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Reviews – July 2011

Boddika Boddika 2×12″ (Swamp81)
Missed the first Boddika single on Swamp81, so I figured I’d catch up with this double 12″ EP. After scanning these four tracks a few times, I am somewhat relieved that I don’t have to go through the trouble of locating and purchasing Boddika’s earlier releases, as this is a nice-if-missable slab of today’s techno sound. No crazy dubstep rhythms or weird accessories, just straight-forward “future bass” techno at speeds of 130 bpm and greater. The most notable aspect to Boddika’s sound is the way he throws classic acid-house licks in his otherwise modern music, usually revealing the acidic loop a minute or two in and then riding it past the finish line. Cool stuff, but nothing I’m clamoring for, nor is it distinct enough for me to recall Boddika by sound alone. “Soul What” has grown on me, thanks mainly to the uneasy tension of the main arpeggio and its relation to the vocal snippet, but I am probably just trying hard to find reasons to love this (it’s a Swamp81 release, after all). It’s kinda like the television on the cover – sure, I’ll sit and stare at it, but my attention doesn’t necessarily mean I am having a killer time.

Coïtus Int. Dead Excitement EP 7″ (Bunker Pop)
Bunker Pop christens its existence with a pretty straight reissue of Coïtus Int.’s debut EP. They were a Danish post-punk group that seemed to swallow many of the scenes around them in their day (late ’70s, early ’80s) – there’s a shambolic DIY shuffle mixed in with dubby, Gang Of Four-esque bass, resigned vocals, and a sort of queer storytelling aspect that reminds me of The Pop Group in some indistinct way. They also haven’t entirely dismissed the energy of punk rock, not afraid to lock into a riff that The Carpettes or one of Small Wonder’s punker offerings would’ve strummed. The songs of Dead Excitement don’t really jump out at you, but there’s a style and wit lurking just the same. There usually is, which is probably why I haven’t tired of searching out 7″ artifacts like this one. I still can’t fathom how it was that so many random groups of kids got it right back then.

Coke Bust Degradation EP 7″ (Grave Mistake)
Everyone’s been saying how great Coke Bust are for a while now, but I never checked them out, because you know what? I have zero interest in hearing a band called “Coke Bust”. I have no issue with super straight-edge band names (I’m not even ashamed to have moshed to Vitamin X in my day), but something about Coke Bust just seemed too silly and non-threatening for me to check them out. At least Project X could be some sort of evil monster or twisted lab experiment or something, right? Well, whatever, now I’m listening to Coke Bust, and as I was assured, they totally shred. Great use of grind beats; reminds me of Extortion or a more polished No Comment, all flawlessly executed. So since we all know they are musically pretty untouchable, I’ll go back to my griping and mention their generic Old English logo. Hardcore bands know they can choose any font they want, right? Looks like their earlier records had a unique band logo… maybe they have just realized the error of their band name, and are trying to draw attention away from it by designing it like every other hardcore band. So that I may continue to enjoy Degradation guilt-free, I am willing to believe that.

Creamers Modern Day 7″ (Jolly Dream)
The bratty garage-rock of Creamers is now available on vinyl via Modern Day, the 80th decent punk single to come out of Austin, TX in the past couple weeks. It’s like you’re not allowed to not be in a band down there. Creamers thank both Women In Prison and OBN IIIs in the liner notes, and while Creamers are by no means bad, I certainly prefer those two groups when I find myself jonesing for a raw punked-out garage-core fix. The sound of Creamers is pretty indistinct, pairing a lack of hooks (just various stop-starts) with an average vocalist. It’s decent enough I suppose, but there’s just too much of this stuff being pumped out for me to come up with a good reason why anyone on a budget should specifically add Modern Day to their internet shopping carts. I will say this, though: Jolly Dream has one of the coolest punk label logos I’ve seen in a while, and the white vinyl / red dust sleeve combo is as handsome as they come. I may have to keep an eye on this label just because of that.

Creem Good Riddance / I Hate You 7″ (Katorga Works)
While a Good Riddance / I Hate You split 7″ (released by Creem magazine) has always been a personal fantasy of mine, this ain’t that. Creem is the name of the band, and this is their debut single, complete with old-timey cardboard 45 sleeve and Atlantic Records-inspired center labels. Don’t let the classic-rock style fool you though, Creem is a hardcore band, featuring dudes from Nomos and Natural Law, and they sound a hell of a lot like a hardcore band that would feature dudes from Nomos and Natural Law. It’s so pure, nasty and normal, that the whole retro presentation doesn’t really make sense to me, as far as what they are trying to get at (a Fucked Up-style classic uniformity, maybe?). Better than a black-and-white bondage photo and gothic lettering, I guess. “Good Riddance” is the mid-paced mosher, and “I Hate You” is the mid-paced rager, both angry and closer to Off! than Black Flag in delivery. Good stuff, although today’s standards are so high (just look at this year’s Chaos In Tejas lineup, maybe 2% of the hardcore bands who played it suck) that I’d find myself reaching for the Hoax or Leather singles again before thinking about Creem.

Death Trap No Hicks 7″ (Feral Kid / Warm Bath Label)
At this point, I am convinced that there is no end to the unearthing of old, barely-heard hardcore obscurities. Like the rest of the world, I never heard of Death Trap until checking out No Hicks, a vintage recording of this King City, CA hardcore band that never released anything in their day (1983 or thereabouts). This posthumous four-song EP is their only gift to the world, and while its existence is almost entirely unnecessary, I could just as easily argue that the existence of any teenage hardcore punk from the first, second or third waves is actually totally crucial. I like Death Trap more than some other hardcore unknowns, though, because their primitive ability shines through strongly here, complimented by their tendency to just shout the song title or some repetitive phrase in lieu of structured lyrics. “No Hicks” is a pretty solid slice of raging inability, like The Authorities with one hand tied behind their backs. The more I listen, the more Death Trap charm me into their world, even in spite of the band-written liner notes that earnestly use the term “LOL” (what’s next, Jello Biafra tweeting that something is “a fail”?). Fans of Chemotherapy, Maniax and other forgotten punk bands that got laughed at while performing in their high school cafeterias may want to check this one out.

Donato Dozzy Acid Test 03 12″ (Absurd Recordings)
The Absurd Recordings label is fresh from the lab with another acid test, this one spotlighting Donato Dozzy. The Acid Test series is almost like watching a couple on their first few dates, as Tin Man’s Acid Test was remixed by Donato Dozzy, a favor returned by Tin Man’s Dozzy remix here. “In Bed” is the original, and it’s very similar to the material on Dozzy’s K album, all lush and soothing and soft-core, like if you held a stethoscope up to Prince’s stomach while he was getting freaky. Tin Man ups the ante, not only flipping “In Bed” into a fit of nocturnal house, but by adding his trademark vocal to the mix as well. The energy on the remix continues to increase, as acid squelches mix with church bells, and by the time it’s over, I need a glass of water (with ice). Rashad Becker mastered this EP into his usual form of pure audio bliss, and for any American folks interested in checking out these artists under budgetary restraints, you can actually order this 12″ direct from Amoeba for $7.98 (with free shipping!), a list price that I thought only existed for 7″ singles in 2011. Go get it!

Damien Dubrovnik Europa Dagbog – Europa Diary LP (Posh Isolation)
Damien Dubrovnik’s Europa Dagbog – Europa Diary is a dismal affair, a tale of the pickpocketing, sex-club, broken-glass, 20%-unemployment-rate Europe -this ain’t Jeff Schaffer’s Euro Trip. Far from the tourist traps, Dubrovnik was clearly hanging with a seedy crowd on his holiday, as this full-length renders the uncomfortable, helpless feeling one has in a foreign-language-speaking country into musical form. Four distinct tracks here, each conjuring a different moment and sensation, making for a pretty perfect combination when enjoyed straight through. Makes me wonder if the strangulating bass-tones that open the second side were inspired by a particularly affordable youth hostel. For harsh noise, Europa Diary sure is melancholic and introspective (thanks to just the right amount of synth work), dressed perfectly by the outer sleeve’s bleak collage and the protective cardboard inner. I don’t always get sucked into albums like this, but Dubrovnik had me hooked from the start and never let up. He makes for one hell of a tour guide, that’s for sure.

