Reviews – March 2020

Paul Arambula Submarine 7″ (Gilgongo)
Paul Arambula (a member of both the defunct Vegetable featuring the great Anna Nasty and Soft Shoulder) clearly has the sort of musical pedigree that James Fella often seeks out for artists on his label – that is to say, someone who is either named James Fella or plays music with James Fella. Clearly there’s a tight little scene of weirdos lurking around Phoenix, Arambula and Fella included, and it can be nice to get a dose of what they’re up to, even if it’s not something I will be returning to all that frequently. “Submarine” is a laid-back slice of art-punk; think of a very homespun take on the pathways between early Jonathan Richman and Television’s “Little Johnny Jewel”. Flip it over for… a different and supremely concise version of the same song, clocking in at a whopping nineteen seconds, originally utilized in a video collage Arambula put together based on multiple nineteen-second snippets. Supremely superfluous stuff, which is often how I like my DIY post-punk, but I’m not sure my memory is strong enough to recall the existence of this micro “Submarine” a week or two from now. Perhaps to make up for it, this 7″ single includes a CD-r featuring roughly an hour of on-the-street interviews and the spontaneous sounds that surround them, presumably conducted by Arambula, but I don’t have a CD player handy and am not tantalized enough to go locate one. Gilgongo has prodded me into listening to a lot of unpleasant sounds through the years, but it’s yet to find a way to convince me to listen to a compact disc.

The Archaeas Rock N Roll 7″ (Total Punk)
Heard rumors that Total Punk will be shuttering its doors shortly, and while it’s a sad thought indeed, I’d rather focus on all the great records they bestowed upon us, not to mention their unwavering dedication to the endangered 7″ format. Kudos! They have such a knack for finding these bands, like The Archaeas for instance, yet another scrappy new punk band probably from some Southeastern region of the United States who are stomping in the same musical mudholes as generations of punk forebearers. Kind of a bold move to start off your debut 7″ single with a song title as gloriously generic as “Rock N Roll”, but that’s the sort of gutsy move I’ve come to expect from this label. As far as this specific track is concerned, it sounds perfectly fine, not too raw nor too melodic, somewhat reminiscent of the more upbeat punk tunes on Tyvek’s debut full-length (I’m thinking “Frustration Rock” with a little more low-end). “Replica” is ever so slightly more refined, coasting downward on a chorus of “your brains / fell out”, which works for me. Not sure where bands like The Archaeas will look to get their vinyl EP starts once Total Punk folds, but I hope someone else steps up to provide this valuable and necessary service.

Black Merlin SFORMATOR 2 12″ (Pinkman)
I’m still adjusting to being a fan of someone who goes by “Black Merlin”, but after the twinkling darkness of last year’s Kode EP and the industrial power-surge of this EP right here, I’m pretty much hooked. He’s got quite a deep discography I’ll have to dig into at some point in my life, so I can’t rightly say what is or isn’t his normal production style, but unlike the repetitive minimal techno found on Kode, these three tracks are heavy industrial techno akin to aggressive Function cuts or Rrose in their most bleary-eyed form. The construction is fairly uniform to these three tracks, which vary in BPM from an easy-going strut to energetic dance-floor power. A simple, unwavering beat underscores a variety of bone-chilling additives, be it nails-on-chalkboard synthetic scraping or vocals processed beyond recognition, imitating what it might sound like if a computer virus were able to suck its victims directly into the screen. I suppose it’s pretty basic for the genre, and there aren’t any new or stunning sonic heights reached, but it’s just so good as far as unfriendly industrial-techno music is concerned, cutting away any extemporaneous bits or gaudy atmosphere and getting straight to the goods. Simple and highly effective.

Brannten Schnüre Ei, Wir Tun Dir Nichts Zuleide! 7″ (I Dischi Del Barone)
There’s been a fair amount of hype in recent years over German pastoral-industrial duo Brannten Schnüre, and for good reason if you ask me – they’re truly a cut above the dark-folk pack. I think it’s because they have a knack for making music that feels earthy and rich, as if it came from the soil rather than a goth-club catwalk, and that resonates with listeners who rank substance over fashion. These songs waft in with samples of acoustic and orchestral folk (is the first song on the b-side borrowing from the Bambi soundtrack?), ancient violins, jet-plane noise and cavernous bass, and the fairly continual presence of hauntingly soft German vocals. Certainly within the aesthetic neighborhood of Hypnotic Sleep, F Ingers and Caroline K, let’s say, but their own distinct participant. It feels as though you’re as likely to hear a guitar being strummed as an oar pushing through a lake in the music of Brannten Schnüre, and they combine these various sensations cohesively and without any awkwardness. If you’re new to their sound, this new 7″ on I Dischi is a great place to start, as it basically features six short vignettes, a sampler of their various approaches (and a great example of how keenly it all fits together). I get the feeling this one will probably sell out fast, so be decisive!

Contractions Demain Est Annulé LP (Adagio 830 / Purepainsugar)
I’ve come to associate a specific form of hardcore-punk with Germany’s Adagio 830: screamy post-hardcore, crusty emo, gritty punk, basically anything that can be aesthetically traced back to the pages of HeartattaCk – so this Contractions album is a bit of a swerve. This French group plays a slicked-out style of alt-rock that reminds me of the jangling melodies of the Gin Blossoms with the smirking pluck of The Replacements. Nothing wrong with it, but also nothing I’d particularly want to draw your attention to… just kinda sounds like another rock band among all the others. I have to wonder, is this really where Adagio 830’s heart is at these days, this sort of low-stakes indie-alternative, music that is perfectly fine yet uninspired? Could it be that there just aren’t a lot of exciting hardcore-punk bands in Europe actively writing new material and going for it these days, so they’ve gotta work with what’s out there? I hate to think that’s the case, but it really does seem like everyone is playing synth-wave or grunge-y shoegaze, to the detriment of hardcore. I appreciate that Adagio 830 continues to act as a sounding board for the Euro underground, I just hope they can locate more of the underground that’s worth raising up.

Doronco Gumo Oldtribe LP (Selection)
When I caught wind of (not one but) two of my staunchly rock-centric friends heaping praise upon the decidedly non-rocking Oldtribe, I raised a brow, but when I learned that it features an ex-member of Les Rallizes Denudes, well folks I simply had to investigate for myself. The duo of Doronco Gumo have been releasing weird semi-improvised psych/rock/avant discs for a few years now, but apparently Oldtribe is a left turn even for these guys who have made nothing but left turns during their respective musical careers – it features little more than a Korg Monotribe rhythm box played by Hiiragi Fukuda and the groggy mumblings of Kiyohiro Takada (the one who was in Les Rallizes Denudes). To be fair I think Takada might actually also play a little harmonica here, and come to think of it, “little” is probably a great descriptor for the whole album – everything about this music is small. The Monotribe emits simple crawling patterns and Takada speaks softly with seemingly little consideration of the music he’s paired with. I suppose it could fit in with an artist like Phew, or some of the more deconstructed techno-pop that Vanity was pushing in the early ’80s (Sympathy Nervous and R.N.A. Organism), but it also fits in by not really sounding much like anything else, which is a key characteristic of those artists as well. Some of the VCO/VCF patterns almost recall the morbid pulsations of Haus Arafna, but there’s nothing remotely gothic about Doronco Gumo, seemingly closer in spirit to a decades-long creative wanderer like Tori Kudo. Perhaps most impressive is that as of this writing, not a single track of Oldtribe exists online for your freeloading perusal, and the label’s website (which is all over the packaging here) leads to one of those expired domain pirate pages. Doronco Gumo are valiantly obscure both in method and practice.

