of course, Minor Science (a British man named Angus Finlayson) is too kind to withhold those synthetic chimes for too long, and soon enough both the Ninjas and the melody are holding hands and dancing, eventually finding a perfect spot on the beach to unwind. “Underripe” is the other cut and it’s nearly as nice – I’m reminded of Egyptrixx’s detailed sound constructions with the body-moving heft of Pearson Sound or Pangaea, resulting in something I’d seamlessly mix with one of those great recent Bruce cuts to the delight of a few thousand inebriated party-goers if I ever decide to get my DJ career off the ground. I’ve already installed the Whities app on my phone, so that a sharp bolt of electricity shoots into the pocket of my pants the moment a new 12″ is released – I can’t afford to change my setting to vibrate, lest I even slightly delay in snagging another edition from this fantastic label.
Mope City Petri Dish LP (Tenth Court)
Ah, Mope City, a place that’s always cloudy, filled with closed stores and chain coffee shops where everyone sits by themselves. It’s also a group from Sydney who channel the comfort of ’90s indie-rock misery with precision and grace. At their calmest, they recall the quiet slow-core of Duster or Low, and at their most raucous I’m reminded of Kitchen’s Floor, but mostly they work somewhere in-between, strongly calling to mind Pavement as so many have before them. The main vocalist sure has a Malkmusian tongue, but he makes good with it, rendering a track like “Incessant & Dull” catchy and heartfelt while still sounding a whole hell of a lot like one of the most famous ’90s indie-rock groups. You can’t avoid catching a whiff of the throwback, but Mope City come at it earnestly, with solid tunes and plenty of messy bangs in their faces, too indifferent and lazy to toss them aside. Makes me want to put on an old moth-eaten sweater and cobble together a zine about my failed relationships.
Oh Boland Spilt Milk LP (Volar)
Coming from the sleepy municipality of Tuam, Ireland, Oh Boland are disturbing the neighbors with their raucous, affable form of poppy garage-punk. This is their first piece of vinyl, and it’s a nice summation of a lot of what’s good about melodic punk in the late 2010s. Think Eddy Current’s catchy harmlessness, The Marked Men’s slick upcycling of the Good Vibrations Records catalog, and Ty Segall’s breezy riffs and fuzzed vocals. Oh Boland do a fine job of tailoring it together to suit their needs, confident in a post-Burger Records world and acting as Irish ambassadors to all the more popular bands from more popular countries that make their way through (Oh Boland have opened for Sheer Mag, Protomartyr and Speedy Ortiz if their one-sheet is to be trusted). I didn’t pick up any super-sized hooks on Spilt Milk, and the vocals are often a little too distorted to really stick to my ribs, but they’ve got a good foundation to work from. Worth peeping, particularly if you’ve wanted to hear a garage-y power-pop band authentically sing the word “garage” as though it rhymes with “carriage” – that always hits the spot for me.
Pauwels / Uns U.P. LP (October Tone)
Took me a while to decipher this one, as both sides of the silkscreened cover say “Pauwels” and “Uns” in wild type, and those aren’t exactly two words my brain is used to picking out. The fact that they’re both French bands might explain things a little bit, and after some Googling (and deciphering which band is which, as the center labels aren’t a huge help), I can finally tell you about not just their packaging efforts but their musical ones as well. Pauwels are stridently math-rock, complete with frantic drumming, unexpected stops and starts, extended effects-droning and whatever other pieces usually fit into this sort of puzzle. Imagine A Minor Forest and Growing tossing off a collaborative LP for Troubleman in 2004, if you may. Sonically, Uns are a fine pairing for Pauwels, as they are also an instrumental math-rock group, although they offer up a few more epic rock moves, calling to mind a time when you’d hear the name “Isis” and the first thought to enter your brain is of 8″ records on six colored-vinyl variants. Never realized I’d miss those days as much as I do right now. The simple description I’ll give them is “Don Caballero aiming for a Constellation Records contract”, which I think works well enough. Can’t say I’m feeling this one much – maybe if they opted for a frantic crackly-voiced emo singer ala Jasmine or Fingerprint I’d have a little more fun. Perhaps I’ll just do the screaming myself.
Pleasure Gallows Positivity + 2 7″ (Pelican Pow Wow)
Seems like there’s a lot of fantasy-filth punk bands kicking around these days, like Pleasure Gallows for instance – the front cover depicts a futuristic porn-dungeon that would make “Mad” Marc Rude blush, with a photograph of the band on the back to reveal three dudes who look like they interned for the Mentors in 1985 before being abandoned on tour. I can take or leave this vibe, but when you’ve got a couple songs as totaled and rotten as these, I don’t care if you wear baggy khaki shorts with a drooping chain wallet on stage, I’ll lend you my support. “Positivity” is a great one – picture the mundane anguish of Section Urbane with worse guitars volleying two “chords” for under two minutes and the Aflac duck on backing vocals and you’ll start to comprehend this punk perfection. “Beer” and “Find” are a bit more traditional, kind of knowingly-corny like a particularly suburban Killed By Death group (think Meaty Buys) down in the gutter behind Max’s Kansas City trying to huff Johnny Thunders’ leather trousers. They almost play together like one track called “Beer Find” which might work even better. Not much more I could ask for from this one – even the black-and-white print job of the sleeve seems to be fading already, as if the very ink that was printed on the record’s sleeve wants to stop being associated with this project.