Ford & Lopatin Channel Pressure LP (Software)
What a wonderful surprise (Joel) Ford and (Daniel) Lopatin’s Channel Pressure has proven to be. I stumbled upon their video for single “World of Regret” and loved it, completely Tim & Eric’d out, like a port-a-potty made out of old Nintendo 64s. The song itself was a huge part of my initial appeal too, somehow recalling a very specific strain of retro soft-rock/electro without the Nutrasweet aftertaste. That’s the basic premise behind Channel Pressure, but rather than just recalling a nostalgia that never truly existed in the first place, Ford & Lopatin have created alternate-dimension pop-hits of the ’80s and ’90s. Just dig right into “Channel Pressure” and see if the mix of Castlevania-style chiptunes, Walker, Texas Ranger soundtracking and Thomas Dolby geekery doesn’t have you chortling in delight. I still chuckle when I hear “Emergency Room”, or when the vocals first appear in “Joey Rogers”, but I’m not laughing at them, there’s no mockery here, just honest appreciation… Ford & Lopatin are so good at this music, and clearly had just as much fun making this record as I did listening to it. It’s great to know that the person behind the stoic impenetrability of Oneohtrix Point Never is able to goof off like he does here, and it makes me appreciate Oneohtrix in a different light. Channel Pressure has a few shorter interludes that remind me of Prefuse73 or some other early ’00s Warp signee, due to the rapid-fire processing/editing, but the majority of Channel Pressure is just hilarious day-glo fun that will make even the fattest, hairiest Grief fan sing in a falsetto and dance like a member of TLC. It’s the perfect album to help us break away from our carefully-cultivated self-images and just act like silly idiots for half an hour.

Fungus Brains Ron Pistos Real World LP (Load)
I first got into Australian punk through the classics, bands like The Victims and Fun Things and Chosen Few, who have quite possibly written the greatest songs this planet has ever heard. Much like the current crop of excellent Australian groups, there’s an enormous list of classics to dig through, Fungus Brains’ debut LP Ron Pistos Real World certainly not the least of them. Throw this thing on and it’s pretty clear that they existed in a freshly post-Birthday Party landscape, what with vocalist Geoff Marks doing that Nick Cave vocal-crack like he means it and the presence of horns (yes, more than one) in basically every song. Still, the music isn’t particularly arty or macabre, instead raging like Mudhoney if they were a teenage punk band, grinding out burly riffs with the fever of youth. You think Iceage look like cool unruly kids, just check out the Fungus Brain on the back cover in the top right corner, exhaling smoke with squinty eyes and a homemade haircut, clearly unmoved by his failing report card. Definitely an album worth hearing, and while there are still a good twenty or so other Aussie classics I need before I start foraging for an original Ron Pistos, this Load reissue (faithful in every way but the center stickers) makes for a handy place-marker in my Expedit.

Hiking Trenches / Bikini Atol 7″ (X-Mist)
Hiking, a new LA band featuring Bipolar Bear and Silver Daggers personnel, out-No Ages No Age on “Trenches”. This song seriously sounds plucked direct from the first half of Everything In Between, what with its chiming guitars, big booming drums and indie-yet-inclusive vibe, complete with a Dean Spunt vocal impersonator. This might annoy some people, but it’s a seriously good tune, one that I’ve replayed fondly over the past couple weeks. I guess the kids in LA need a band to enjoy while No Age are endlessly on tour, so why not Hiking? “Bikini Atol” goes a little bigger, maybe a little Battles (and a slight touch of Hum?) added to their Now That’s What I Call Indie sound, working just as favorably as the a-side. I don’t know, some people think any band that seems to be heavily indebted to some other more-popular band is automatically bad, but I don’t mind an obvious modern homage if you can do it as well as Hiking do.

Holy Other With U 12″ (Tri Angle)
Like it or not, the theme of underground music in 2011 seems to be “everthing has already been done, so let’s just cross-breed micro-genres”… Not Not Fun Records has kind of made it their mantra, and pretty much anyone with a keyboard is looking just as much to the past as they are to the future. I’ll save my long-winded treatise for another day, but Holy Other are a pretty good example of what music is like today – as far as I can tell, it’s the first group (person?) to fuse dubstep and chill-wave, two terms sure to confuse your parents. Just check the opener “Know Where”: this is the sound of Burial on a Caribbean cruise, his disembodied, blurred vocals laying poolside with Coronas on ice. “Touch” is almost so Burial it hurts, thanks to those distant city moans, but I love it, and have yet to find the overt similarities annoying. It’s really just a great sound and style, at least in the hands of Holy Other, who knows how to organize moody, melancholy sounds into a balaeric frame of mind. Labelmates oOoOO never really moved me the way I hoped they would, and didn’t seem to have much room for growth after their last EP, but Holy Other have struck something really smart and cool in With U, the type of record that has me psyched not only on its five brief tracks, but the possibilities of what could come next. Can’t stop spinning it.

Human Eye They Came From The Sky LP (Sacred Bones)
Space gorillas and cyber squids rejoice, Human Eye are back with another full-length record. I swear I’m detecting an “alien invasion” theme from They Came From The Sky, which would make sense, since that’s where most aliens come from, and if there were any band to give us an early warning, it’d be Human Eye. If you’re already familiar with Human Eye, expect no musical surprises on They Came From The Sky – they’re still a basement-glammy hard rock assault squad fronted by David Lee Roth’s Basket Case-style sibling. It’s great stuff, and if they didn’t recently change drummers, Human Eye’s percussionist must’ve downed a Red Bull / Viagra smoothie before recording this one, as he absolutely pummels, speeding through daring, exhausting rolls like it’s no big deal (his work on “Alien Creeps” is particularly vicious). With that recent Timmy’s Organism album, it’s easy to kind of feel like you’ve got enough of this stuff… I’ll admit, I didn’t think I needed this new one, but that thought ended after properly digging into They Came From The Sky. Wish these guys would hop in their flying saucer and hit the road again soon.

The Hussy Cement Tomb Mind Control LP (Slow Fizz)
Could’ve sworn Cement Tomb Mind Control was the name of a Man Is The Bastard song, and if it’s not, it should be, but in the meantime, that’s what The Hussy have called their new long-player. They’re a two piece garage rock-n’-roller unit, and pretty much offer what you’d expect from one of those in 2011 – rambunctious, guitar-fueled rock with a Killed By Nuggets charm. The opener “I’m Me” reminds me of Ivan & The Executioners’ “I Wanna Kill James Taylor”, at least in the vocal doofiness and rag-tag riffing, which you know is a shining recommendation if you’ve heard it. The rest of the album reminds me of the Rip Off Records singles that Jack White and Jay Reatard have filed in their collections through the years; not mind-blowing, but an enjoyable listen. There’s a ton of these bands out there, or perhaps the sheer mediocrity of them just makes it feel like that, but The Hussy fall in the better half of the pile, lo-fi without becoming distracting and energetic enough to keep me engaged. They also somehow sound full enough as a two-piece, a problem most of these duos don’t know how to fix. If this sounds like your sort of thing, get off my lawn, then go pick it up wherever Slow Fizz products are sold.

Insect Factory / RST split 7″ (Insectfields)
Drone split singles aren’t the easiest record to sell to an audience, but these two artists certainly make a case for ownership with this split, digging into your soul like the tearful eyes of a pound puppy. Insect Factory opens up with some morning-sunrise drone, so light and melodic that it’ll make your bowl of Kashi actually taste good. Could be guitar or keyboards or neither, just a nice solid swirl that doesn’t grow or recede, it simply hangs in the air as you walk through it. RST (I’ll just have to presume it stands for Rotten Scoundrel Truckers) works up “Burn Out” slowly, the sort of track you can see from a mile away as it heads towards you, like a Saharan dust-storm, only to disintegrate before it has a chance to overtake your body and swallow you whole. I’m more of an Insect Factory kaleidoscopic-drone guy myself, but RST suitably return to earth to close things out. A long-player might make more sense for these two, but this 7″ is still worth the effort needed for repeated flips.

Jamie XX Far Nearer / Beat For 12″ (Numbers)
From my particular point of view, The xx are an undeniably great group, moping like I don’t think anyone has moped before. There is a lot of thought going on behind the scenes of their reductionist goth-pop, Jamie Smith (aka Jamie XX) undoubtedly a significant part of the equation. Nice to see he’s stepping out on his own a bit, remixing artists both big and small, and now with this new little EP on the Numbers label, whose profile seems to be continually growing. “Far Nearer” is gonna be a pretty recognizable cut on the dancefloor, thanks to the steel drums Smith works with. If anyone can make steel drums sound sad, it’s him, and while there is still a bit of sunlight in “Far Nearer”, the moany, Burial-esque vocal smear adds misty eyes to the otherwise irie party. Really nicely done, and subtle enough that I can keep coming back to it without feeling like I’ve played it out. “Beat For” has kind of a pause/flash runway-dubstep vibe, like something you’d expect to hear at a Givenchy after-party, sleekly coated with yet another Burialized vocal. Not as immediate, but still a satisfying spin. I’ll probably start to get annoyed if people keep tearing pages direct from Burial’s book when it comes to vocal mutation, but for now, it sounds mighty fine. I think you’ll dig it too.

