Reviews – February 2024

Alamoans Alamoans 7″ (Kill Enemy)
It’s gotta be intimidating to start a new hardcore band in Pittsburgh these days… the bar has been set at such a high level over the past few years that you have to have some elevated level of confidence, chops or both to enter the fray. Alamoans are a post-Covid group featuring folks from Eel and Speed Plans, two of Pittsburgh’s gnarliest if not most technically precise, and in this configuration, they lower the tempo and reduce the general sense of violence that came with those other two groups. Sometimes you just wanna groove, even if it’s still in a basement-dwelling hardcore sense, and Alamoans find a solid mid-tempo lane for much of their five songs here. These songs are still prepared to weather substantial moshing – “We’re Laughing” is primed for sideways pitting – but there’s an underlying sense of outsiderness, the sort of thing that made Condominium and Slices stand out from the crowd. Reminds me of SQRM too, hardcore that frays the line between anguish and awkwardness in a way that I find appealing. The sound on this EP might be murkier than I’m used to hearing from Pittsburgh hardcore (is the Braddock Hit Factory no more?), but Alamoans seem to thrive on their lack of clarity – the lyric sheet, amusingly, is completely redacted.

Ancient Filth No More Hiding LP (Shock To The System / Gonzosonic)
Like ten years after their inception, Boston’s Ancient Filth finally release their first vinyl full-length, true to their unwavering cause of injury-prone hardcore-punk. They’ve got an energetic, unhinged sound without ever playing overtly fast… it’s a proud strain of American hardcore, and Ancient Filth are popping the buttons off their shirts as they perform it. Most specifically, I’m reminded of Northeast suburban thrash-core (The Rites, Tear It Up) from twenty years ago, with a touch of Infest’s incessant 90- and 180-degree riff-shifts and one mosh breakdown every six or seven songs (they’re from Boston, after all). The singer appears to be in constant physical battle with himself – are those pieces of paper stapled to his body on the back center sticker? – the sort of guy whose violence is self-directed but it’s still kind of scary. Even with this belligerent presentation, Ancient Filth are saying real things, complete with an attractive poster insert that includes not only lyrics but explanations of those lyrics, in case you were to somehow take “Legalize Suicide” and “Father Knows Best” the wrong way.

Brorlab Working Out In Heaven LP (La Vida Es Un Mus)
Here’s a fun one you may have missed, perhaps the first band to have released music on both hardcore-punk authority La Vida Es Un Mus and avant-prankster seal of anti-quality Ultra Eczema. Brorlab are an Antwerp group venturing into Casio-punk territory, even if no actual Casios are necessarily represented. It’s bass, guitar, high-pitched shouting and one extremely overworked and obviously fake-sounding drum machine, and if you find pleasure in sounds that annoy the vast majority of other people, Working Out In Heaven is for you! It’s like if Atari Teenage Riot were on Crass Records, or if Good Throb got Agoraphobic Nosebleed to write and record their next record. Wacked-out on purpose, with songs that constantly check your patience – go on, give “Anyway The Wind Blows” a listen and see if you can pass Brorlab’s entry endurance test. As for me, I love it, though even making it through the full album in a single go feels more depleting than if I sat down with stacks of Journey albums or ’90s emo double-LP compilations. It’s music meant to wear you out, which is a very punk thing to do. I have to wonder though, are Brorlab immune to their own sonic weaponry, or are they also exhausted by the end? They have to be hearing it too, even if they’re the ones making it… some punk rock freaks are just built different, so who knows.

Class If You’ve Got Nothing LP (Feel It)
The desert is a funny place to be a power-pop band… just imagine how sweaty it gets in those tweed sport-coats and skinny ties! Of course, Tuscon’s Class aren’t playing it by the stereotypical rules, which is a significant reason as to why their second Feel It full-length, If You’ve Got Nothing, is so good. They’ve got vibrant, rocky guitar chords deployed in classic punk configurations, a lively performance and catchy vocal harmonies, and they deliver it all without sounding hokey, generic or insincere. I suppose the most sincere way to sound these days is “depressed and miserable”, given the general state of affairs, but I appreciate that Class seem frustrated and angry without an overwhelming sense of resignation or hopelessness – I wouldn’t call what they’re dealing here “hope”, but it feels willing to at least face the world rather than aggressively hide from it. There’s a touch of Exploding Hearts in If You’ve Got Nothing, but also a strong Cleveland vibe, working-class proto-punk I’d associate with guys like Peter Laughner or Ron House. Rootsy American rock in a completely non-corny way, which gets close to some eternal truth or at least a couple kernels of it.