Facility Men It’s Fun To Disappear LP (Big Neck)
My brain keeps reading the name as “Faculty Men”, but that’s the wrong name as well as the wrong vibe for this Buffalo group, whose music is better suited to some hopeless warehouse complex than the hallowed halls of learning. They play a garage-y form of post-hardcore that reminds me of groups like Laughing Hyenas and Flesh Eaters, bands who lashed out at the narrow confines of punk and hardcore even though their blood remained full of the stuff. Facility Men are a little cleaner and tighter than either of those two though, probably taking more of a structural queue from bands one might associate with Electrical Audio and Steve Albini’s handiwork (which is to say, they might like to get down n’ dirty, but at least one song-contributing member surely must admire Fugazi and At The Drive-In’s seminal contributions). They’ve got the sound down pat, but It’s Fun To Disappear doesn’t have much in the way of any standout moments or “must hear” tunes, which of course is tricky for any group, new or old, who attempts to create music in this decades-old manner (although last year’s Hash Redactor album traverses somewhat-similar sonic territory to a smashing success). A solid if not particularly remarkable showing, if you’re asking for my opinion.

Fitness Womxn New Age Record LP (Sorry State)
This is the least Sorry State-looking Sorry State release I’ve ever seen – nary a skull in sight, North Carolina’s Fitness Womxn utilize angular shapes in shimmering gold, looking like a still-life from Liberace’s smoking lounge or something. They seem to approach their music with those same bold colors and acute angles, performing a decidedly minimal and herky-jerky form of no-wave derived post-punk. Whereas a normal punk bass-line involves eighth-notes, Fitness Womxn barely deploy two or three in any given bar, while the drums (heavy on the toms and hi-hat) skitter past, keyboards plink, guitars pluck and voices sneer. Reminds me of a refracted Erase Errata, or Scissor Girls with more of a retro-modern outlook, as if they palled around with Klaus Nomi instead of Lake Of Dracula. These songs get so pointy that at times it can be a little difficult to fully connect as a listener, like trying to hug a pile of elbows or something, but that seems to be by design, Fitness Womxn happy to keep anyone at bay who cannot (or is unwilling to) penetrate their icy-cool veneer. I suspect that their name is a tongue-in-cheek reference against societal expectations, as I can’t load New Age Record (the title also presumably at least 50% sarcastic) into my Peloton without getting an error message. Gonna have to find another way to break a sweat to this album, I suppose.

F.U.P. Noise And Chaos LP (Bitter Lake Recordings)
Oh, so you think you’ve got the consummate Sapporo City hardcore collection? Not without this F.U.P. compilation, pal! Bitter Lake continue to impress with the specificity and breadth of their pickings with this retrospective LP from late ’80s / early ’90s hardcore-punks F.U.P., collecting tracks from their demos and compilation appearances. The layout makes it fairly difficult to establish what comes from where, but I’m not going to be teaching a class on this stuff, so I might as well sit back and enjoy without precise formal knowledge of the subject. F.U.P.’s hardcore is stiff and unpolished, thick with distorted mids and gravelly vocals, perhaps inspired by the noise of Confuse and the propulsion of Gauze but tempering both impulses for something a little more subdued. Certainly the bread and butter sound of MCR Company during those early ’90s years, if a little on the rawer end of things (and thus sounding better by today’s accepted standards). I like the songs toward the end of the second side best, as the drummer ferociously sings through a veil of distortion, adding a little more character to these tunes (which progressively display more finesse and metallic leanings as the LP plays on). Certainly worth peeping if this is of remote interest, which should be the absolute lowest level of interest in obscure Japanese hardcore any readers of this page are allowed to have.

Gossiwor Domestic Saga 12″ (5 Gate Temple)
John T. Gast is nothing if not one of the most inscrutable British producers of our time. He’s got a ton of discs out there under his own name, mostly with little or no information and staunchly hermetic designs (good luck even seeing his name written anywhere on the packaging), EPs with the equally puzzling Inga Copeland, and various projects under different monikers – surely some that he still hasn’t revealed as his own. Gossiwor is a new-ish collaboration between Gast and someone named Asger Hartvig (of course they’re named Asger Hartvig), and it’s truly out-there stuff, occult music for the crumbling societies of today. These three lengthy tracks utilize what sounds like live stringed instruments, thickened out by synths and electronics both meditative and menacing. The classical instrumentation used alongside ominous keyboards recalls Current 93’s early experiments, tapping into that same sort of “scary old mystical occult England” vibe, whereas the texture and flow reminds me of some of the recent Shackleton collaborations (although I find Gossiwor to be significantly more palatable than those). Domestic Saga fits in an odd spot, as likely to be released by Blackest Ever Black as remixed for a grime MC to rap over, honestly. It would certainly appeal to the Dungeons & Dragons / Kye Records crossover crowd, who I suspect is larger than one might think. Final track “Thank You Lord” is the one to peep first, a mournful elegy with flip-phone chirps and suspicious spoken-word, somehow conjuring an entirely new world that is eerily like our own.

Dr. Pete Larson And His Cycotoxic Nyatiti Band Misiginebig LP (Dagoretti)
Pete Larson has been an infamous figure on the Midwestern sub-underground for decades now, an imposing beacon of demented rock/noise deconstruction via 25 Suaves, Couch, Danse Asshole and of course the almighty Prehensile Monkey-Tailed Skink (who remain long overdue for a retrospective reissue). He’s worn lots of different suits in his career, but I can’t say I saw this one coming: obsessive promoter and player of Kenyan folk music. I’ve now discovered that he started the label Dagoretti mostly in service to Kenyan artists, but seeing as he’s forever unsatisfied to merely stand on the sidelines, Larson has taken to the stage with a few friends to emulate these decidedly African psychedelic sounds. Larson and his players pretty much smoke these lengthy jams, which surprised me a little (dexterous technical mastery was never quite Larson’s forte), but they really rip through their music here as though it was destined to be. It’s fast and frenetic instrumental music, a dazzling swirl of African strings and a joy to hear. That said, it’s always at least a little unsettling when a group of white first-worlders directly lift musical cultures whose originators are often relegated to the “world music” bins, but the fact that Larson is actively working with Kenyan artists and promoting their music makes this feel like more of a cooperative celebration and less of a crass cultural appropriation.

Lolina Who Is Experimental Music? 12″ (no label)
Incredible new EP here from one of the shining beacons of inexplicable electronic trickery, Lolina. I got into her inexcusably late (in 2018 with The Smoke), and have been voraciously scooping up whatever I can find since then, which includes this new five-track EP. In a way, Lolina reminds me of To Live And Shave In LA, simply for the fact that each new record is unexpected and fresh and somewhat unprecedented, the product of a restlessly creative mind that operates without any sort of acknowledgment of the reigning underground trends. I certainly didn’t expect to hear what I’m hearing on Who Is Experimental Music?, which is an extended rhythmic study of double-helixing beatbox shrapnel? I realize that doesn’t really make any sense, so let me try again – it sounds as if the verbal spew of Jaap Blonk and the beatboxing prowess of Doug E. Fresh were sampled by Kraftwerk for some sort of sequel to “Tour de France”, whose master tape accidentally shredded into ribbons and was stitched back together in some sort of loop-based Frankenstein. It’s occasionally funky (there’s a moment in “Skipping” that slaps like Edan’s Echo Party) and frequently maddening, but consistently compelling, at least if you’ve got a brain like mine that is desperate to be dazzled by weird rhythms and unexpected sonic treachery. The answer to the titular question has never been clearer: it’s Lolina!