Little Gold Mike Swan / Oh Dad! 7″ (Sophomore Lounge)
Following their debut, Little Gold pull out all the stops that an independently-released 7″ could possibly warrant – you know I’m referring to the horn section, which softens the honky-tonk vibe of “Mike Swan”, a song about getting hit while riding your bike. Besides like, a dying Macbook battery or bedbugs, is there a more universally-feared hipster predicament? “Mike Swan” might be a little too post-swing for my particular musical palette, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong. “Oh Dad!” was apparently a Wooden Wand song first (go figure), but Little Gold make it a pleasant little power-popper that sounds like it could be the hidden gem on whatever Weezer album came out last. I think I preferred the more chest-thumping, emo-potluck style of Little Gold’s debut, but they’ve got a handle on things, and clearly are destined for whatever they want, even if it’s just a free pair of Levis down at SXSW.

The Men Leave Home LP (Sacred Bones)
Of all the adjectives to positively describe hardcore punk, such as “raw”, “fast”, “visceral”, “ear-bleeding”, “blazing”, and so on, “long” and “drawn out” are nowhere to be found. Those are the words that come to mind for Leave Home though, an exhausting album that seems to test both band and listener. From their live show, and first album, I knew The Men as a sort of hardcore post-punk group, somewhere between The Proletariat and I don’t know, The Wipers maybe. Clearly they have grown, which is usually shorthand for “got into drugs, slowed down their songs and tried to write pop hits”, but after checking out Leave Home, I think their current sound, however disjointed, works for them. Each track sounds only vaguely like the same band as the last, which makes sense in a way, as band members criss-cross the credits, playing bass on one song, guitar on the next, and sitting out the other. I don’t have much room in my life for rock instrumentals, of which there are a couple on here (no one wanted to sing on “Lotus”? Why not?), but they somehow pull it together into a record worth checking out. And then after grooving on a few mid-paced chuggers, “L.A.D.O.C.H.” is like Noothgrush on a rainy day… which leads back into another Fucked Up-esque anthem with shredding guitar solos. And then as befuddlingly as the record started, Leave Home wraps up with a drum machine-driven attempt to converge hardcore and kraut-rock (and pretty much succeeds). It’s like the rules don’t apply to The Men, and while I can get down with Leave Home, I think when it comes down to it, I probably would’ve preferred something a little more constrained. All these different directions distract me more than they pull me in. Good for them for seeing things differently, though.

Mob Rules The Donor LP (Sorry State)
Pretty sick and burly hardcore from across the pond, courtest of The Donor. I don’t usually look to England for this sort of thing (which reminds me, I need to dust off my Voorhees LP), but Mob Rules live up to the Sorry State standard, focusing on the heavy, down-tuned, explosive end of things… the logical midpoint between Mind Eraser and New Lows, perhaps. Comes with a nice recording, too, strongly scented with that Pain Cave vibe. Mob Rules don’t write songs so much as assemble a constant flurry of riffs and breakdowns; it’s hard to tell where one song starts and the other begins, but who cares? You don’t sit and ponder their music, you use it to help complete your P90X training and transform from nerd to bully. The nice little OBI strip completes the package, a fine example of the trouble England’s other kind of hooligans are capable of.

Pleasure Leftists Pleasure Leftists LP (Fan Death)
Puerto Rico Flowers aren’t the only group flying the goth flag (or is it a cape?) on the Fan Death label, as Ohio’s Pleasure Leftists have put together a pretty excellent debut LP, featuring cover art that eerily replicates the Coconuts album on No Quarter (compare the creepy blue limbs for yourself). Whereas Puerto Rico Flowers are slaves to the sluggish, Pleasure Leftist have a variety of moves to offer, from twisting, phasered bass and unusual hooks to what is surely the prime attraction of the group, vocalist Haley Morris. She has this intense, Siouxsie-ish warble that sounds like she is crying while impersonating Dracula (which I guess is conceivably the gothiest image possible). There’s a lyric sheet, but trying to follow along is hard work, as I swear her vocal track is played backwards at various times. Even with this uniquely awesome voice, she fits her bandmates well, who remind me of Strange Boutique, or probably any other underground ’80s goth band who was still influenced by REM and U2. There’s a lot of black lace going around these days, but something about the style in which Pleasure Leftists wear it feels incredibly right.

Bruno Pronsato Lovers Do CD (Thesongsays)
No vinyl version, Bruno? Not cool. Still, I had to check out the latest full-length from Bruno Pronsato, one of the more curious Villalobos acolytes to branch out into his own direction in recent years. The Make Up The Break Up was a particularly stunning long-form groove, complete with a haunting Nico vocal grab, but that sort of emphatic moment isn’t found on Lovers Do – this is a wine-after-midnight record, for when you are the last remaining couple in the bistro, blissfully unaware that your waiter would like to wrap things up. The tracks are long, smooth and organic, in a Theo Parrish way, like it’s a completely cool jazz band tuning-up rather than a single man in his studio. Among the various vocal hooks, electronic clicks, dusty hi-hats and Rhodes ticklefests, Pronsato will filter in various conversations or field recordings, giving Lovers Do an incidental feel, like you’ve accidentally stumbled into the coolest wedding reception imaginable and snuck some gruyère off the table without getting caught. Don’t expect to dance, because that’s not on Pronsato’s invitation – settle in comfortably and he’ll just make sure you leave feeling better than when you arrived.

Psychedelic Horseshit Laced LP (Fat Cat)
The cynic in me thought Psychedelic Horseshit’s move to Fat Cat was an odd one – what does that big-time label want to do with a couple of Midwestern wiseguys and their junky cassettes? The adage about assumption-making proves true yet again, as Laced is not only a great fit for Fat Cat, it’s a totally killer album in its own right. First thing you have to do to enjoy it is kind of forget what you already know about Psychedelic Horseshit – opening with “Puff”, which sounds like the sort of joint mid-period Black Dice would’ve smoked, this is clearly no bedroom lo-fi indie rock record. The rest of the record is as loopy and tropical as the intro, put together by the same obsessive minds that previously attempted to perfect pop music while under the self-imposed handicap of cardboard drums. Doesn’t hurt that bandleader/vocalist Matt Whitehurst’s nose is still clogged with all sorts of frustration and anxiety, his voice one of the few remaining links to the Psychedelic Horseshit of Christmas past. You can just tell from cruising Laced that this isn’t a lo-fi chill-wave disposable; Psychedelic Horseshit have put together a weird, enticing and surprisingly addictive album of looped percussion and wacky noises, as if they came to the same conclusions as Animal Collective but through an entirely different route. Probably the most angry current band that’s writing hazy songs about beaches, and for my money, the best.

Puerto Rico Flowers 7 LP (Fan Death)
It’s summer, and Puerto Rico Flowers are once again squirting their red white and blue pollen in the form of lugubrious new-wave music. After writing that first Puerto Rico Flowers song, it couldn’t have been too difficult for John Sharkey to write the other eleven originals, as each track starts in near-identical fashion – either the same basic bassline or slow-on-the-tom drumbeat opens the procession, then the other shortly follows, and before you know it, three-finger melodies are swooping out of the synth while Sharkey lays down the cold hard truth about being sad. This is probably the only band I want to hear apologize to someone named Eleanor, which Sharkey does here (and in perfectly dramatic fashion, of course). Both of Puerto Rico Flowers’ previous EPs were some of my favorite music that came out in 2010, but something about the sameness of 7 hasn’t resulted in the immediate appeal I’d come to expect from PRF. There’s no chorus as instantly satisfying as “Voice of Love” or “This Is Murder”, and while I’ve listened to 7 a whole bunch, and enjoyed it too, I can’t help but feel a little disappointed by the lack of stand-outs. Still, I remain optimistic, as album closer “After The Weekend” is probably my favorite thing here. It’s just Sharkey and a couple of his keyboards, softly offering the most heartfelt moment of the album, a poignant and understated ballad that would appeal to fans of both Zola Jesus’s early work and David Gray’s “Babylon”. I’m pretty sure he coos at his infant child in the final moments of the song, a perfect example of the tenderness I know Puerto Rico Flowers still has up their sleeve.