Coeval Coeval LP (Le Turc Mecanique)
Coeval won’t be the most notorious English post-punk group to have a trauma bonding song (that honor goes to High Vis), yet I find their distant and morose style more intriguing, starting with opener “Trauma Bonding” through the self-titled album’s close. They’ve got that dead-serious attitude along with a heavy shot of melodramatic flair and a looming professionalism, not unlike Savages or Fontaines D.C., that sorta money-backed, stylized goth-adjacent rock vibe that refuses to ever fall out of style. Only in the case of Coeval, they’re not on some big label with professional photoshoots and toiling publicists on hand, they’re scraping it together more or less themselves with similar wide-screen results. Some of these songs, when churning their own dark emotions deeply, remind me of Iceage if they were trained musicians who did not have the lived teenaged experience of a scrappy hardcore scene to raise them. There’s probably some Joy Division, Cold Cave and even The Xx in there too, but Coeval truly does a fine job of sounding separate from the pack, or at least not so beholden to the exact same synth presets and familiar melodic progressions. A song like “Liminal”, for example, seeps like black coffee through a paper towel, all of its parts creeping and seemingly out-of-time yet all the more interesting because of it. Unlike the other artists I mention here, sometimes it can be hard to tell if Coeval are making it up on the spot, a difficult yet successful approach to depressive post-punk mood music.

Comes • Veldman Manifest Exodus LP (Dead Mind)
Sometimes I think of all the drone-ambient fans out there, and how lucky they were to be alive in this very moment, this bountiful period of drone-ambient in human history! Imagine being born merely a couple centuries ago – a micro-blip in the history of this planet – and well, if you want to hear drone-ambient, you’re going to have to go work at the steam-engine assembly-line or something, and even then, it’s mostly the same set over and over. Anyway, Manifest Exodus is another new drone-ambient album, but it comes from the very not-new Hessel Veldman alongside his younger (but still older than me) counterpart Martijn Comes. Veldman is one of my favorite Dutch post-punk experimentalists, whose inventive work has stretched out from 1981 or so into the very present, and while that sort of pedigree isn’t mandatory for making engaging drone-ambient, it sure doesn’t hurt. On this LP we’ve got four thick, lengthy tracks, all of which seem to relate the stretching out of distant galaxies but in a soothing manner, as if we have nothing to fear – we’re all just stardust anyway. There’s shimmering, animated distortion and a heavy low-end providing gravitational pull, but these tracks always maintain a peaceful melodic resonance, like light shining through the crusty cracks of some ancient cavern, or prehistoric gears slowly locking into place. Perfect for the next time you need sit and think (or attempt to avoid having any thoughts entirely).

Dridge Dying Out 2xLP (W.G.M.)
On Dridge’s 2021 vinyl full-length, there was an undercurrent of pop-melodicism to their heavy grunge riffs, but not even the skeletons of such endeavors remain here on the follow-up, Dying Out. See, this is pure epic doom-metal – released in one of my favorite epic doom-metal formats, three songs on three sides of twelve-inch vinyl – that harbors no hooks, no verse/chorus comfort, nothing besides the dreariest, heaviest sludge. Solid move! Even with twelve-minute-long songs, there’s something about Dridge that feels punk, or at least punk-indebted… it’s doom-metal, sure, but performed with such spite and disgust that it feels like metal can’t fully claim it as its own. Kinda like how St. Vitus looked/sounded on those Black Flag tours, authentically metal yet authentically punk at the same time, if more spiritually than sonically. The strings here are downtuned almost past the point of being able to functionally reverberate, the drums keep painfully-slow time with some inspired patterns and fills (that’s gotta be tricky at these speeds), and the vocals sound like a five-hundred-pound monster awoken in his cave. Fans of Eternal Rot won’t be disappointed! It’s a big shift from what they sounded like only two years ago, but their evolution (or tragic mutation, as it were) is ace.

Forestlike Forestlike LP (Patsy Presents)
Extremely precious debut here from Indiana’s Forestlike, an indie-folk duo who might blow away if they get caught up in a light breeze. They’re apparently old friends who reconnected with each other and their nylon-stringed guitars, aging out of scrappy indie bands to this tender, emotion-centric affair. There is nary a sharp edge to be found within this self-titled debut, full of airy melodies, vocal harmonies, acoustic guitars and an overwhelming softness, the songs crafted with considerate care and attention to detail. Feels like Conor Oberst at his most subdued, Will Oldham on his deathbed, Ben Gibbard covering Pearls Before Swine, or Simon and Garfunkel if they toned down the aggression a bit… it’s not children’s music, by any means, but if Forestlike switched out their lyrics for lines about caterpillars who hug rainbows, it might be the perfect cozy come-down to usher in nap-time without protest. Forestlike are all-in on this vibe, and I appreciate their commitment to such kindhearted music, even if it might be a little too hushed and sentimental for my personal predilection. How much tenderness can you take??