Lot Lizard Lot Lizard LP (Different Folk / Total Drag)
Next time someone wagers that there simply isn’t any moody post-punk coming out of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, toss this Lot Lizard album in their face and collect your winnings! They’re a relatively new group from what I gather, coming together from various other Sioux Falls punk and indie groups, and if their music is any indication, it seems as though the dull despair and gloom that’s taken over the rest of the United States has made its way to Sioux Falls as well. Lot Lizard’s songs are mostly morose – even the upbeat ones coast in on grey clouds – and wear the frayed edges of goth, although the lack of keyboards or melodrama ensures that Lot Lizard exist in the realm of punk, not goth (or at least closer to the punk border in mutually-occupied territory). The singer comes across like an American-accented version of Elias from Iceage, slurring his moans and moaning his slurs, and he does it with such commitment that I don’t really mind that this is probably the millionth Joy Division-inspired group I’ve heard in my adult life. Plus, it was released by Total Drag, their local record label-slash-shop that doubles as a DIY show space, and I’ll get behind that sort of community-driven effort over publicist-led Brooklyn/LA goth-rock pros any day of the week.

Magnesium Crest Of Red / Metal Soldier [Demo] 7″ (Bitter Lake Recordings)
So here’s how I think it happened: all the serious hardcore-punk record collectors ran out of rare hardcore-punk records to collect, so they moved onto the closest available genre, one rife with little-known DIY obscurities waiting to be dug up: heavy metal. It’s not particularly exciting to buy the same Minor Threat 7″ over and over again, so why not start digging for Mithrandir and Jaguar 7″s? I certainly don’t share the same affinity for heavy metal that I do for hardcore-punk (although both claim space in my heart), but I can understand the need to seek out unknown realms of music that prominently feature distorted guitars and screams, so I’m preparing myself for the continued excavation and reissuing of heavy metal’s mysterious rarities by punk-raised labels… which takes us to this 7″ by Japanese heavy metal group Magnesium. From what I can gather, although the group has been around since the ’90s (with barely any recorded activity until the ’00s), this highly-limited 7″ features two songs originally released on their 2007 album Magnesium Lady Bites Mad Metal Men, this time performed in their entirety by member Shinji Tachi. He dances up and down the frets of his guitars over a programmed drum track on these two tunes, singing in a fairly restrained (by metal standards) voice. “Crest Of Red” is fairly tuneful, its melody and fill-laden drumming nearly power-pop in their construction, whereas “Metal Soldier” lives up to its title with a rugged riff that recalls Manowar circa Battle Hymns. It’s not particularly thrilling music by my estimation, but it’s limited to a scant 100 copies and probably already sold out, so the record-collecting masses have overruled this one guy’s opinion, at least for today.

Magnetic Ghost Pixels LP (Magnetic Ghost / Round Bale)
Pixels opens with the cyclical chimes of a finely-tuned guitar, the sort of sound that I find inherently relaxing and capable of taking a song to a variety of places. Then the voice kicks in, and everything is immediately explained: this group likes Radiohead! I’ve never spent much time with the band myself – I’m sure they have some great cuts, and are worthy of at least some of the praise that has been heaped upon them over the past thirty years, but I dunno… other people can have Radiohead, I’d rather listen to The Party Of Helicopters or Fear Of God if I wanna hear white guys do cool stuff with guitars. Anyway, back to Magnetic Ghost: Radiohead is a good starting point for categorizing their sound, but their post-rock is closer to post than rock. These songs have slow-core roots but are made over with rich harmonies and electronic synthesis, which has me imagining Ian William Craig composing for Mogwai with Fennesz on the mixing deck. Not really the sort of thing I’d find myself reaching for – believe it or not, I’d prefer something a little more traditionally emo like Kepler or Very Secretary, or something purely electronic and instrumental, not the fusion that Magnetic Ghost demonstrate – but the longer Pixels spins, the more comfortable I get with their particular style. Certainly worth investigating if you’ve ever gotten heated over a discussion of Kid A versus OK Computer.

Nicholas Malkin A Typical Night In The Pit LP (Soda Gong)
It’s title of Nicholas Malkin’s new album that got my attention – I knew it wasn’t gonna sound like Pantera or Cro-Mags, but still… what if it did? This LA-based composer/DJ must’ve had a different pit in mind, as this record is full of soft, cautious and playful jazz-tronica, enhanced by today’s finest technological production tricks and created by a small group of talented players (including none other than M. Geddes Gengras on modular synth). The cover artwork by Whities in-house designer Alex McCullough is distinctively his style, and certainly places Malkin in league with the Whities vanguard, although his music skews closer to live-action ensemble than pure software manipulation (although there’s certainly some of that here, too). These smoky, rainy vignettes remind me most of Bristol’s O$VMV$M, although Malkin allows his compositions to spread their wings a bit, untethered to quantized looping. A track like “Secondhand Identity” seems ripe for D’Angelo’s sultry croon, quite a distance away from the abstract, Autechre-styled bleats and puffs of “Estacionamiento Privado”, although the soothing sax and keys of “Perfect Terminal” bridges the two comfortably, not that it particularly matters in this time of disintegrated genre boundaries. I’m not sure if I should wear my rave jumper or jazz beret while spinning A Typical Night In The Pit, but it’s a most pleasurable experience regardless of dress.

The Native Cats Two Creation Myths 7″ (Rough Skies)
Going out on a limb here and declaring The Native Cats to be the finest cultural export ever to come from Hobart, Tasmania. They’ve lasted longer than your average post-punk duo (eleven years and counting!) and continue to find ways to twist their basic premise (vocals, bass guitar, programmed rhythms) into all sorts of interesting shapes: mournful, solemn, manic, silly, poetic, and dark, to name a few. The a-side of this single, “Run With The Roses”, is my favorite thing they’ve done in a while, perhaps their heaviest and punkest tune to date. The bass seems to be emulating a DYS mosh progression and the drums follow suit, but no moshing ever happens, just the stunning verse of Chloe Escott. Will an underground vocalist shout a better line than “I’ve felt my body happening to people on the street” in 2020? Doubtful! You can go deep into Escott’s words or simply marvel at their poetic fury, and the music (nearly a sort of anti-music here, really) follows suit. The b-side is a sharp contrast, then, floating on a melodic, synth-y haze redolent of Public Image Ltd.’s Album with the benefit of Escott’s lyrics. It feels meditative and assured after the a-side’s fury, but don’t mistake its kindness for weakness… really great stuff. “Run With The Roses” is the anthem here, albeit an anthem of thoughts and feelings that remain unfiltered and undefined. The Native Cats offer no easy explanations and we’re all the better for it.