Roska Error Code / Abrupt 12″ (Hotflush Recordings)
Roska separates himself further from Rusko in my tangled brain with this brief new Hotflush EP. “Error Code” is a nice n’ glitzy party track; visions of synths with rainbow-colored lights dance in my head as the staccato rhythm floats through scales. I could picture anyone from Yelawolf to Natasha Bedingfield adding some vocals to this track and it would still totally work. “Abrupt” is real nice too, like a Svedka Vodka commercial where everyone is so excited to get drunk on tasteless booze that they start breakdancing in a plastic room. If you told me “Abrupt” was a Pearson Sound cut, I’d probably wonder “where’s the bass?”, but would otherwise believe you, thanks to the cool wordless vocal bit and overall atmosphere. You know kids in England can just go to any old pool hall or kebab shop and hear a DJ play this stuff, right? Makes a diet of beef Wellington and Yorkshire pudding suddenly sound appealing.

The Shirks Cry Cry Cry 7″ (Grave Mistake)
Even if the hardcore punk and garage-rock scenes have been at odds throughout their histories (not everyone is as open-minded as my dear readers), records like this Shirks single have always existed. You know what I’m talking about: music that is garage-y by melody, yet blazing with a hardcore sensibility, represented through the years by Angry Samoans and The Dwarves up through The Candy Snatchers and Carbonas. It’s always been there, and categorized seemingly based on the fashion taste of the band and/or record label. No matter what associations The Shirks will receive from their Grave Mistake sponsorship, this is garage-punk that would turn heads over at Headache Records headquarters, the sort of Devil Dogs-ian attitude that is just begging for an “all band members in black sunglasses” promo photo. Three songs, all pretty much in the same vein I’ve already described, none of which rub the wrong way. Not quite exceptional enough to inspire me to smoke, but I can’t see myself ever turning down The Shirks if they came on the radio, only up.

Sightings Future Accidents LP (Our Mouth)
Voila, another Sightings album, this one care of Our Mouth. I am pretty sure Our Mouth is run by at least one Mouthus dude, and it’s an appropriate pairing for Future Accidents, as it’s the most Mouthus-y Sightings material I’ve ever heard. Opener “To The World” has that same sort of humid, claustrophobic guitar and drum sound, as if it was recorded in a small room made of plywood without any sort of proper ventilation. These four songs, while different, all share that vibe, and remind me of one of the less-important Mouthus albums I jammed once or twice and forgot about (like Follow This House or The Long Salt, ironically both on Important Records). “The Knotted House” is a bit hairier, and side-long “Public Remains” is kind of majestic in a digging-through-the-rubble sort of way, but ultimately Future Accidents is less exciting than Sightings’ last two full-lengths. They’re still better than most anyone else playing with noisy guitars and drums, but Future Accidents seems a bit too monochromatic when compared to Through The Panama or City Of Straw. I guess I was just hoping for this to be the eventual broken-techno record I want Sightings to make. A small step back, maybe, from a band who please me most when they don’t just step forward but blindly jump off the roof, hoping for a balcony or timely helicopter rescue.

Sump / Sexdrome split 7″ (Posh Isolation / Legion Blotan)
There’s rare punk, raw punk, and punk that been burned to the point of inedibility. That’s where both Sump and Sexdrome exist, not just on the charred edge, but a complete pile of dried-out ash that’s difficult to clean up without getting it all over your clothes. Three cuts from Sump, who fall more on the inept black-metal side of things, as if Raspberry Bulbs tried to play Ildjarn songs from memory and failed. Repetitive, mid-paced and uncomfortable. I’ve been meaning to check out Sexdrome, and maybe it was just the weary state of mind that Sump left me in, but their two tracks don’t stand up to most of their Youth Attack labelmates. I dig their precious, Prurient-esque lyrical poetry, but their riffs are a little too thrashy for my particular enjoyment, especially when given the lo-fi recording treatment. I am going to assume that this split 7″ isn’t their finest work, and will try to check them out in the future, if only because of their song that Iceage covers and the perplexing idea of what a “sexdrome” could possibly be. My least favorite Posh Isolation release thus far, but mainly because the rest have all been pretty great.

Surgeon Breaking The Frame 2xLP (Dynamic Tension)
Can’t go wrong with techno-deviant Surgeon, particularly on his carefully-prepared new album, Breaking The Frame. It’s nice to hear someone who so clearly understands how to make people dance test his own limits and boundaries within that realm, as Surgeon slips his avant-garde tendencies in with the mass-appeal 4/4 thump, like covering a pill in peanut butter before feeding it to a dog. None of the sounds he works with are particularly familiar, yet something like “Remover Of Darkness” hits a zen-like state of concentration, at least until “The Power Of Doubt” brings it back to a familiar Downwards Records / Ostgut Ton sensibility. You can just tell Surgeon had some sadistic fun in creating this album, knowing the different paths and turns the listener would be led. My favorite cut is probably “Presence”, anchored by a maddening flashback-sequence sound that infinitely repeats with subtle variation, presented with the disarming false-comfort of someone like Sudden Infant. If a cop on CSI found a dead body near a stereo playing Breaking The Frame, I guarantee no one is solving that murder in an hour. There are just too many possibilities with music like this.

Vein Cranes True Believer 7″ (Florida’s Dying)
Pretty run-of-the-mill modern-garage 7″ from Florida’s husband/wife duo Vein Cranes. Jangly, dirty guitars; live drums; two people hollering; a small potpurri of xylophones, synths, drum programming and organs; you know the drill. The ’50s-ish chorus of “Pink Motherfucker” is a pet peeve of mine, a track that otherwise reminds me of Eat Skull, and is probably the best thing on this EP. I wouldn’t accuse Vein Cranes of sucking, because they don’t… they just meddle through three jumbled tracks that were probably a lot of fun to make, but far less so on the listening end. Maybe if I were personal friends with the group, and got drunk on their couch from time to time, I’d get into it a little more, but I haven’t yet had the opportunity. If you intend to purchase every single 7″ record that ever comes out in 2011, however, be sure to add this to your list.

Ricardo Villalobos & Max Loderbauer Re: ECM 2xCD (ECM)
Pretty cool idea here: give Ricardo Villalobos access to the vaults of ECM’s entire catalog so that he may remix the label to his heart’s content. I know ECM as possibly the finest dollar-bin jazz label to ever exist, and I know Max Loderbauer as the guy all those techno heavyweights call in when they want extra processing power. (I’m still not entirely sure if “Max Loderbauer” is a human being or actually some sort of new mega-Ableton mainframe software.) I’ve dug in deep to these seventeen lengthy tracks, deeper than most people would probably be willing to venture, and it’s with a heavy heart that I offer my findings: Re: ECM is a pretty boring album. Maybe it’s a case of blown expectations, but I was hoping for at least some sort of tech-house pulse within Re: ECM; if not on every track, at least a couple. Instead, this is entirely electronic music of the Raster-Noton variety: impenetrable, out-of-focus, incredibly high-brow and often boring. For multiple stretches of ten minutes or longer, Villalobos and Loderbauer will just skitter around some hi-hats and piano chords to no apparent destination, punctuated by the sound of a buzzing fly across the room. Next track will be the same deal, just with the addition of some visionary clarinet, and so forth. If you thought the percussion on that new Moritz Von Oswald Trio was lightweight, think again, as the few times a recognizable beat appears here, you have to strain to hear it (maybe that beat I thought I heard was just the pumping arteries in my neck after all). “Reannounce” is the only track that has any sort of motion, and it’s a pretty sweet ethno-march if I ever heard one, but its six minutes do not save the rest of this long and frustrating album. After that careless Marvin Gaye remix, and now this, I am starting to worry that Villalobos has forgotten that people outside of his club appearances like to listen to quality modern techno music. Give us the good stuff, I don’t need any more aimless electronic collages.

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Reviews – August 2016

Bad Vision Turn Out Your Sockets LP (Adagio830)
Bad Vision’s 2013 debut album came through Yellow Green Red back then, which I found to be overwhelmingly Jay Reatard-esque, and three years later the comparison seems apt as ever. It’s not a bad thing, of course, because who doesn’t love Jay Reatard (besides all the people he screwed over, the people he beat up, every sound-guy he worked with, etc.), and Bad Vision have gotten quite competent at their trade. Turn Out Your Sockets is full of that sharp, tightly-wound punk sound, borne of The Undertones, Buzzcocks and The Adverts and maintained throughout the decades by the select bands capable of such precision, along with a few slower numbers befitting a melodic punk band in at least their fourth year of existence. The vocalist has an odd sort of snotty affectation, as if his tongue is stuck to the bottom of his mouth while he delivers every line, which sounds particularly sharp on the opener (and most likely candidate for a hit) “Very Melbourne”, which comes out more like “very [i]Mel-bahhh[/i]”. I always enjoy songs where you’d never guess what they’re saying until you read the song title, and this is something I’d certainly play if I was doing an hour-long weekly punk radio show. I’m not, but maybe you are, and if so I’m sure you could pull a few tracks off Turn Out Your Sockets and get an aging Briefs fan firing up his or her Spotify search bar.