The Gents Responsible Dog Walker 7″ (Creepy Kid)
An EP titled Responsible Dog Walker, as performed by a group called The Gents… are you also feeling a little suspicious? There’s no way this self-described group of “three elementary school teachers” are actually as polite as it might seem upon first glance! Turns out my suspicions were well-founded, as they blast through five flailing tunes as though they’re trying to start a riot in third period lunch. These songs are poppy by heart but performed with abandon and recorded red-hot, sounding like H-100s trying their hands at Screeching Weasel-y pop-punk, or some playground dustup between Slobber and Assfactor 4’s cover of “Attempted Control”. It’s dirty music in a very American way, which is why I was surprised to discover that The Gents are actually from Hamburg, Germany. (I’d be relieved in my assumptions if it turned out to be a typo and they were actually from Hamburg, Indiana or something.) Probably a little too poppy and fun for the usual wild n’ lo-fi garage-heads (and vice versa), but for someone like me who isn’t caught up with staunch genre separations, it’s a treat.

Hard Copy 12 Shots Of Nature LP (Feel It)
Though Feel It has relocated from Richmond to Cincinnati, that hasn’t prevented them from releasing dispatches from the freakier end of Richmond’s punk underground, like Hard Copy’s curious debut for instance. 12 Shots From Nature shows a band that, even in its infancy, is yearning for something beyond the typical post-punk confines. Their songs can feel like one-act plays as much as danceable grooves, often at odds with each other, which is part of the fun. There will be a two-note bass-guitar rhythm that stinks of early Viagra Boys, some strange percussive experiments the likes of which call PiL to my mind, a belligerent/intelligent vocal prowess that might reverberate with the chutzpah of Mark E. Smith, and chards of raw dance-punk that feel like a beer-soaked match to labelmates Sweeping Promises, to give you a general idea of Hard Copy’s range of musical approaches. And rather than write songs in a typical verse-chorus structure, these tunes remain unpredictable throughout – examine the way that a brief vocal appearance gives way to an extended krauty dance groove in “Torpedo”. It’s like the art-school sophistication of Patois Counselors butting head-on with the anti-virtuoso punk attitude of Buck Biloxi, with results that sound decidedly like neither. I can picture the average Feel It fan passing this one by, it being very much a square-peg record in a round-hole world, and I can also picture more adventurous listeners discovering it years from now, wondering what the hell was up with this delightfully strange band.

The Judges Judgement Day LP (Total Punk / Anti Fade)
The international accord between America’s Total Punk and Australia’s Anti Fade could only yield positive results, like this debut LP from Melbourne’s The Judges. If I had to guess, the cover photo reveals one of the Judges undergoing a guitar transaction inside of a liquor store with some guy they met on Australian Facebook, a welcome bit of snark on an album that otherwise is no laughing matter. Judgement Day sounds like it came from a band whose favorite Stooges are Ashetons, inner-city bad-kid rock n’ roll from the last continent to really take that sort of thing seriously. The Judges take the holy template of dual-guitar power-punk and run with it, with gasoline/nicotine-scented riffs, appealingly bad attitudes and no filler. It’s a style that can’t ever truly suck, but it certainly can be boring… lucky for us, The Judges sound like they’re playing for their lives, leaving every last drop of blood on the floor. Definitely sounds like the kind of garage band that gathers as many friends as enemies, but that could just be the sound they’ve produced. Perhaps they’re sweethearts, even if their songs sound like they were written and performed by the thieves who stole your bike and never got caught.