Oso El Roto Pop De Cuchillo LP (Bruit Direct Disques)
Bruit Direct is often a conduit for bizarre underground sounds that I haven’t otherwise encountered, which is impressive since I spend most of my days actively seeking out bizarre underground sounds. Case in point is Chile-born, France-stationed maniac David Loayza aka Oso El Roto, who has been cranking out frazzled lo-fi noise / rap / weirdness since the ’90s. Pop De Cuchillo is my first encounter with the man, and it feels like the sonic equivalent to a giant tangled nest of electrical cords, a wild pile of knots that will take dedicated time to even begin to unravel. Everything seems to go into the Oso El Roto blender, from cruddy hip-hop beats to Flamenco guitar, indiscriminate field-recordings, rudimentary keyboards, vocals slathered in Autotune, you name it and it’s probably bubbling somewhere in this hot stew. He sings (and raps) in Spanish over beats that are loose and sloppy, chugging forward until some of the duct-tape rips and the song falls into a tender keyboard ballad, ceremonial dance or drunken rant. The beats tend to remind me of noise-affiliated Load Records act Hawd Gankstuh Rappuhs Emsees Wid Ghatz, and the whole thing kinda has that “’00s CD-r noise culture” vibe to it, and not simply because Oso El Roto has previously collaborated with junk-noise paragon Crank Sturgeon. My favorite cut is probably the one that involves rapid-fire rapping, intermittent beats and what seems to be a warped snippet of the lead riff from “Sweet Child O Mine”, to give you more of a feel for what’s happening here. This album comes with a pro-printed jacket, but it has the aura of a record packaged with recycled cardboard scraps and still-wet paint.

Pop. 1280 Way Station LP (Weyrd Son)
Brooklyn’s Pop. 1280 released some of the finest noise-rock mutations between 2010-2011 or so – “Step Into The Grid” might make it on my list of best songs of the decade, were I to compile one (have no fear – I will not). Somewhere after that point they must’ve been huffing from whatever cans were laying around at the headquarters of their former label Sacred Bones and got more and more into the synth-wave / industrial-goth du jour, and I found myself progressively less interested, if only because I loved what they first sounded like the most. Now they’re on a new label for their fourth full-length, and it continues in an overwhelmingly electronic direction, the group slimmed to a trio with a synth in front of each member. While vocalist Chris Bug’s hoarse moan continues to stand firm over whatever the rest of the group is doing, and his lyrics remain vivid and descriptive, these songs are content to meander through cobwebbed hallways rather than thump the crowd from on stage. What might’ve seemed like a Birthday Party / Big Black fascination in their early years has given way to a weird sort of Marilyn Manson vibe, albeit one that lacks Manson’s sleazy brain-dead hooks… Way Station is mostly just sleazy instead. It certainly suits them, and these songs do feel like a reasonable progression for this aggrieved industrial post-punk group, but I can’t help but long to feel the cold hard smack of their early sound once more.

Puppy And The Hand Jobs I Hate Everything 7″ (Black Gladiator / Slovenly)
This is the second Puppy And The Hand Jobs single to pass through these pages, and I feel as though both have rendered me stupider than I was before hearing them. That’s probably exactly as they’ve intended, but I fear that any further encounters with this band will render me illiterate and unable to continue. Anyway, as the name proudly broadcasts, they’re trying to be offensive in the dumbest ways possible, and while it’s not exactly a major achievement to string together some inappropriate language suited for bathroom walls over lo-fi punk, I can’t deny that Puppy And The Hand Jobs have a firm grasp on the matter at had. To no one’s surprise, these songs recall the early GG Allin singles, The Spits, Buck Biloxi and Loli & The Chones, but Puppy and Co. clearly try harder than the rest of ’em, desperate to be noticed in an era where attention spans are exponentially smaller than back when GG was flinging poo across the Northeast. Honestly, if they toned down the shock-jock aspect, I might enjoy these tunes a little more, as the bizarre mixing of “Cocksucker” deserves multiple spins, not because of but in spite of the fact that it’s a grown man in a novelty diaper singing it.

S S S S Walls, Corridors, Baffles LP (Präsens Editionen)
What’s nice about communicating with you via text instead of in person is I never have to say any of these artist names out loud. How do you think you say this one, is “S” spoken four times in equally-spaced repetition, or hissed like a snake, or something else entirely? We may never know. Anyway, I had the itch for some experimental industrial-techno abstractions, and this recent full-length from this Swiss (or should I say “Swissss”) producer is hitting that nail firmly on the head. The sound palate reminds me of Lucy, Emptyset and Kerridge, but S S S S is constantly mucking about with it, pulling some sounds like taffy and strangling the life out of others. It’s a bleary-eyed form of sound design, redolent of Ben Frost for sure, but rather than going fully cinematic, the chopping helicopter blades, laser blasts and poisonous drones were crafted for the sake of the tracks themselves, not in service to any supplementary media. It’s an aggressive record, even when the percussion is somewhere off to the side as cavernous echo and steam combustion rip through the speakers, and it’s just that sort of restless hostility that does the trick for me. As soon as someone finally figures out how to mosh to this stuff, no club will be safe.

Tenshun / Maunarc split 7″ (Divergent Series)
Always nice to have a fresh offering from the Divergent Series label, this one in the form of a white vinyl 7″ (which is apparently the worst color of vinyl when it comes to audio fidelity, not that I’ve ever personally noticed). Tenshun came through these pages way back in 2011 for another split, and while I cannot recall much about it besides the phonetically-spelled name, this track’s got my attention! It’s an absolutely crazed drill n’ bass massacre, utilizing a crusty kit over some lingering tones. It almost feels like digi-dub as far as the sonic atmosphere, but the percussion is rippling like peak Planet Mu break-core circa the turn of the century (and Tenshun was around back then as well, making similar tunes). Maunarc is also spelled like it sounds, and in the five minutes I spent trying to figure out the person(s) responsible for it, I came up empty. It actually sounds like a tremendously slowed-down version of Tenshun’s cut, as if Tenshun was a 78 and this is the same record on 33, although the beat here is locked in place, moaning vocals waft in and out, and it staggers like a drunk wandering through a haunted house. Nice pairing of fast and slow, demonstrating why out-of-control speed and stoned-out wobbling are excellent aesthetic choices for underground electronic music of this caliber.

Yamaneko Spirals Heaven Wide LP (Local Action)
If you’re gonna name your album Spirals Heaven Wide, it damn sure better be beautiful, but thankfully London producer Yamaneko is up to the task. You can stick this one under “power ambient”, or if you opt for a more esoteric filing system, in between the rainclouds that seem to follow Burial everywhere he goes. These songs certainly share that same “echoes of the club on your 4 AM walk home through rain-slicked cobblestone alleys” vibe that Burial essentially invented, but Yamaneko is less filmic about it and a little more direct, opting for large sweeping chords and uplifting melodies. (The album even ends on what sounds to be an old-timey music box melody, the sort of thing you’d find in your great-grandmother’s attic after learning she was once a beautiful ballerina.) Thus, these tracks often feel like the spellbinding builds before some massive trance drop, although in Yamaneko’s case the drop never arrives, content instead to hover, sail and drift through these curiously soothing electronic vistas. Titles like “You Envied The Stars Their Height” might call to mind grandiose post-rockers like Explosions In The Sky or Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and while there’s certainly a shared sense of classical magnificence, I find Spirals Heaven Wide to be deeply engrossing and mood-altering, whereas your average Mogwai copycats have me running to the nearest exit.

Reviews – February 2020

Barn Sour Horses Fucked Over The Head With Bricks 7″ (Careful Catalog)
Careful Catalog is really asserting itself as one of the top American purveyors of experimental WTF nonsense. If you like sound art with infinitely more questions than answers, Careful Catalog’s got what you need, like this 7″ single from Barn Sour, whoever they might be. What do you file this under, agricultural comedic noir? I’d like to see what other records are in that bin. The a-side is about four minutes of forced laughter over a pulsing drone that slowly increases in volume and some ambiguous, distressed physical sounds, as if a magician were attempting to free themselves from a straightjacket made of plastic Target shopping bags. Does anyone know why she’s laughing, or if any horses were actually harmed in the making of this audio recording? It ends abruptly, and the b-side offers no clues – rather, multiple frothy voices argue in gibberish over some resonant piano, like Michael Pisaro walking into a wordless argument between Daffy Duck and the Tasmanian Devil. Kind of reminds me of Menstruation Sisters through the use of absolutely intolerable human voice, but the moody piano and fluttering drones add a mournfulness that sets Barn Sour apart from most other experimental noise acts. What scares me most isn’t that these completely bizarre and confounding recordings exist, but that somewhere out there, there might actually be someone who can make sense of it all.