Craig Bell America Now / Annie 7″ (Violet Times)
The Violet Times label comes around intermittently to offer obscure and unheralded guitar music they deem important, be it New Zealand’s The Cakekitchen, someone calling themselves “The Blimp”, or Craig Bell, he of influential Cleveland powerhouses Mirrors and Rocket From The Tombs. While punk history often neglects the careers of first-wave punk rockers post-1980, many of these musicians actually didn’t evaporate upon the arrival of new-wave, and this two-song live single is a small and sturdy piece of proof. I wish I could hear a proper studio recording of “America Now”, because it’s a fine downtown rocker, the sound of Bell’s band at the time (The Bell System) going for plainclothes success with equal reverence for Lou Reed, David Thomas and Richard Hell (recorded in 1985). “Annie” is an acoustic rendition recorded in 1979, played to a crowd that refuses to zip their lips, but Bell doesn’t care, sounding more invigorated and tough than I would expect an acoustic rendition of a Mirrors song could be. If it were 1999, I’d say a CD retrospective of random live tracks and outtakes would suit Bell better than two unrelated tunes on a 7″ single, but the record business makes zero sense to anyone anymore and it’s simply nice enough that these songs are available in any form at all.

The Bibs From The Fish Houses LP (Soft Abuse)
If you’re anything like me, you’re hoping that a band calling themselves The Bibs is a new tough-guy hardcore project featuring ex-members of Terror and Wisdom In Chains, but sadly it’s not to be. No, this is about as nonthreatening as music played by amplified guitars can be – these songs practically offer up their lunch money before you even start to raise your fist. The Bibs operate within the sun-damaged field that separates Mad Nanna from The Velvet Underground, with a smattering of off-kilter Kiwi pop and a faint whiff of the inside of Beachwood Sparks’ tour van. From The Fish Houses is replete with jangly, noodly guitar that often ventures off to nowhere in particular, organ borrowed from the set of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, and vocals that sat at home during their prom. If my research is to be believed, The Bibs are actually the guy behind lo-fi techno unit Siobhan and a member of Roachclip, and while I can certainly see the Roachclip resemblance (although Roachclip sound like Metallica by comparison), it’s an amusing pairing with an amusing result. Might as well make all sorts of music if you can, and The Bibs most certainly count as music.

Bruce The Trouble With Wilderness 12″ (Idle Hands)
As far as I’m concerned there’s only one musical artist in history named Bruce, and it’s this guy, coming correct with a few new 12″ offerings including this three-song banger. I didn’t expect him to top Steals from earlier this year, and he hasn’t, but Bruce goes in a different direction here. The title track starts off like another murky, virus-infected techno cut until it stops, a man whispers “I will always love you” and some icy synth tones usher in a seductively smooth house cut, albeit always at an arm’s length distance from the center of the club. “Waves (For Yasmin)” is a buzzing, mostly-beatless track that feels like a midnight dip in a moonlit pool in a suburban townhouse development named Huerco S Estates. Yasmin’s a lucky lady! “Summer’s Gotta End Sometime” opens with crickets, a sound I will never tire from hearing as long as I live, eventually brewing into a chirpy groove, the sort of cut I’d expect to hear from Cornelius were he signed to Hessle Audio. This might be Bruce’s Nebraska moment and I invite you all to give it a peep.

Calhau! Ú LP ((K-RAA-K)³)
Of all the bands I’ve come across opting for an exclamation point at the end of their name, I think Calhau! might be my favorite. They’re a beguiling experimental-noise duo out of Argentina, and this is my first encounter with the group, who’s been casually releasing MP3s, tapes and vinyl over the past five years or so. It’s right up my alley, I’ll tell you that: their sound is usually based around vocals, both uncomfortably direct and highly distorted, often accompanied by loops, synths, samples, effects and whatever else they can plug into the nearest power strip. Their particular approach leaves plenty of space, which can be a risky endeavor, as two people puffing into a microphone isn’t necessarily captivating by its very nature. But with these two, it certainly is, as frequent vocal provider Marta von Calhau will sing to her own imaginary choir just as confidently as she’ll choke on candle-smoke on the next track. Just check out “Herodes” and enjoy how their dual vocalizations can sound like an aborted Can side-project. Comparatively, I’d say post-Beaches And Canyons Black Dice, Phil Minton’s hilarious jabbering, the junk-shop psychedelia of Avarus and the exotic industrial of pre-breakup Throbbing Gristle all come to play, but Calhau! are distinctly on their own path, one where Anglophile experimental music isn’t the sole reference point.

The Conformists Divorce LP (Aagoo)
The Conformists are a Chicago post-punk / no-wave group so damn Chicagoan that my dish instantly became deep upon listening. You guessed it, they recorded with Steve Albini at Electrical Audio (where else?), and if you are remotely a fan of this style, the sound of grown men unraveling at their navels, I recommend you seek out Divorce post-haste. They’ve got the dislocated riffage of US Maple, the unexpected and extended song structures of Harvey Milk and the miserable drum style of Oxes down pat, and the vocalist speak-sings his way through what is probably a lot of biting, bitter commentary on modern middle-class living, at least the parts I can make out. Their songs weave through interesting little crawlspaces, always teetering on the edge of the band just giving up and finding something else to do with their spare time, although they realize music is the only true calling they’ve ever had. They certainly commit to it, and with their vibe of “going to the post office to buy stamps and picking up takeout is my own personal hell”, I’ll admit that more than a small part of me relates. In modern Chicago terms, they could be the dark flipside to Fake Limbs, the America’s Funniest Video where the punchline is just someone getting brutally hurt on a trampoline, where actual pain becomes the laughing matter. The Conformists see that and shine it right back.

Congenital Death Fucklove: Prophet Of Death LP (Ranch / Hydrogen Man)
At first I thought they were “Congenial Death”, and I enjoyed the image of the Grim Reaper kindly offering some fresh lemonade before harvesting someone’s soul, but “Congenital Death” works too. They’re a Philadelphia-based techy grindcore group, and they serve the genre well with Fucklove: Prophet Of Death. On merit of skills and composition, Congenital Death stand up among the many groups that I’d assume served as influences: Converge, Pig Destroyer, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Daughters, Insect Warfare, et al. The vocals aren’t attributed to any specific band member (although the lyrics are written by guitarist Ryan Fitzpatrick), and it seems like more than one guy does the screaming, although the pitch differential of their harsh bellows is slight. They’re really so technically adept that I’m surprised a “bigger” label hasn’t snatched them up yet, but maybe Congenital Death are fiercely DIY, or perhaps technical grind just doesn’t carry the same weight it used to (it seems like there is more cred given to someone repping Stone Roses than Discordance Axis in the youth-metal scene these days, go figure). Congenital Death appear to be dudes who are more likely to wait in line for Supreme than sew Assück patches onto their butt-flaps, at least, which makes sense as it must be significantly easier to write and perform pummeling triplets and stop-on-a-dime drum fills while wearing Adidas pullover fleece.

Der Stab Tracers / It’s Grey 7″ (Negative Jazz / Elective Affinities)
Der Stab (German for “The Stab”) were a short-lived punk out of Orange County in the early ’80s, featuring Rikk Agnew on guitar, whom had he not existed Californian hardcore would not appear in the same shape as we know it today. For whatever reason (the band-written liner notes never fully explain), this 1982 recording was shelved until now, and in case you already had all the other good OC hardcore from this era, you may want to add this to the handwritten want-list you keep crumpled in your butt pocket. “Tracers” is pretty par for the course, maybe a little more “rock” than youthful snot, including a pretty accomplished guitar solo, and “It’s Grey” reveals Der Stab’s Christian Death connection, plodding around like Circle One and Samhain competing in a voodoo dance. No musical revelations here, and almost understandably a band that never quite made it to vinyl (although they are certainly comp-worthy), but I suppose if I stumbled upon some archive material from a group of classic hardcore dudes and had the chance to stamp it into vinyl for posterity’s sake, the urge to do so might overcome me too.

Beatrice Dillon / Karen Gwyer split 12″ (Alien Jams)
Basically anytime Beatrice Dillon commits any bit of her recorded material to vinyl from this point going forward, you can expect me to talk about it here – she’s my current techno fascination, no doubt. That said, naturally I didn’t miss this two-track split EP with Karen Gwyer. Dillon’s track “Curl” is an interesting groove that cooks in under five minutes. It’s a patient, fluid tech-house cut that recalls mid-’00s Melchior Productions or the rubbery techno of Kassem Mosse, a confident strut that’s never too flashy. Karen Gwyer’s track “Common Soundproofing Myths” is three times as long, and it stretches its legs nicely. Hi-hats skip like rocks over the melodic pond, with skittering percussion teasing a beat, until about halfway through when an acid loop emerges and I feel like I’m inside Omar S’s backyard shed, helping him hand-stamp 12″s. Each side of this coin offers pleasant, good-natured techno with an artisan touch, and while it doesn’t explode my mind as many of Dillon’s productions have, I’m dancing just the same.