Jared Leibowich Secret Spells LP (Bruit Direct)
Jared Leibowich carved out his own soft and unobtrusive spot in the indie underground through a bunch of records with his group The Zoltars (and one album with an entirely different group of people as The Infinitives), and now he’s stepping out under the Leibowich family name for his first “solo” affair, Secret Spells. I put solo in quotes because this certainly sounds like a band, complete with tumbling, cymbal-deficient drumming, chiming guitar notes and Leibowich’s easily recognizable voice. His voice always sounds like a nerd you should take seriously, barely raising it above speaking volume while maintaining a melodic pitch… it’s one of the signatures of his music, and much as I’ve enjoyed it previously, I’m enjoying it here. And while his style has generally remained the same, one of cozy slow-core indie-rock ala The American Analog Set and Bedhead at their most traceable back to the Velvet Underground, these songs feel slightly more bombastic, more inclined to throb with tension and energy. There’s some nice low-end here, a warm bass sound and some auxiliary keys that fill up the space like the decor of a well-designed room. As perhaps his most textured and pulsating work yet, Leibowich is in good company with Bruit Direct’s stable of misfits.

Leopardo Solo Recordings 2019-2022 LP (Chrüsimüsi)
Whimsical Swiss indie-psych is the name of the game with Leopardo, operating as both a live ensemble and, back when society actually recognized the ongoing pandemic, a solo recording project. It’s the work of bandleader Romain Savary on this collection, coming across like the egg-punk Tiny Tim or something. Soft, swirling, silly songs are on offer here, mostly utilizing a standard guitar/vocal arrangement and mucking it up with some sort of synth, woodwind or homemade approximation thereof. I suppose if you squint hard enough, you can pick up on the melancholy isolation with which this music was written and recorded, but Leopardo have always delivered a sort of offbeat childlike cheerfulness, and I’m sensing that here too, even though a track like “Bündnerfleisch” feels like This Kind Of Punishment covering “She’s Lost Control”. My favorite cut is the opener, “I Can’t Help Falling In Love With Nobody”, which sounds unlike any of the rest. It’s a silly post-punk streetwalk with outrageously warbled vocals, sounding like you’re cornered by a chainsmoking Frenchman at an ’80s roller-disco new-wave party. Even in isolation, Leopardo refuses to succumb to the dark side.

Liquid Mike Liquid Mike LP (Kitschy Spirit)
Radio-friendly pop-punk is one of those things I have a superhuman tolerance for – the band could be pro-fracking pyramid-scheme loan-frauds who foreclosed on my parents’ house, but if their songs do the same basic things as All American Rejects, Blink 182 and Yellowcard’s “Ocean Avenue”, well, fine by me! Now, I can’t claim to know how the members of Liquid Mike make their money outside of the band, but they’ve got that same bouncy, anthemic, Totally ’90s pop-punk sound on this, their first vinyl record. “God Bless The World” has an overtly Tony Molina-esque vocal melody (and Molina’s trademark abrupt ending style), but I’m also hearing The Promise Ring at their most uproarious, the Adventures Of Pete & Pete theme song, the first Charly Bliss album, the aforementioned major-label pop-punk and, I dunno, probably hundreds of other bands who more or less sound like this. There are also millions of Snickers bars out there right now, and you know what, their ubiquity doesn’t make them any less sweet and tasty! Liquid Mike are from Marquette, MI, and if the house-parties in neighboring towns aren’t at least a little envious, it’s probably because they haven’t heard about Liquid Mike just yet.

Peder Mannerfelt The Benefits Of Living In A Hole 12″ (Voam)
It seems like Peder Mannerfelt is never not having fun. Even on some of his more ominous, serious-sounding works, there’s always that sense that he’s enjoying himself a little too much. On this new EP, however, the fun is front and center, ebullient rave mayhem that squeaks and squeals. On this punchy four-track EP he takes the neon eye-glare of PC Music and thrusts it into muscular techno patterns reminiscent of Errorsmith, with plenty of room for his wild bicycle-horn synths to grab all the attention. “Vankelmotor” feels like Blawan through a funhouse mirror, the synths given a full-on taffy-pull, whereas “Eurotrashed” finds a lone goblin wandering through a k-hole. “Liquid Rattan Mainframe” ends on a high note, a fast-shuffling beat alongside what is easily the most cartoonishly flatulent synth-leads on an EP full of silly sounds. It’s precisely the sort of ridiculousness that I’d associate with Mannerfelt: forward-thinking, fast-paced and side-splitting.