Beauty Hunters Muscle Memory LP (Dirty Knobby)
Everybody loves Mudhoney, but it’s worth pointing out how cool their modern-age bassist Guy Maddison is. The guy can recite DRI lyrics at the drop of a hat, save a life using his EMT skills, and probably just as easily end a life using his rippling Aussie physique. Turns out he’s keeping busy during Mudhoney downtime with some synths and friends, operating under the name of Beauty Hunters, now with a debut album of three long-form cosmic synth excursions to their name. Alongside Sean Hollowell and “video editor” Curt Buchberger, these men drift deep into the outer reaches with murmuring arpeggios, galactic rumbling and a meditative patience suited for this musical practice. The a-side is the longest, reminiscent of Klaus Schulze under a cloud of black smog, and the b-side’s two cuts follow similar compositional patterns, with the final track (the appealingly titled “Fried Eggs For Everyone”) appropriating some cinematic dialogue deep in its murk. I’d place it somewhere between Tangerine Dream and Black Mayonnaise, or a Death Waltz soundtrack for a movie based on a killer oil spill that murders its victims very, very slowly. I didn’t know Maddison had this in him, but I’m delighted to know that he does!

El Conjunto De Su Tio El Conjunto De Su Tio 7″ (Musica Desechable)
Not interested in instrumental rocksteady ska? How about some Venezuelan instrumental rocksteady ska on a Mexican lathe cut 7″? I for one love that the Musica Desechable label exists to help promote underground South American music on their own modest scale (I can only find a scant Soundcloud page online), and that they’re doing so in their own weird way. On this presumably-quite-limited lathe-cut single, El Conjunto De Su Tio plays two songs of easygoing first-wave ska, lead by a meandering organ that might appeal to fans of Quintron’s exotica. Certainly fans of scratchy 2 Tone 45s in their company sleeves will find it to be a pleasant outing. Far, far from the chain-walleted reaches of ska’s third wave, these songs hearken to an earlier era, of suits and ties and skanking as a form of courtship. Nice to know that it’s currently happening in Caracas, that’s for sure.

Eroders Eroders LP (Outer Limits Lounge)
Trusty Detroit rockers Eroders follow up their smattering of singles and EPs with their debut self-titled full-length on Outer Limits Lounge. Rather than expand on their basic garage-rock / American post-punk template, they deliver more of the same, satisfying comfort food for fans of the genre and probably confoundingly boring to YouTube vlogging teens. I’m hearing echoes of the usual suspects in these tunes – Wipers, Los Angeles’s X and Gun Club – with an energy and occasional vocal delivery that calls to mind the earliest At The Drive-In 7″s, back when garage-rock was one of their main stylistic points of reference. Pretty basic stuff, but they jazz it up with tasteful Farfisa, riled-up backing vocals and the strange decision to cut the Violent Femmes-y “16” in half, ending the a-side and starting the b-side with it. Why not, I guess? Doesn’t seem likely that Eroders will change anyone’s mind about anything, but as for a fresh slice of dependable and tuneful garage-punk, it’s available for anyone to dig right in.

Eyes And Flys Eyes And Flys / Fall Asleep With The TV On 7″ (no label)
New solo thing here from Buffalo’s Eyes And Flys, a solo project from a guy named Pat Shanahan who may or may not have been a member of Facility Men (and surely some other Buffalo punk and hardcore groups over the past decade). He’s trying his hands at one of these “one person plays all the instruments so it sounds like a regular band” deals, which results in some pretty pleasant-if-unremarkable garage-y post-punk. The title track repeats the group’s name four times in a row for the chorus over a floor-tom-led groove and down-picked guitars, like an early, bluesy Hot Snakes practice tape, were such a thing to exist. The cool thing about this song is that Shanahan could easily license it to artisanal Brooklyn comfort-food specialists Pies ‘n’ Thighs with a quick change of lyrics. Why don’t more non-corporate restaurants have their own theme songs, anyway? “Fall Asleep With The TV On” is slower and trippier, utilizing tambourine for percussive time-keeping and delivered in a bleary monotone, presumably aware of the existence of Brooklyn’s Kaleidoscope. These two songs together have me thinking that Eyes And Flys might appeal to fans of Ty Segall and King Gizzard And The Lizard Wizard, but the vinyl for this self-released 7″ single is black, not neon lava-lamp colored. I’m still hung up on that Pies ‘n’ Thighs idea, honestly.

Yan Hart-Lemonnier Le Partages Des Griefs LP (AD AAD AT)
If my name was Yan Hart-Lemonnier, you better believe that I’d be picking up a sweet pile of synths with which to compose some lush and peculiar electronic music! This French producer has put out numerous albums over the past few years, and Le Partages Des Griefs is his second for London’s AD AAD AT. Much is explored over the album’s eight tracks, from blissful power-ambient surges to wistful IDM, all with a consistent mix of synthetic versions of natural sounds and synthetic versions of synthetic sounds. I’m imagining the electrical cords of Kid 606, DJ Scotch Egg, Arca and Eats Tapes all tangled together while listening to Hart-Lemonnier’s music, although any particular sonic similarity proves to be quickly fleeting, as his creative spirit seems restless indeed. I like it best when it veers to the cinematic – much of the first side puts together sonic characters with such depth and distinction that they easily come to life in the mind’s eye of a focused listener. If our future robot overlords sound like this, maybe it won’t be so bad?

Huevos II III 12″ (Sophomore Lounge)
Huevos II is a new laid-back, no-pressure rock group featuring Ma Turner (whose Warmer Milks project I’ve always enjoyed) and two other friends with less peculiar names, John McGuigan and Patrick Borezo. Noting Turner’s involvement, I kept waiting for some subversive secret to reveal itself as I listened to these five simplistically sweet indie-rock tunes. Were they actually playing all the instruments upside down? Did they play these songs backwards, and then flip the tape forward? It appears the answer is “nope”… Huevos II are just a regular indie-rock band like countless others before, although the pencil drawing of a phallus-nosed Mickey Mouse on the b-side label is a little unnerving, thankfully. III falls into that sort of collegiate ’90s Matador vein, perfectly poised to open for Calexico, Chavez and Pavement whenever they roll through town. The song “Memories” actually reminds me of Purling Hiss in their prettiest pop mode (sans any scorching solos), and the rest of it has me thinking of Pavement circa Shady Lane or Spit On A Stranger (which is my favorite Pavement, and at odds with the popular opinion, for whatever either of those things are worth). A friendly and familiar sound, but not one that offers much in the way of its own sonic distinction or character. Maybe that’s the point?

Jivestreet Revival Jivestreet Revival LP (Slackersound)
Oof… that name. It should be your goofy uncle’s blues band, or some boring street fair with overpriced fried cheese curds, or anything besides the belligerent German scum-rock band that it actually is. I’ll chalk it up to cultural miscommunication, so if you’ve actually taken the plunge to read this review about a group called “Jivestreet Revival”, you’ll be one of the lucky ones to know that they’ve got a decent handle on seedy punk that calls to mind Fang and Kilslug. The songs are on the verge of becoming metallic but never quite reach that, instead pulling punk in its sleaziest sonic direction, all with a vocalist who sounds recently disturbed from his uneasy sleep before stepping to the mic. The tunes move quick, and the more I sit and soak up their Lubricated Goat-ish riffing and damaged demeanor, the more I think I might really get behind this group if they were named something, anything else (even “The Cheese Nerdz” or “Flapjacks Unlimited” would be steps up). I suppose true low-level druggie-rock such as this doesn’t really concern itself with aesthetic perfection, though.