Margaret Dygas Even 11 12″ (Perlon)
It’s always a pleasure to receive a new single by Margaret Dygas, an America-via-Poland DJ and producer who operates within the world of minimalist techno. On this new 12″, nothing is particularly new or innovative, but that’s fine, as I enjoy her records for their soft, spacious and patient rhythms, not for the next big thing. This is an EP on Perlon, and it truly sounds like an EP on Perlon – both tracks consist of clicky, intricate rhythms that eschew heavy bass or conventional percussion sounds, the sort of minimalist tech-house upon which Perlon built their reputation. Dygas’s last EP from 2014, In Wood / That, offered some playful percussive moments, but Even 11 is more traditional, with the beat darting around like a ghost conjured by Ricardo Villalobos or Bruno Pronsato circa 2006. Some weird vocals permeate the surface of “Even 11”, the speedier of the two, while “Wishing Well” slowly stirs with the dub sensibility of Moritz Von Oswald; the beat has a presence like some sort of meat-eating predator lurking beneath the brown water of a swamp. It all makes for a sumptuous and understated EP, not so much for dancing as sophisticated contemplation, and we all know I’m one hell of a sophisticated contemplator so there you go.

Lee Gamble Chain Kinematics 12″ (UIQ)
UIQ is not only quite similar to the name of a collectible sneaker store here in Philadelphia, it’s Lee Gamble’s new vanity label, and this new four-song EP is a notable entry into his catalog of peculiar post-techno. Techno music is made for dancing, but what Chain Kinematics presupposes is… what if it isn’t? It’s impossible to not feel a slight smarter-than-thou vibe when it comes to Lee Gamble’s music, like his advanced brain could never be satisfied with predictable cadences and tones, and depending on my mood, I either fall deeply under his spell or wish he’d take off his lab coat and just have a little fun. Of course, he’s probably having fun in his lab coat. Even though the title of this EP refers to the physics of robotic programming, these tracks only utilize an impenetrable Autechre-esque sound-bank rather than succumb to it. Thumping kicks are present, and while they are likely to drop out at any given moment (or land somewhere off the grid), Gamble’s attitude seems more pleasant than exclusive. If you’ve ever been curious, Chain Kinematics is a nice way to start following this freak.

Gate Saturday Night Fever LP (MIE Music)
There’s nothing I like more than shop-worn loops with distorted guitars blaring over top, so as soon as I heard about this new Gate album that was based on cut-up loops from the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, I ran to the nearest vendor and placed my order. Even in the worst case, it’d still sound pretty good I’m sure, but Gate’s Michael Morley made it great, a nice melange of hazy grooves, warm amp distortion and muttered vocals. The first cut “Asset” feels like vintage Blues Control before it slips into reverse gear, and throughout the rest of the album, moments recall Oren Ambarchi’s fantastic Stacte Karaoke EP. The closer “Hijack” is my personal fave, as it veers closer to the smudged techno attempts of Richard Youngs’ Like A Neuron, dance music that is produced by a man who can’t help but add a thick layer of smog and confusion to the music he touches. It’s also worth noting that the loops, while serving as the foundation for each of these tracks, shift and morph throughout each track in ways that I can’t fully perceive – Morley’s clearly massaging every aspect of the sound, never content to let anything loop in peace. Fantastic piece of vinyl, this!

Haus Arafna Children Of God LP (Galakthorrö)
The Galakthorrö label isn’t one to dwell in the past, but Children Of God, Haus Arafna’s debut album from 1998, was never given their lavish vinyl treatment (or any, in fact) up until now, so it’s nice to finally place it on my shelf where it always belonged. While I can’t accuse Haus Arafna of greatly changing up their aesthetic over the past two decades, Children Of God does display them in a raw, almost feral form at times, with tracks that seep over into the Genocide Organ-esque power-electronics side of their spectrum, with barked vocals that act more as electrical shocks than a human sound. Their classic cut “Last Dream Of Jesus” still sounds powerfully fierce, but I’m particularly chuffed to finally have “The Way You Go” on vinyl – it’s the first Haus Arafna song I ever heard, and to this day remains my favorite, with an unsettling, Frankenstein-esque synth progression and Mr. Arafna’s vocals sung like a lout in the alley behind the bar at 4:00 AM. If I die slowly instead of suddenly, I plan on singing this one on my way out.

Hero Dishonest Liha Ja Teräs LP (Peterwalkee)
Hero Dishonest continue onward with this, their seventh album in sixteen years, in firm position to be the second-generation Terveet Kädet (which presupposes that there will actually be a time in which Terveet Kädet cease to exist). On this US edition, Peterwalkee continues to make Hero Dishonest available for the hundred Americans who are interested in such a thing. On one hand, I’m surprised there aren’t more eager fans (the Peterwalkee pressing is limited to 100 copies), but at the same time it seems pretty clear that most old hardcore people are either hopelessly out of touch and buying Strung Out CDs or are too cool for bands that aren’t the specific micro-genre flavor of the week. Regardless of who else enjoys Hero Dishonest, I sure do – they haven’t skipped a beat here, at their most frantic recalling Gauze were they raised on Lärm or otherwise toning it down for a sort of rocked-out, Murder City Devils-meets-Bl’ast zone. And then there are the tracks that sound like they came off a Southeast Asia CD compilation on 625 Productions with 40 bands, which I might enjoy most of all. Hero Dishonest will keep playing manic hardcore and it’s up to us if we care to tune in.

His Clancyness Pale Fear / Coming Up Empty 7″ (Maple Death)
A moniker like “His Clancyness” seems like it should be reserved for the one and only Tom Clancy, but Jonathan Clancy has claimed that title for his own. It’s the name of his band, who have done time on labels like FatCat, and I can see why, as they’ve got a studied, bad-boy-but-not-really form of cool going on here. “Pale Fear” rides a clunky drum-beat through a very Spoon-like demeanor, sounding like guys who finally became sexy in their late thirties. They even push the tune over to a more traditional drum / guitar style in its second half and it works just as neatly. “Coming Up Empty” is a lonesome slow-dance, two people holding each other up on a dance-floor covered with confetti and streamers that fell hours before. It’s the perfect song for going over to your exes’ house to ask for your Walkmen LPs back. I’m far more partial to the upbeat slink of “Pale Fear”, but there’s an audience out there for both sides of this single and I have no doubt that His Clancyness will continue to locate it.

Homostupids Sleepy Tree 7″ (Richie)
Dwell on this 7″ long enough and you might actually transport back to the final days of George W. Bush’s reign, back when 7″ singles series were popping up left and right and Homostupids were active and on the tip of every garage-monkey’s tongue. Unlike many singles series of that era, this Richie Records Summer Singles Series (2016) arrives all at once and with zero flakery, and this brief chestnut from Homostupids is their first transmission in at least five years by my count. There are three brief tracks here, and I can’t help but notice that it sounds like a gentler, older group this time around – their songs are played notably slower, even if the general picking style and riff arrangement remains the same, and vocalist Steve Peffer (or is it the other guy? I can’t tell) is far from his throat-curdling former self, with lyrics that are actually close to audible and a relaxed delivery that ensures a dry collar. It sounds good, just not as raucous and indifferent as my favorite ‘Stupids material (although they’ve still got the song title game on lock, what with “Sleepy Tree” and “Sneaky Leaker” here, in their usual “nihilistic Shel Silverstein” style). More on the other two singles next month…

Hypnotic Sleep Füörm Hüölertnstruk Maut Mä´n Haut Afniemn 7″ (Hüüpnootsche Platen Un Kassetten)
It’s a relief that I can simply recommend this record to you by writing about it, as there will never be a day in my life wherein I’m comfortable enough attempting that title out loud. The band name, Hypnotic Sleep, is quite easy for a mono-languaged American like myself, and I’ve been really enjoying this strange little two-song single, following a full-length album of which the snippets I’ve heard are equally fascinating. Take the title track here, for instance: it’s built on a rickety drum machine and simplistic bass melody, with the soothing spaciousness of Duster or some other introspective ’90s space-rock indie group that felt solace in Moss Icon’s steely verse. Beautiful tune. The b-side “Dolli” utilizes different instrumentation, what sounds like a pump organ operated with two hands rifling through Medieval phrasing and weepy folklore, like a Current 93 outtake from 1991 that was put aside before being properly finished, or perhaps the bizarre cult-work of Canada’s One Of You (look them up, I’m glad I did!). The a-side’s stronger, but together it’s a wonderful, out-of-time experience. Time to go buy that LP.