Meat Shirt Army Of Dolphins EP 12″ (Phantom / Destructure)
I was prepared to chuckle at the fact that French power-punk trio Meat Shirt recorded their Army Of Dolphins EP in the French town of Brest, but it’s an absolutely gorgeous little port city, the type of place I certainly wish to retire to someday. Apologies to all Brest residents for my immaturity! Anyway, French hardcore is always weird and a little awkward, even when it doesn’t want to be, but Meat Shirt (hailing from Saint Brieuc, not Brest) are actually pretty well-adjusted. They operate on the poppier end of the post-hardcore noise-rock spectrum, where the guitars self-destruct rarely and tastefully and the rhythm section continuously propels things forward. The thuggish tempos occasionally carry the sensation of Viagra Boys, whereas some of the guitar work has me thinking of East Bay Ray’s demented-surf stylings. Suitable for a band called Meat Shirt, to be sure! It’s their debut, and you can kind of hear the band sorting themselves out in their fledgling state, playing fast, searching out grooves and even trying out a funky gang-vocal “whoop whoop” breakdown on the title track, a moment far closer to modern-day Red Hot Chili Peppers than, say, Metz or Drive Like Jehu. Maybe “Meat Shirt” is just another way to say you’re going shirtless, Chi Peps style?

Melenas Ahora LP (Trouble In Mind)
Has the genre “playlist-rock” been invented yet? Ahora, the third album from Spanish group Melenas certainly fits that feel in a non-derogatory way, one of subdued, chilled-out indie-rock moves with a reliance on soft synths, chugging motorik rhythms and mellow vocals. It’s one of those records that will offend absolutely nobody, and I don’t mean that as a diss – Melenas have cultivated a smooth, tender indie-krautrock style aligned with Broadcast, Neu! and to a lesser extent Domenique Dumont and Electrelane. There are no dangerous edges here – you could leave a toddler unattended inside Ahora and rest assured that they won’t somehow injure themselves. B-side opener “Bang” is pop fun, big cozy synths guiding the tune on a course that would satisfy an iPhone commercial where young attractive people dance by themselves in their bedrooms as well as a birthday party for one of those aforementioned toddlers. The more I listen, the more some of these understated hooks cling to my brain, a subtle trick for a record that is otherwise trick-free.

Nameless Creations Plague Party LP (Antena Krzyku)
Goth has gotten way too fashionable over the last decade or so, let’s be real. It used to be scary and disgusting, the subsect of punk that creeped out regular punks, and while I’ve grown accustomed to it as more of an Instagrammable aesthetic choice (which I guess could be said about a lot of things), it’s cool that Warsaw’s Nameless Creations are dedicated to keeping it gross. I mean, they kind of tastelessly called this new album Plague Party, and instead of hiding behind crystalline waves of reverb, they’re screeching and drooling through songs with titles like “Dirge For A Lunatic” and “Poison Island”. It would make Christian Death and Bauhaus proud, I’m sure. These songs are ramshackle and spooky, at some points sounding like Nick Cave if he hailed from a Southern California suburb in 1983, or some unstable melange of Subtonix, TV Ghost and Trop Tard. I love that the singer is named Dorian Wiseblood, and that the bassist is Harry Throat – shouldn’t someone named “Harry Throat” be the singer? Nameless Creations are unabashed weirdos, stirring up a sinister mess of aggro post-punk that fashion-goths will struggle to understand.

Erik Nervous Immaturity LP (Feel It / FatCat)
Now that egg-punk has been officially SPIN-articled and continues to age out of novelty/obscurity, new directions are welcomed for the reluctant genre. Erik Nervous has been at it for a while now, catching the formative aesthetic as a youngster and impressing his own brand of nerdy/garage-y speed-punk upon the Midwest underground and outwards. Even in the halcyon days of 2015, his musicianship stood out, and on this new full-length, Immaturity, Nervous’s skills remain at the forefront of his work. Of course, punk rock has always been at odds with formal talent, but Nervous really makes it work, writing dazzling, hyperactive guitar lines and inventive drum patterns and presenting them with a comfortingly familiar level of basement grit. His alien-geek-robot vocals are appealingly monotone, a necessary foil for the haywire melodies and technically-astute riffage that he apparently performs and records entirely by himself. It can sound like Whatever Brains on their sixth can of Monster, or Jay Reatard if he never moved out of his mom’s attic (both good things), but I’m most enamored by the glimpses of out-there instrumental work – “Pretentious Instrumental Break” tries to self-deprecate with the title, but it recalls the lunacy of Systematics or even the portrayal of Philip Glass as egg-punk liege. Be proud of your formidable skills, Mr. Nervous!