Kopy / Tentenko Super Mild LP (TAL)
I read that Lena Willikens is a big fan of Osaka’s Kopy and Tokyo’s Tentenko, often including their tracks in her live sets, and when Lena Willikens talks, I listen! I’m glad to have discovered the work of these two Japanese producers, and while I am unsure if they are friends or collaborators or more than just two separate artists brought together on a split LP, their styles are quite complimentary and similar. Kopy’s sound is loose and exploratory, somewhere between the earliest raw house experiments of Kyle Hall and the industrial boogie of Jasss. Rhythmic patterns are given a light kick in the pants, and the tempo drops to a crawl on “Carl”, which is certainly in Williken’s wheelhouse. Tetenko’s sounds are similarly rough around the edges, invoking tribal drums and aggressive pads as well as sampled voices on nearly every track. The brittle pulse of “Super Soggy” is probably my favorite, a claustrophobic throb suitable for any disagreeable Downwards mix. Of the two, I’m not sure I can easily pick a winner, as both Kopy and Tentenko are making some cool n’ rugged techno-industrial, and not everything has to be a competition, right? Sometimes I catch myself simply enjoying music without rating it, like right now.

Lithics Wendy Kraemer EP 12″ (Moone)
Without any good reason, I’ve been sleeping on Lithics… I know, what am I doing not checking out this cool post-punk band released by labels like Thrilling Living and Kill Rock Stars, but there are only so many hours in the day, alright? In the immortal words of Ray Of Today: “get – off – my – back!” Anyway, here I am finally checking them out in the form of this vinyl-reissued cassette of practice demos and improvisations that eventually morphed into their album Mating Surfaces. I’m afraid that if I am to eventually hear that album, I won’t like it as much as this 12″ EP, because this rough (but not too rough) collection of tunes is right up my alley! These songs are all elbows and knees, poking out and knocking into each other in a crammed backseat. I’m reminded of my favorite parts of Erase Errata (the weirdest parts), the unfeasibly-workable guitar interplay of Arab On Radar (just without any fuzz), and the enchantingly hushed mathematics of Et At It, all with a strong spiritual connection to Suburban Lawns (there’s no track listing anywhere, but the second side opening tune is exemplary). I love that they’re able to eschew the drums entirely for one song, and have them lead the next – for a tossed-off tour tape, Wendy Kraemer has a marvelous flow, right down to the random found-sound snippets and no-wavey gems. Recommended!

Galcher Lustwerk Information LP (Ghostly International)
Seems like a pretty solid deal for both respective parties here: Galcher Lustwerk gets the boost of a larger label and its inherent seal of approval, and Ghostly gains the cache of a staggeringly cool producer like Galcher Lustwerk into their fold. This is an artist who found his lane early on and has stuck with it, and it’s been a pleasure following along. Unlike previous records, Information mixes up the percussive sound a bit – for the first time, Lustwerk samples a live drum kit instead of purely electronic hits and kicks. It’s not a drastic left-turn for low-key deep house such as this, but it lends a different feeling to these songs; it still sounds like nighttime, just a different form of nighttime. In addition, he slows the pace frequently throughout – I’m not sure “Cig Angel” counts as a slow jam so much as weightless house music geared for La-Z-Boy recliners and sleepy head-bobbing. As always, Lustwerk’s distinct, hushed vocals emboss these tracks with his signature sound, and the synths mostly remain the same: lush tones that slowly swirl outside your luxury SUV as it cruises down a coastal highway at 3 AM. Information is more of a mood-setter than a collection of party anthems (such as previous cuts “I Neva Seen” and “Parlay”), and while it’s fun to move one’s body to the music of Galcher Lustwerk, I can’t think of anyone else I’d rather set my mood.

Sam Mallet Wetlands LP (Recurring Dream / Musique Plastique)
This posthumous collection of cassette-only and previously-unreleased material from Australian artist Sam Mallet is so on-trend for today’s electronic music underground that I’m checking my watch for the backlash, but you won’t be getting any of that from me – I really love this kinda stuff. The jury’s out on whether or not I’m simply another trendy robot, but these tunes, full of semi-ambient beauty and vaguely non-spiritual new-age soundscapes, do the trick. Crazy to think that there were so many unheralded artists such as Mallet doing this stuff in the mid ’80s, surely inspired by My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts, personal synthesizer ownership, ECM jazz and the advent of computers as musical tools. Wetlands collects some nice moments from his tape releases as well as some unreleased gems, to include lounge-jazz trumpet and standup bass alongside the sound of cars driving past (“Amber”) and circuit-bent Cabaret Voltaire-inspired exotica (the lovely titled “Skateboard Terrains”). Beautiful sonic artistry on a DIY level… it’s truly a shame that Mallet isn’t here to appreciate that the world has finally caught up to what he was doing.

Messrs Messrs LP (Heel Turn)
I always found the genre title “pigfuck” to be unappealing… it’s distasteful, for starters, and not a reasonable description of the music to which it applies. I think it’d work for Messrs, though, not simply because they play a snarling and loose form of ’90s-inspired noise-rock, but because the cover art features the remnants of some unfortunate swine, blood and goop and intestinal bits splattered about. Not sure what their relation with that particular pig is (I hope it came from an ethically-sourced butcher and not one of the band members’ extracurricular hobbies or something), but their music here is thicker and gooier than their Savage Quality 7″ EP that rolled through these pages back in 2016. The singer certainly sounds as though he is wearing a soaking-wet button-up shirt, either from perspiration, spilled cocktails or some mixture of the two, slurring and swinging wildly at the cops who are tossing him in the back of the patrol car. The songs are mostly chaotic mid-tempo noise-rock slams, akin to a de-tightened Jesus Lizard or a punker Tar, with very little of the garage-punk scuzz that I heard from Messrs before. They speed it up on occasion as well, recalling the fury of Condominium without the manic stamina. If this description sounds appealing, I’m going to assume you’ve already heard plenty of other groups who sound similar to Messrs, but if you insist on seeking out more ugly and inebriated noise-rock, rest assured that Messrs are not even remotely plant-based.

Midnite Snaxxx Music Inside LP (Slovenly)
Kind of a rare offering here from Slovenly: a group that I’ve actually heard mentioned by friends and acquaintances! That might sound like a diss, but well-praised (or even vaguely acknowledged) bands are often overrated, you know? Midnite Snaxxx is a group who seem to have developed a following among various crowds, from the MRR posse to Total Punk to the internet and beyond. You might as well lump me in there too, because they’ve got a good thing going! Music Inside displays the group’s comfort with numerous punk styles, from spindly post-punk ala The Raincoats to primitive proto-punk reminiscent of Glass Candy’s first album, numbskull pop-punk akin to Clorox Girls and an unrefined take on Exploding Hearts’ ’77-inspired power-pop. No matter if they’re pogoing out a drunken anthem or hip-shaking to some taut post-punk rhythms, it all sounds like Midnite Snaxxx, thanks to an enthusiastic vocal delivery and consistent energy, as if playing these punk songs is first and foremost a matter of fun, not business or social status or any other nefarious reasons. A song like “Gold Chains” sounds like it should be a cover, as though it’s some catchy Vibrators song I forgot about, but nope, Midnite Snaxxx have the knack for making the new sound old in a new way.