JJ Doll JJ Doll 7″ (Katorga Works)
All the punks with their ears to the streets have been talking about JJ Doll in the last year or so, the band that quickly formed out of the ashes of the short-lived Ivy (who mostly came from Brown Sugar – I love punks that can’t keep a band together for any reasonable amount of time). I thought the JJ Doll demo sounded cool, but this new 7″ offers a clarity in both sonic quality and songwriting style that I find most appealing. Musically, they are speedy, grody hardcore-punk not unlike Patsy (or to an obvious extent, Ivy) or any given snippet of Not So Quiet On The Western Front, a standard I don’t take lightly. It’s solid stuff for sure, with a tasteful use of oom-pah drumming and a particularly subterranean guitar tone, but it’s the vocals of Sara Abruna that make JJ Doll a standout (let’s face it, the vocalist is at least 75% responsible for the success or failure of any given hardcore band). She shouts but rarely screams, sounding more bemused or taunting than enraged, and it’s a nice fit – I’m reminded of the short stint of Drunks With Guns material when they were fronted by a teenager named Melissa, NBJ’s “Dead Porker” (there I go with Not So Quiet again!) or a less new-wave version of CCTV’s Jennifer Giba. On the whole, JJ Doll have certainly found their mark with this single, and if they can’t keep it together for another record, I look forward to their next slightly-different incarnation just the same.

Le Villejuif Underground Le Villejuif Underground LP (SDZ)
Nathan Roche is the man behind Le Villejuif Underground, a musician and poet whose records and general underground presence I’ve enjoyed in the past, but never quite to the degree I’m enjoying Le Villejuif Underground’s self-titled debut. It’s a simple, goofy-happy rock record, the sort of product of which there are already an infinite amount, but few carry this level of effortless cool. It’s like what I assumed Girls were going to sound like before I heard them – some accidental confluence of Lou Reed, Jonathan Richman and Elvis Costello presenting itself over a bopping rock group that recalls The Clean or Scott And Charlene’s Wedding. It’s an obvious style choice, but simply the way Roche pronounces the name “Shannon” is enough for me to follow this guy off a bridge, pied-piper style. No idea where in Australia he was raised to have such a cool downtown NYC accent, but I want to visit that town and talk to the locals. Le Villejuif Underground is a great record, the sort of thing I would expect Pitchfork to fall over themselves to cover, at least back when they were all about What’s Your Rupture? and Captured Tracks instead of Drake and Yeezy. The fact that they’re called “Le Villejuif Underground” certainly isn’t helping their ability to connect with prospective fans, but I don’t plan on talking about them much anyway – this band is so cool and righteous that I plan on keeping them to myself.

Lumpy And The Dumpers Huff My Sack LP (Lumpy)
Like so many seminal hardcore-punk bands before them, a great singles band like Lumpy And The Dumpers finally put together their debut album, with somewhat mixed results. I am certainly a Lumpy fan (both band and label); they brought slime to punk rock prominence in the 2010s, not to mention the reigning best modern punk YouTube video clip, “Boy Hit By Fireworks In NYC”. I was ready to love Huff My Sack, but I dunno… something is slightly off. I can’t locate the instantly memorable anthem that I was hoping for (nothing close to “Gnats In The Pisser” or “Sex Pit” at least), and their sound is a little muddier than before – a slight step-down in sound quality similar to Hank Wood’s slide from first album to second. And while I appreciate Lumpy’s fascination with testicles throughout Huff My Sack – his lyrics are strongest when focusing on bodily functions, macabre gross-outs or anything generally yucky – the grossness here doesn’t seem as genuine somehow. The lyrics of “I’m Gonna Move To New York” kinda miss the mark when one considers the wealth of material that clueless trust-fund hipster-punks provide (a Thurston Moore jab in 2016 feels particularly flat), and an anti-cop song doesn’t feel ragingly righteous when followed by a track called “Pee In The Pool”. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a solid slice of garbage-pail punk, but something about Huff My Sack feels like a band impersonating the things that Lumpy And The Dumpers do rather than Lumpy And The Dumpers themselves, as if they are now aware of their underground fame and trying to do the things they think people want them to do rather than simply letting their most bizarre tendencies lead the way. You thought it was impossible to be serious about Lumpy And The Dumpers, but look at me over here.

Machine Woman Genau House 12″ (Where To Now?)
Where To Now? has quickly become a “buy on sight” label for me – they’ve released mind-boggling 12″s from Lutto Lento and Beatrice Dillon in the past year, and this new one from Machine Woman is equally fantastic. I reviewed Machine Woman’s For Sweden 12″ a couple months ago, a six-track EP brimming with ideas, but she slims it down with Genau House, comprised of two originals and one remix. “I Can Mend Your Broken Heart” is a gorgeous and sensual dip into Machine Woman’s flotation tank, working a chilly ambiance and crackly glitches into an all-night groove, topped off by her disaffected, looking-elsewhere vocals. If this song was a muffin I’d eat the whole dozen and sit there smiling stupidly, chest covered in crumbs. “Friday Night” has a similar effect, with swerving kicks and codeine-dipped vocals to imagine a Paranoid London track that can’t feel its own face. Nice choice in bringing in Kassem Mosse to remix “I Can Mend Your Broken Heart”, and his bass goes beneath the foundation and rattles the earth’s crust while he slowly dissolves Machine Woman’s original cut like a drop of red food-coloring in a bowl of chilled vodka. Pretty much everything is right about Genau House, and while I’m eager for more from both Machine Woman and Where To Now?, I’m content to linger in this pool well beyond the pruning of my fingers and toes.

Mosquito Ego Glomb LP (Ever/Never)
Mosquito Ego’s Glomb comes with a strikingly beautiful cover painting, replicated even larger in fold-out poster form as an insert, the sort of thing you’d want to hang up in your toddler’s bedroom until you start counting the penises and anuses that are subliminally rendered within. It’s a busy, colorful grab-bag of craziness, which extends to the sound of Mosquito Ego as well. My first thought was “this sounds like a band that would have a split record with Melt Banana”, and I’m sticking with it – if you’ve collected Melt Banana records like I have over the years, you’re used to the zany noise-rock, digital grindcore, spastic funk and occasional ska-punk bands that shared vinyl real estate, and Mosquito Ego float somewhere between all that. I’m reminded of the psychotic noise-funk of Mercury 4F, of course the Boredoms, maybe a touch of Dazzling Killmen and Nisennenmondai too. Elastic noise-rock riffs will meet synthetic animal noises, break-beat samples skitter past inorganic drones and everyone involved seems to be having a marvelous time. All this from a German band featuring ex-members of ’90s somber hardcore outfit Cluster Bomb Unit. The world is a beautiful place.

Mulan Serrico Discret LP (Crudités Tapes)
Crudités Tapes is a small label under the umbrella of SDZ Records (perhaps my favorite Parisian experimental post-punk label going today), focusing more on the electronic / dance side of things, and Mulan Serrico is their latest export. Do punks really not buy dance records unless they are on a dance-specific sub-label? I’ve never understood the need for that differentiation, but alas. Anyway, Mulan Serrico is the work of one Nicolas Murer, who I enjoyed as a member of smash n’ bash noise-punk duo Gueule Ouverte a couple years ago (seek out their LP, it’s cheap!), now out on his own with a couple keyboards, a pack of smokes and surely a pair of tinted sunglasses ready to land on the bridge of his nose. I’m strongly reminded of the simplistic synth-wave sleaze of fellow Frenchmen Scorpion Violente, although Mulan Serrico is mercifully free of lecherous imagery. Discret plays out somewhere between early Chris & Cosey and the Excitebike soundtrack, with basic acid movements and throwback melodies not far from the first Veiled album, much of which is joined by sonically-affected male vocals. Nothing particularly exciting, but if you’re throwing a dungeon dance-party and the bar is only serving red wine, you might be wishing you had a copy of Discret nearby.

Nones XOXOXO Sue LP (no label)
Chicago group Nones move from the stable housing of HoZac to a self-financed residence, offering their second full-length album, XOXOXO Sue. Been listening to it for a while, not so much because I’m loving it but because I’m hoping to find something to say worth reading about it. Nones play a very basic form of mid-paced punk rock, with debt to both the ’90s Touch & Go scene and the ’00s HoZac scene (which is to say, strong flourishes of moody indie-rock and snarky garage-punk). Maybe a touch of Wipers in there too, although referencing the Wipes halfheartedly is about as useful as saying a band sounds like rock music. Vocalist Brandon Bayles has kind of a stilted, well-enunciated delivery, and there’s even a song where he assumes the perspective of a woman named Sue who wrote him a letter, singing her lyrics in a higher register, which was probably amusingly awkward to witness in the studio. Definitely not a record I’ll be coming back to much, but I’d imagine they have a small-but-dedicated crew of friends who come out to support them and sing along to songs like “Too Old To Die Young” and they surely matter more to Nones than whatever I might have to say.