Maayan Nidam Habe Ich Gewonnen? 12″ (Giegling)
Best Giegling single to hit my desk in a minute! Maayan Nidam is new to me, but “Eisbär” is a techno-not-techno track I won’t soon forget. It behaves so strangely… like, yes there is a beat, but it’s also kind of motionless, with this warm and warbly synth squiggle that gets flipped on and off like a light-switch. There is no groove whatsoever, and that’s what makes it so compelling. It’s headphone/meditation/dishwashing electro of a refined caliber, a listening zone I strongly endorse. The rest of the a-side wanders with a similarly uninhibited presence, drums offering only the most rudimentary of patterns, bass-lines restlessly burbling, perhaps a simple melodic line or a sprinkling of low-level dub interference. The flip offers no easy answers either, only more patient and sparse techno maneuvers in the hazy clap n’ throb of “In Reverence”. It’s like there are the sanctioned styles of electronic dance music, and then there’s Maayan Nidam, blissfully negating the things a techno producer is supposed to do. Habe Ich Gewonnen? reminds me of Kassem Mosse, Margaret Dygas and labelmate DJ Metatron in that way, a playful thumbing of the rules and reorganization of techno groundwork… yet another friendly reminder to keep an eye on Giegling at all times.

Northeast Regional Fitness 7″ (Tor Johnson)
Now firmly a band (as opposed to its previous solo-project existence), Richmond’s Northeast Regional follow their debut LP with this three-song seven-inch (and promotional Northeast Regional-branded water bottles, too – a nice touch, though a Stanley collab would really put them on the map). These three songs are both leaner and meaner, moving ever so slightly from the screamy pop-punk / melodic hardcore vibe to one of aggressively downward post-grunge chug. The two a-side tracks tumble forward like the most aggressive Hot Snakes material, or KARP with a Jade Tree contract. If you play these songs without enough energy or a capable drummer, everything can fall apart, but everyone in Northeast Regional is holding up their various ends of the bargain here. I can’t help but think that if Fucked Up stayed a normal band back in 2008 and never strayed the course, their results may be similar to these songs as well. The b-side is nice too, opting for a Nirvana-goes-hardcore riff with the sense that it’s played by guys with Rocket From The Crypt-looking button-up shirts. Probably hard to stand out playing music this un-zeitgeisty in 2024, even if you’re really good, but I want to remind you once more that Northeast Regional made promotional water bottles for this release, which is a nice start. Maybe every band should start giving out free household items? It’s surely the next step in our ultra devalued industry.

Now And Blue Space Is Burning Noon LP (Sloth Mate)
Sloth Mate continues to sharpen its savvy aesthetic with Now’s vinyl debut, another sophisticated-DIY indie-pop act out of San Francisco (a city that seems to have a never-ending supply of this sorta thing). They have some recognizable sounds and musical approaches here, all of which come together in a fairly novel arrangement. Some tracks (like opener “Wind Was”) sound like Cocteau Twins’ guitars as utilized by Homosexuals, whereas others split the difference between mopey twee like Brighter and upbeat private-press power-pop. That seems to be the axis on which Now spin, one where buttoned-up power-pop moves, C86 jangle, lite shoegaze psychedelia and a jittery, nervous form of glam-rock mix and mingle. Can’t help but picture skinny ties stuffed into big cable-knit sweaters as And Blue Space Is Burning Noon spins onward. I feel like some of the San Fran DIY-indie scene rests its laurels on aesthetic signifiers and Moe Tucker drumming, a presumed cool to kind of gloss over the lack of fresh songwriting, but Now are innocent of any such charge, clearly a group where sharply-written songs and unique style are crucial elements.

Philipp Otterbach Correct Me If I Am Incorrectly You LP (Offen Music)
German producer Philipp Otterbach dropped two new full-lengths in the tail-end of 2023, one on the well-regarded Music From Memory label and also this one, whose inscrutable title drew me in. I loved his Knekelhuis EP from a few years back, ushering in a weird-nouveau strain of electro noir, and Correct Me spreads its legs in a similar fashion. I guess one could consider this a collection of vignettes, “audio postcards” documenting particular moments in Otterbach’s intriguing life – all the song titles are different dates, though as some date back to the early ’90s, I don’t believe they directly correlate to when they were recorded. Nope, Otterbach likes to tease and gesture from behind a darkened veil, making it clear there’s some sort of narrative story happening in his music but ensuring we’ll never know what any of that is. Thankfully, his music is creative and evocative, curiosity being key. He might get into the low-lit strum of “Okt 01, 21” like some sort of Coil / Current 93 collab, or the cinematic desolation of “Apr 23, 11”, playing out like one of Burial’s street-view ambient pieces… anything alluring, coincidental, spooky or seductive is grist for Otterbach’s mill. The bass and drums of “Mar 27, 16” recall a lightweight MIDI Swans circa Children Of God, though I can’t imagine he had anything close to them in mind when crafting it. Correct Me is a series of unusual connections like that, constantly wandering off the page entirely and all the better for it.