Mooey Moobau Powder, And All That Store-Bought Hair 12″ (Related)
Mooey Moobau is the tender child of a guy named Joseph Tepperman, one of the many unsigned, unrepresented artists who make life slightly more interesting for those who encounter them. He’s certainly got his own style down, one of Dada-inspired verbal gymnastics, quiet freakiness and loosely structured live-band instrumentation. Reminds me a bit of Xiu Xiu without the electronics, sexual hysteria or emo tantrums, or maybe Bryan Lewis Saunders on a proper schedule of anti-depressants and a newfound love of The Decemberists. This one-sided 12″ veers into solo musical theater at times, which is sure to test most listeners’ patience, although his use of his live vocals alongside his own pre-taped vocals is fairly novel and entertaining for at least a few go-arounds. Not much technical talent to be found here, but who needs that when you’ve got the overwhelming confidence and chutzpah that pours out of Mooey Moobau’s music. Related Records is from Phoenix, so I have to wonder if they haven’t crossed paths with the Gilgongo crew throughout the years, as Powder shares a similar feeling of unschooled and under-financed high-art by folks who more closely identify with punks than gallerists. In a different time and place, this would be one of those classic love-it-or-hate-it K Records releases from the late ’90s, but it’s 2020 now and the world is somehow significantly bigger and lonelier.

Mosquitoes Emergences / Resurgences 7″ (I Dischi Del Barone)
While certainly their own thing, I can’t help but see Mosquitoes as carrying the torch left by the dissolution of Sightings. Both groups gleefully deconstruct rock music through methods of noise, no-wave and experimentation, and both do a fine job of making it interesting, weird and worth replaying. Mosquitoes differ in that they seem to have more of an avant-garde jazz influence than the primordial garage-rock that initially fueled Sightings, and they make keen use of that sense of timing and engagement on these two cuts. “Emergences” fumbles fat fingers across a bass, mumbles and flutters percussion and voice, and stirs up some guitar that sounds like curdled milk. The bass-line (or relative resemblance of a bass-line) almost feels like a distant relative to pop music, albeit severely disfigured. “Resurgences” is notably heavier, with the guitar droning like a factory out across a decrepit parking lot, a more resonant bass sound and the drummer putting a little muscle into his trap kit. It ends up sounding like the last jazz bassist and jazz drummer in the world, improvising until an incoming tsunami obliterates them. Excellent stuff, and an urgent reminder to pull out Mosquitoes’ great 12″ from 2018 as I’m left wanting more.

NightFreak Blade Of The Knife 7″ (What’s For Breakfast?)
New Chicago power-trio here, sporting a flying-V guitar, a spray-painted bed-sheet banner and a song called “Blade Of The Knife”, which to be fair is one of the more obvious blades out there. They make use of that title for a hard-edged riff out of Judas Priest’s playbook and perform it with the gusto of traditional Chicagoan punk rock. “The Holler” stays the course, perhaps splitting the difference between Thin Lizzy and Nashville Pussy, with vocalist/guitarist Steve Henderson screaming out of a throat that’s clearly experienced its share of unfiltered cigarettes. The energy increases on “Shitting Bricks”, as does the level of sloppiness, but what can be expected of punks playing NWOBHM licks and having some messy, beer-soaked fun whilst doing so? They’re not called NightNormalPerson, for chrissakes.

Parashi Tape From Oort Cloud LP (Sedimental / Skell)
One of the cool things about writing these reviews is the random connections that sometimes occur. I recently wrote about the collaborative Spykes / Parashi 7″ single, and Mike Griffin (that’s Parashi) noticed and decided to send me this new LP! Not bad at all. Free from the infernal squawking of Spykes, and given twelve inches instead of seven to spread out upon, Parashi’s deep electronic murmuring conjures some sort of rocketship-as-dungeon imagery (engines off, drifting further and further away from humanity). Fitting title then, invoking the Oort Cloud through these four deep and hopeless electronic excursions. I’m actually kind of reminded of those late-period Hair Police albums that sounded like a dead body in the basement of a castle slowly rotting away, but instead of a harsh, lo-fi recording suitable for ’00s noise, Parashi locates these same feelings of avant-garde despair through what must be one or two fancy vintage keyboards. Very supple, rich bass tones, giving my modest speakers a healthy workout in a way that many other “solo synth project” records do not. It ends with some warmly resonant tones, almost enough to make me think Parashi’s glass is half full, at least once in a while.

Luiso Ponce Nuevas Emociones 7″ (Musica Desechable)
The other Musica Desechable lathe-cut single is about as far as one can get from traditional ska while remaining on the dancefloor – acid techno! Luiso Ponce is a Guatemalan artist whom the label states “comes from the hardcore scene”, and it’s kind of reassuring to know that hardcore kids turning to electronic dance music is a worldwide phenomenon at this point. He’s got two tracks of rigorous and bleak techno here, both of which are fairly rudimentary in design and execution. Certainly feels like a “first attempt” sorta thing, or something close to it, and while I generally enjoy first-attempts when it comes to punk and hardcore more than that of electronic music, how can I possibly hate on this, seriously. The lathe-cut properties also add a gritty layer of distance between my ears and the music, and its interesting in an accidental Christian Marclay way, not a carefully conscripted Burial sorta thing. I prefer the fluttering tones of one of the two tracks (I can’t tell you which because neither side is labeled and the matrix is blank) – it probably sounds transcendent played live at a Guatemalan post-hardcore rave, but for now I’ll just have to lean in close to my speakers and try to imagine such a scene while it spins.

Donovan Quinn Absalom LP (Soft Abuse)
Donovan Quinn is a pretty great name, if you ask me – it’s equally suited for NFL quarterbacks as bookish indie troubadours. Let me make it clear, then, that this particular Donovan Quinn isn’t the type to throw any game-winning touchdowns, but rather one who’ll craft humbly thoughtful indie-folk. His voice is like 60% Bob Dylan and 40% Home Blitz’s Daniel DiMaggio when he whisper-sings, and it sits comfortably upon the orchestral backdrop of his songs, arranged around acoustic guitars, strings, pianos, keyboards, bells, and so on. There’s a seeming abundance of precocious and charming instrumentation, as if Quinn raided Belle & Sebastian’s storage closet, but it all feels integral to these songs, never overstuffed or cluttered. A Dylan-esque wordsmith over baroque indie-pop is surely a polarizing sound for the readers of this webpage, and Quinn won’t be changing any minds on that (even if he charmingly drops f-bombs into his melodic choruses like on “Satanic Summer Nights”), but if a world-weary member of The Skygreen Leopards in a J Crew button-up singing smart and soft songs sounds palatable, Absalom is just what the doctor ordered.

Reek Minds Reek Minds 7″ (Edger)
Here’s some hardcore-punk that’ll fix your posture! Portland, OR’s Reek Minds follow last year’s demo with this fantastic eight-song EP on Edger. It’s a vibrant mixture of violent early hardcore (Mecht Mensch, United Mutation) and the speedy blasts perfected by No Comment and Lack Of Interest. Certainly feels like something that 625 Productions would’ve released around the turn of the century (and would’ve been their finest release of the year), but nasty and unhinged enough to appeal to today’s Void-repping hardcore kids who were born after Saves The Day released their first album. Pretty sure the No Comment similarities here aren’t a coincidence, seeing as there’s a song called “Dead Stare”, perhaps a nod to No Comment’s untouchable “Dead Stare For Life”. Their Portland residence had me noting Reek Minds’ sonic similarities to Suck Lords as well, and what do you know, they apparently share some members. When the power of hardcore-punk compels you, truly compels you as it does these fine gentlemen, there’s no reason to stop at just one band! How long until Iron Lung comes sniffing around these Reek Minds?