Purling Hiss High Bias LP (Drag City)
Damn – this is Purling Hiss’s eighth album! Feels like only yesterday Mike Polizze’s debut under the Purling Hiss guise was peeling the skin off my speakers, and now he’s got a robust discography under his belt, both solo and fully-banded. High Bias is somewhat of a new direction for the group, but as far as I’m concerned it’s a welcome shift, keeping things fresh while still catchy and full of inhuman guitar theatrics. They’re in power trio form here, and tend to operate in two general styles within that realm: classic, sun-bleached Americana rock ala The Lemonheads or The Replacements and manic, British-inspired post-punk, not unlike Wire or Public Image Ltd. I’m actually kind of blown away at the similarity between Polizze’s voice and John Lydon’s on these tracks – he pronounces the word “fire” with two Cockneyed syllables and all of “Pulsations” is nearly Sex Pistolian in its fury. Polizze delivers it so well, particularly over a bed of up-tempo and manic post-punk (“3000 AD”‘s riff sounds like it came from an unreleased In Utero cut) to the point where I’m wondering if I should finally go and check out that PiL comeback album from a year or two ago. Mix all that with the breezy pop finesse of “Follow You Around” and “Fever” (and, the tried-and-true lengthy album-ending freakout “Everybody In The USA”) and you’ve got a rock record worthy of top shelf placement.
Reckonwrong Whities 009 12″ (Whities)
I’m truly tempted to put this entire review in bold, because we’ve got a “single of the year” contender right here! I was researching the Whities label (I’m obsessed) when I saw that they just released this single by the new-to-me Reckonwrong, so I loaded it up and “The Passions Of Pez” spoke to me immediately, like a thunderbolt from God. I highly recommend you locate the YouTube video for a-side cut “The Passions Of Pez”, as the song is improved by the fantastic video of who I believe to be Reckonwrong himself dancing with various instruments and singing along to his own song. In case you haven’t rushed off to do that, allow me to describe it in hopes of tantalizing you further – elastic synths come in close contact with clip-cloppy percussion, swaying back and forth like a Mirko Loko remix of Matthew Dear, and when the vocals come in, it’s all over. A dear friend described it to me as “Dan Melchior singing over Nicolas Jaar”, and I’d say he’s onto something – the vocal is pitched in all sorts of disorienting ways, with lyrics that are as numbskulled and pathetic as a failed fart joke – needless to say, I am completely enamored. “Getting Warmer (Hot Mix)” is the flip and it’s a wonderful instrumental of clunky techno-funk, the sort of thing I’d expect Beatrice Dillon to turn in for a Perlon release, but to be quite honest, I’ve only ever listened to it in the emotional wake of “The Passions Of Pez”, using it more as a soothing comedown than a piece of music that holds its own weight. Great cover art with a cool textured sleeve, too – have you seriously not picked this up yet? Email me when this task is completed, please.
Spahn Ranch Back To The Wood LP (Dais)
Surely the gothiest of all salad dressings, Spahn Ranch were an unheralded death-rock group out of Detroit in the late ’80s, and the sharp curators over at Dais brought this collection of archival recordings to life after all those forgotten years. Many tracks here overlap with their sole 1987 album Thickly Settled (love that title), and it displays a band that clearly operated in the midst of industrial music’s turbulent integration with college rock and the last vestiges of new wave. The insert shows them as the opening group for Swans, Sonic Youth , Psychic TV and The Jesus And Mary Chain, and they certainly sound like a suitable opener for all four – martial, tom-heavy drumming, thorny guitars and a tension that can only come from reading too many texts of the occult. They clearly were aware of The Birthday Party and Xmal Deutschland, trying their best to not sound American, but there’s something happening here that reveals their origins as dudes from Detroit. While I enjoy Back To The Wood, I can’t help but shake the sense that Spahn Ranch were cast into obscurity not entirely without reason, perhaps because they sound more like a collection of influences than a unique group, and there are no breakaway tracks hidden here by any means, but I’m glad Dais continues to unearth all manner of dark and sullen underground sounds.