Pyrex Struck Down 7″ (Die Slaughterhaus)
Following their Total Punk full-length, Pyrex loosen up a bit with this slippery two-song single. The album was perfectly fine, but I like them better here, feeling less clenched and more comfortable in their own skin, even if this is still frustrated, manic music by any evaluation. “Struck Down” pushes the disco hi-hats to their limits over a furious strum, sounding like Cheater Slicks covering Interpol at twice the recommended speed. Ugly music by its very nature, rather than any sense of artifice or, even worse, “trying too hard”. And speaking of trying, I’m not sure what Pyrex are trying to do by covering “Staying Alive” (yes, that “Staying Alive”) on the b-side, but I’ll be damned if they don’t make it their own thing entirely. It sounds like Mayyors arguing amongst themselves as a live YouTube of Nirvana’s “Endless, Nameless” is blaring nearby, but if you squint hard enough, Magic Eye-style, the meat and bones of The Bee Gees original can be discerned. Reminds me of that fantastic album by The 012 that is filled with mangled pop covers, far transcending the original material. Crazy ideas are always best – sometimes they just might work!

Red Herrings Zax Armoire LP (Dot Dash Sounds)
Just yesterday I put on WFMU while driving out of New York and enjoyed a killer selection of left-field / lo-fi punk, eventually discovering that it was Tom Dash’s show, he being a notable NYC garage-punk busybody. How nice to hear Screaming Urge segue into The Stimulators on the way home from the indoor-surfing mall! Turns out Dash’s also got his own label going, Dot Dash Sounds, inaugurated with the debut LP from Holyoke, MA’s Red Herrings. Their Western MA affiliation had me thinking of the spacier avant-garde side of electric guitar music, and Dash’s radio show had me expecting some obscurist DIY post-punk, but Red Herrings play it close to the vest, hammering out a noisy-psych form of aggressive garage-punk, not a frill in sight. Certain songs sound like Hot Snakes venturing into outer space, whereas others take more of a Comets On Fire-meets-Purling Hiss approach, multiple layers of guitar rippling like fudge. It never gets too fast or too stoner-y, though, as Red Herrings prefer to stick and move with traditional Nuggets-y rhythms, their pugnacity calling to mind the harder end of Estrus’s back-catalog of 45 RPM singles. In the live photo insert, a pack of Marlboro reds is clearly visible through vocalist Zach Tisdell’s chest pocket, and if somebody’s gotta smoke ’em, I’m glad it’s him and not me.

Sacred Product Return Souvenir 7″ (Wormwood Grasshopper)
Confusion, or at least some low level of blatant incorrectness has always been at the heart of Lynton Denovan’s music, both in his fantastic group Satanic Rockers (no one has since topped their album art in sheer stupid shock value) and solo as Sacred Product. Right off the bat, this EP has the b-side song’s name on the cover – who does that? More than ever it feels like everyone is trying extra hard to please everyone, so it’s refreshing when a new Sacred Product single arrives, clearly uninterested in pleasing anyone. “Angry Red Planet” has a Flipper-ish monoto-bounce, vocals coming in and out without ever seeming entirely aware of the music they’re singing over, then letting it play out instrumentally for the last minute or two. “Return Souvenir” rides a different acid-bent pop progression, again in a mode indebted to Flipper but without any of their underlying nihilism. Almost sounds like a warped Madchester tune, depending how far you’re willing to stick your face into the speaker. Again, I want to stress how appealingly oblivious these songs sound, staring off into the middle distance with a sleepy grin on Sacred Product’s face. It’s a contagious form of stupified bliss, or at least that’s my excuse.

Screaming Urge Buy LP (HoZac)
Screaming Urge’s Homework is one of the greatest Killed By Death tunes – please run to YouTube and watch their 1980 cable-access performance of it if you haven’t seen it already (or even if you have) – and while that single was reissued back in 2012, the good archivists at HoZac offer both of those tunes alongside their debut full-length in another tidy package. That single is so damn killer that the more subdued, lower-energy LP tracks bring the mood down a bit, though once you get over the cheap thrills of “Homework” and “Runaway”, the LP is still a fun listen. While Screaming Urge were happy to wear their wacky, grandma’s-raided-closet punk outfits, their music is already a bit more refined on the LP, or if not refined, omnivorous – you can hear them trying out blues, reggae, power-pop, rockabilly and new-wave maneuvers in fractional if not complete form. I like ’em best when they bop like idiots, of course, the frantic buzz of “We Are Mono” hitting the spot in particular from the LP session. Even though I’ve heard “Homework” at least a hundred times, its mix of Television-esque guitars and extremely teenaged lyrics gets me every time. Screw you, mom and dad!