1-800-BAND High Beams LP (Amost Ready)
Either you’re willing to acknowledge a band named “1-800-BAND” or you never will be, and for those on the wrong side of the line, I’m sorry you hate fun so much! High Beams is my first interaction with the group, and it’s a solid dose of buttery rock n’ roll comfort. I’m hearing sky-high Cheap Trick hooks on basically every track, with an affable mainstream new-wave sound that recalls The Records or The dB’s or one of those other bands that you ended up buying an album by because you really didn’t want to leave the record store empty-handed and it was fifty cents and looked vaguely punk. (Maybe I’m projecting – do any of you own Tuff Darts LPs?) 1-800-BAND sound so insanely confident in their heart-on-sleeve ’80s commercial power-pop that their songs almost instantaneously transport me to a place in time I never truly inhabited: skipping out of detention to go chew gum and make out under the bleachers before hitchhiking to the big city to see Tom Petty perform on his Full Moon Fever tour. If you ever heard Kid Rock’s “All Summer Long” and wished it was cool, go get yourself some High Beams.

Posset Fanzine Ink Dries Like Black Blood / Slurpy Slurpy Creep Creep 7″ (I Dischi Del Barone)
The I Dischi Del Barone singles just keep on coming, this one from Joe Murray AKA Posset, a sound artist who’s been committing his experiments to tape for almost a decade. Can’t say I’m familiar with him previously, but not knowing anything is often part of the fun of the I Dischi Del Barone experience. “Fanzine Ink Dries Like Black Blood” is a quickly-cut assemblage of vocal wheezing – some deep asthma is explored here, to be sure. Took me a while to determine the record speed, considering the unusual tone of the human voice being applied, but speed determination is the other fun part of the I Dischi Del Barone experience. “Slurpy Slurpy Creep Creep” certainly slurps and creeps along, meditating on what sounds like a sun-melted Walkman attempting to play a Pork Queen cassette from 1995. It’s like a glass of water with plenty of backwash, both viscous and gross. Nice move, Posset!

Primetime Going Places 7″ (La Vida Es En Mus)
Primetime were one of the best punk bands (maybe the best?) I saw live last year, and not because they all did backflips into their gear after every song or anything crazy like that, but simply because of the songs themselves. Each new tune was beautifully dumber than the last, inexplicably catchy to the point where you assume they are classic obscure punk covers you need to go home and research. They’re all Primetime originals though, and the opener here, “Pervert”, is probably their pinnacle thus far. It has the same delightfully rudimentary charm of Delta 5’s “Mind Your Own Business”, but with the best sex-themed punk lyrics since Good Throb’s album – charming and sloppy and hilarious all at once. Actually, if vocalist Claudia Serfaty just sang “da da da” instead of actual words, the stop-start riff makes it an unforgettable tune regardless of anything else – truly a song for the ages. The other three tunes are fantastic as well, sweet and goofy and memorable in a way that Eddy Current could’ve went instead of becoming grandiose and introspective. If anything, Going Places is over much too fast, but I can’t think of a better way to develop carpal tunnel than flipping this one over and over. Top recommendation!

Rough Kids Rough Kids LP (Sorry State)
Rough Kids sounds like the name of a fictional band to rival The Nasty Bits on HBO’s Vinyl (RIP), and it suits this LA quartet, what with their attractive black-and-white portraits on the back, band member Luis seductively taking a pull from his cigarette as if he has no idea they cause cancer. Musically, they work pretty well as a “grown-up serious punk adults” unit – I’m hearing the tuneful power-pop of Exploding Hearts channeled through a scowling, unhappy set of songs befitting No Hope For The Kids or The Observers (and one track that cribs the “Rockin’ In The Free World” riff). Very classically-inspired stuff here, with hooks about their “TV screen”, denim jackets with just the right flair (is that an original Bags pin I spy on Tsubasa’s?), images of the band standing in front of an empty lot with a chain-link fence backdrop… it’s a nostalgia that goes down incredibly smooth for anyone who ever wanted to pump their fist at CBGBs while wearing ripped jeans. Rough Kids don’t add to the lexicon, but they certainly studied it well, and if you’re looking for a group of bad boys (which I guess is an exact synonym for Rough Kids) to bring you back to a time that most of us are too young to have experienced firsthand, they’re ready and able.

Soft Gang Soft Gang LP (Sophomore Lounge)
New York City’s Soft Gang, featuring ex-members of Dichroics and Sapat, arrive with this self-titled album on Sophomore Lounge. If all I had to go on was sound alone and I didn’t have the handy promo sheet in front of me, I still would’ve guessed that this album was the work of grown adults, probably closer to having teenaged children than being teenagers themselves – this is experienced avant indie-rock. Soft Gang play a moderate, plaintive form of post-punk, reminiscent of the smarter-than-emo bands out of DC like Lungfish, or maybe Bluetip or Unwound’s milder tunes. The songs are far from energetic, but purposeful, as though each lull or guitar dropout was thoughtfully considered. Vocalist Kaori Nakamura’s soft, quaintly mumbled prose that seemingly ignores the song structure behind it calls to mind Deerhoof’s Satomi Matsuzaki, although the manic energy and child-like giddiness of Deerhoof is nowhere to be found on Soft Gang, even though both bands are probably roughly the same age. Soft Gang prefer to pensively skulk through their tunes, to the point where you can’t tell if they are suppressing an explosion of sonic intrigue or just really tired. I suppose that’s what it means to be a Soft Gang.

Tackle Benzedrine 12″ (Another Dark Age)
Australia’s answer to Blackest Ever Black, Another Dark Age, comes correct with the debut 12″ EP of Tackle, an artist working in the realm of metallic and frightening industrial-techno. It’s a genre that has certainly passed its ideal weight by now, and the trope of using a prescription drug name as a song title to infer some sort of sinister darkness is a bit played, but I made it past my reservations and was pleased I did. The title track is pretty interesting – instead of taking metallic pings, live-wire shocks and crunching machinery and laying it out over a bass-soaked 4/4 grid, Tackle treats it like Doormouse or Venetian Snares circa 2003, whipping up a fierce and minimal drill-n-bass workout. Picture Chris Corsano as an X-Men villain, laying over the slain bodies of Blue Man Group as he pummels a chemical factory with his drumsticks and you might catch my drift. The b-side offers other interesting takes on negative-sounding modern industrial: “Stung” sounds like Fieldy from Korn caught in a Saw death device, his only way out by joining Moebius and Plank in their sessions for Rastakraut Pasta (others might say it sounds a hell of a lot like Powell). Final track “AGR 003” is the least interesting but still quite enjoyable, hitting like an Ed Banger remix of Emptyset, with monotone static bursts snugly snapped into Mr. Oizo’s template. It all makes for a wonderful, optimistic take on evil electronic dance music, one that 2016 certainly needs.

Writhing Squares In The Void Above LP (Siltbreeze)
My city has a musical duo that play bass guitar, drum machine, flute and saxophone, does yours? They’re called Writhing Squares and it’s only appropriate that their debut album is released by Siltbreeze, one of the vanguard labels of international underground music. Writhing Squares are quite cool, bringing their own particular ideas and instrumentation to tried-and-true rock. Most songs operate around the nimble bass lines and drum machine accompaniment, providing the flute, saxophone or whatever else plenty of room to soar around, kite-like through their psychedelic skies. Both members of the group are clearly accomplished players, so don’t expect any skronking or tuneless-for-tuneless’-sake squealing; rather, Writhing Squares play with melody and bounce ideas off each other to the point where it’s hard to tell if these songs are righteous mind-melded improvisations or fine-crafted compositions. The music has me thinking of some sort of Hawkwind and Huey Lewis collaboration, but with all guitars extracted and just the melodic bones loosely dancing together. There’s certainly the feel of Americanized kraut-rock action too, like Neu! and Can aren’t far from Writhing Squares’ personal turntables but it’s actually ZZ Top and The Ramones that are embedded in their DNA. The album really gets cooking by the second side – I’m reminded of the earliest Wooden Shjips records, where it was clear the group struck gold by building their sound from a few distinct sonic ingredients (and both groups have similarly echoed / unintelligible vocals). I can only assume Writhing Squares will continue their upward journey into and through the void.