Uniform Ghosthouse 12″ (Sacred Bones)
Not only is Ghosthouse my favorite Scooby Doo episode, it’s the newest EP by Brooklyn’s industrial-metal duo Uniform. As far as I’m concerned, at their worst they’re just okay and at their best they achieve a level of digital-metal fierceness to exceed their forebears, and this new EP falls on the higher end of their spectrum. The a-side title-track is based on a molten shoegaze riff that seems to be played through the blades of a battle-copter, churning incessantly with a fullness that many metal quintets wish they could wield. Vocalist Michael Berdan’s snarl, not unlike that of an agitated goose, sifts through the heaviness and boom, that’s a solid Uniform track. Flip it for “Waiting Period”, a righteous metal dirge with a thin Metal Urbain drum machine leading into something Youth Code would program if they finally got that slot opening for Mastodon on tour. Kinda reminds me of a digital-hardcore version of Stick Men With Ray Guns’ “Kill The Innocent”, which is just the sort of thing I want to be hearing these days. They wrap it with a headbanger in a cover of Black Sabbath’s “Symptom Of The Universe”, primed and ready to be edited next to “Jesus Built My Hotrod” in my exercise playlist. The only bummer is that I know for a fact that neither of the guys in Uniform have long stringy black hair, but there’s nothing stopping them from growing it.
Violence Creeps The Gift Of Music 12″ (Total Punk)
You want to be a lawless and unruly punk band? Here’s how you do it: release two 12″ records in close tandem, and basically break up at the same time! That’s apparently how it’s going down with Violence Creeps, a quick implosion after solid stretches of West Coast gigging (which I sadly never witnessed), but thankfully Total Punk is there to provide us with The Gift Of Music. There are six tracks here, and Violence Creeps are as disgruntled as ever, stomping mud holes as they push these tunes forward. The guitarist seems to pick up and start playing his guitar with whatever distortion and tone settings the person he’s borrowing his amp from initially chose, the bassist has an inexplicable urge to produce these frantic melodic runs (was he bitten by a Flea?) and vocalist Amber Feigel seems to truly inhabit the persona of a “Violence Creep”, be it directed internally or toward anyone in punching range. All this and the fact that The Gift Of Music was recorded and mixed by Bart Thurber at House Of Faith, who is responsible for nearly all of my favorite Agents Of Satan and Plutocracy records. Buy a copy if this sounds appealing, although I get the strong impression that Violence Creeps are already extremely dissatisfied with your behavior.
David West Peace Or Love LP (Tough Love)
Global citizen David West is never too far from a recording setup, be it portable or permanent, and he’s delivered what I consider to be one of his finest musical statements yet with Peace Or Love. You might know him from Liberation (reviewed here like a month ago), Rat Columns, Lace Curtain, Rank/Xerox or the occasional Total Control stint, but this album goes under his birth name, either because there is a deeper personal level to these songs or he simply ran out of band names. Or maybe it’s because he wrote and composed all these tracks, which cover a wide range of underground and sub-underground rock styles – hazy collages, Sebadoh-y lo-fi pop, Bruno Mars funk (“Dream On Dreamer”), Flying Nun-esque jangle, yachy-rock sleaze and No Alternative-ready buzz-binners. The only constant is his sleepy, quiet croon, as if the main guy from Belle & Sebastian forgot to sing with his British accent. Peace Or Love moves nimbly between styles, to the point where a noise squall recalling the File Under Pop 7″ feels perfectly appropriate next to the Balearic “Au Contraire” and an instrumental violin concerto, West’s parents dabbing their eyes with pride as they look on at the beauty their son created. There’s so much peace and love here; it’s truly wicked that West forces us to choose.
Worse Rubber Burner LP (Deranged)
Worse (not to be confused with The Worst or Even Worse) are a fairly new noise-rock trio out of Brooklyn, finding a home with Canada’s Deranged Records. They stick to a pretty standard formula, with heavy and jagged riffs that range from slow to speedy, booming drums and distorted vocals that never quite burble up above the mix. Thankfully, Worse’s aesthetic seems to be closer to METZ’s vague negativity than the unfortunate Brainbombs worship so many other bands are tempted by – there are no allusions to S&M nightmares or serial killing to be found in Rubber Burner, you’ll be relieved to know. Their sound falls somewhere between the aforementioned one-two grunge-punch of METZ and early Clockcleaner (particularly notable in the churning groove of “Slow Drip”), with plenty of space for guitarist / vocalist Robert Davis to one-handedly clutch his guitar against his body, delivering squealing feedback in tandem with his pained howl. The sticker says “for fans of Flipper, Harvey Milk and Cows” but you won’t find any acid-tripped pop nihilism or old-man tech-metal abuse that the first two offer, just the noise-rock drudgery of the latter. Worse don’t offer any strong sense of personality, just some workable post-hardcore songs, so I’ll let you decide if that’s enough to satisfy.