Soft Shoulder Aerosol Can Stand 7″ (Gilgongo)
James Fella’s Gilgongo continues to release James Fella’s Soft Shoulder, and why not? Ever heard of D.I.Y.?? Unlike all the other Soft Shoulder records I’ve heard, which take classic no-wave ideas as a jumping off point for modern noise-rock / improv freakery, Aerosol Can Stand features two pretty normal indie post-punk tunes. Again I say: sure, why not? “Thin Red Straw (High Tension)” rides on its purposeful bass-line as Fella does his best Mark E. Smith impression on the mic, which is surely a fun thing to do. “Wellness Line (Move A New Way)” follows the same template but injects a little shoe-moving energy, answering the question of “what would Moss Icon sound like re-imagined as one of the lesser Y2K dance-punk groups?”. Is there an audience out there beyond friends and neighbors of the group, willingly purchasing these records and paying attention to the stylistic shifts of Soft Shoulder? I do not know. If there is, one thing’s for sure: Gilgongo never leaves ’em hanging for too long.

Sore Points Not Alright EP 7″ (Slovenly)
The Sore Points! You know, like what you get after running a half-marathon without a soft protective undershirt. My hilariously irreverent humor aside, this trio comes from Vancouver and they’ve certainly earned the pins on their denim and leather jackets, as they play their traditionally-classic punk rock with gusto and confidence. The recording is thick and fuzzed-out, clearly recorded at a studio that knows what to do for punk bands who use random grid patterns on their artwork. When playing music as stylistically outlined as Sore Points’ is, it sure helps to get a powerful-yet-dirty recording such as this! Fans of Night Birds, Radioactivity and even The Viletones will surely summon the strength to slam n’ worm to these four tunes, as they strike out in a similar sonic direction. You’ve heard it countless times before, but if you like punk rock at its most atomic level, what fault could you find with Not Alright?

Thigh Master Now For Example LP (Goner)
My excitement for mild-manned Australian indie-punk has waned over the past year or two, as documented in these very pages, but that doesn’t mean I’m in full-on hate mode, just getting a little restless with the large quantity of same-old same-old. Thigh Master certainly fit the basic description, but there’s no listener-fatigue to be had with Now For Example, the Brisbane-based group’s sophomore album. I’ve been trying to figure out why, exactly, but my enjoyment of Thigh Master comes down to some of the hard-to-describe intangibles, the little sparks that make me want to listen to a band over and over instead of politely filing away. The main vocalist has a great voice for the job (although I’m not sure who it is, as all four members are credited with vocals), on-key while also being aloof with a slight touch of nasal sourness; that’s certainly part of their appeal. The band also plays these songs with a zesty energy that I don’t find in most similar-sounding acts; it’s as if Thigh Master are truly overjoyed to be playing music together, rather than doing it mostly as a means of social activity. “Entity” is a pretty good example of that, with punchy drums played slightly faster than other bands would and an upbeat groove that could light up any modern indie-rock playlist, or even better, my turntable!

Steven Warwick Moi LP (Pan)
Steven Warwick used to record under the name Heatsick, releasing one of my favorite left-of-center electro-pop albums of the past decade (2013’s Re-Engineering), and as of the past year or so he’s moved toward recording under his own name. I’m not sure if that’s supposed to signify a “more personal” shift or whatever, but it sounds a heck of a lot like Heatsick, and this new one, Moi, totally rules. Perhaps he’s going under his own name now that his lyrics are more prominent than ever, singing (or rather, speaking) over the whole album and rarely repeating his words in traditional pop music fashion. His personality is incredibly vivid and hilarious and disarming throughout Moi, his voice resembling that of a droll custodian of records in a cardigan and glasses, even though he looks ready to walk the runway for Walter Van Beirendonck on the cover. It’s a great voice, instantly recognizable and surprisingly flexible, and he lends it to these colorful little electro grooves that reside somewhere in the middle of the miles-wide chasm between The Normal and PC Music. If you’re curious, check out “Kaleidoscope”, a busy lightweight groove that swerves and twists like a pinball machine, or “Open Fire Hydrant”, which pairs witty spoken-word over what sounds like a loop of Super Mario powering up. They’re my two favorite cuts here, but the whole thing delivers the unique form of calm-but-crazy, funny-but-serious electro-eleganza that Warwick has perfected.

Richard Youngs & Raül Refree All Hands Around The Moment LP (Soft Abuse)
There is nary a wilder wild-card persistently operating in the musical underground today than Richard Youngs. I’m not really a fan of when most artists try on different aesthetic suits, but Youngs never seems to fail, be it “Richard Youngs makes techno” or “Richard Youngs makes d-beat crust” or “Richard Youngs makes mutant disco”. I came into All Hands Around The Moment not knowing what kind of art Raül Refree likes to make, so I was prepared for anything. Lo and behold, it’s a tasteful suite of haunting, cyclical folk. I’ll take it! The specific instruments aren’t credited, but these four lengthy songs utilize intricate and repetitive acoustic guitar lines, deep resonant cello(?) and Youngs’ own vocals, sung in a disarmingly traditional manner. I’m thinking of Pentangle or Fairport Convention, although Youngs and Refree update things ever so slightly, pushing the dial away from bell-bottoms and flowers and closer toward some form of quiet introspection. Lots of lyrics too, filled with indirect queries and oblique ruminations, which gives these sprawling songs the grandeur of some old epic poem. It’s so pretty and delicate, I may need “Richard Youngs plays Vomir” next, just to clear my system.

Nobody Knows This Is Somewhere compilation 12″ (C/Site)
Clever title here for the latest transmission from Connecticut’s psychedelic hub, New Haven. Must be something in the pizza that has this crew so attuned to each other’s varied-but-complimentary vibes, and while it seems like all these folks already play in each other’s bands, there’s something about regional comps that I will always love and admire. With only Headroom, Stefan Christensen, Alexander and Mountain Movers featured here, each artist gets plenty of room to stretch out, and seeing as part of the New Haven psych-rock vibe is a commitment to unhurried stretching, it’s an excellent glimpse into the C/Site scene. Headroom opens with a posi two-chord progression and three wild guitars sparring in an act of friendship, not combat. Headroom member (and by my determination, the scene’s shining beacon) Stefan Christensen follows with a solo construction that drips some plinky piano over a hypnotic guitar drone and distorted spoken-word detritus before rumbling out into some Dead C-style ring outs. Certainly the most Shadow Ring-y thing I’ve heard from Christensen thus far and a nice contrast to the soothing sprawl of Headroom. Alexander is the gang’s premier fingerpicker, so I was surprised that his piece here involves few fingers and even fewer pickings – it’s a two-level drone excursion from electric guitar feedback and organ. I suppose it’s fine for what it is, but it isn’t really much, particularly in the context of the other offerings here, and his talents as an acoustic assassin are surprisingly undisclosed. The Mountain Movers (whose members Kryssi Battalene and Ross Menze overlap with Headroom) bring it home with a softer rock-band-jam featuring a cool propulsive drum pattern and more of that swirling, steamy guitar that this crew has on lock. If you can have this much fun with your friends, who cares if anyone knows about it?