Sklitakling Sklitakling LP (Back To Beat)
It takes Norwegian garage-punk group Sklitakling four songs before we reach a part that isn’t a one-two drum beat with double-timed guitar strum, but even before “Luftgevær” is over they revert to said technique. If you’ve figured out what kinda music you wanna play, why do anything else? The majority of their self-titled debut is moody punk that finds common ground between hardcore-punk and garage, not unlike The Vicious (or The Wipers if you want to go further down the evolutionary chain). Vocals are shouted by what seems like more than one member, Sklitakling clearly approaching matters as a unified gang rather than a band of individuals each vying for the spotlight. It’s solid stuff overall, if perhaps not entirely unique, but I stand by my thought that every town everywhere needs at least one cool punk band to call their own, even if their songs might not overshadow a lineup of their peers. It’s cool that their lyrics are all in Norwegian, although the lone instrumental track, entitled “Stonerboner”, has me wondering if it actually means something in Norwegian or if I’d get in trouble shouting it while wandering the streets of Oslo at night. Their culture is not my costume!

Ssabæ Le Roi Est L’Oiseau LP (Few Crackles)
Another late-in-the-year stunner from the Few Crackles camp, one that if you aren’t immediately hipped-to will require ponying up some inflated scratch (which has an extra sting to it in our era where standard vinyl prices are already exorbitant). It sucks paying thirty bucks for something you only kinda like, but Ssabæ’s second vinyl album is really stunning, even richer and more refined than last year’s Azurescens. Like its cover image of some unusual foliage rendered in and out of focus, Le Roi Est L’Oiseau feels psychedelic in an organic sort of way. Dominated by resonant keyboards, untethered saxophones, guitar on half the tracks and a smattering of headier gear (the title track is credited with not only duduk and harmonium but also “waterphone” and “oiseau-robot”, both of which are real things I am glad I looked up), the album feels dark yet pleasant, as if you finally met the poltergeist that’s been haunting you and it turns out he’s actually a decent guy. It shares the feel of early Demdike Stare when they were deep into occult territory, though there’s no techno to be found here, but something closer to the freakiest, least rock-centric Black Forest activity ever rendered by Faust or Brainticket, or Brannten Schnüre after the thaw of spring, complete with arresting French vocals (again, only some of the time – sonic elements continually shift from track to track). “7arche”, for example, stirs my soul like a cauldron of witches’ brew – horns squealing and purring over a persistent underlying duduk melody – before the funereal chanson of “Le Premier Soir Du Monde” drifts us solemnly out to sea.

Tyvek Overground LP (Ginkgo)
Long after the lo-fi punk trend of the ’00s came and went, Detroit’s Tyvek remain punk as hell, seeking the approval of absolutely nobody. Not sure what album number Overground counts as, considering the number of grey-area twelve-inches, CD-rs, cassettes and such – there’s even a Live At Third Man album in there! – but I can verify that they’ve been a band (if not a full-time endeavor) for way longer than most of their peers, yet this new album displays no transitional path to “maturity”, wankery or pop aspiration. They sound like the DIY post-punk clown car they always sounded like, with more vitality and compacted hooks than ever. The group has gone through myriad personnel, always circling around singer-guitarist Kevin Boyer, and this time the saxophone of Emily Roll punches through, a new and welcome addition to the Tyvek sound. It’s incredible that any established band could write a song like “M-39” this late in their existence, sounding like X_X meeting early Parquet Courts in a schoolyard tussle, but the whole record is basically like that, high energy, garage-y DIY punk that shakes you by the shoulders. Amazingly, it might be favorite album of theirs I’ve heard! It can sometimes feel like being in a band has never been less fun than it is in our modern-future time, but here’s goddamn Tyvek, galloping around like they’re teenagers at their first basement party gig and someone else brought the beer.

Variation Eight 7″ (no label)
Eighth release here from Baltimore noise-core unit Variation, who do the right thing and fill this seven-inch with fourteen insubordinate blasts. They manage to recall two vectors of underground hardcore with their sound and presentation: rare and noise-soaked Japanese hardcore flexis of the early ’80s and power-violence-bordering American fast-core of the mid ’90s. Nope, I wasn’t recently looking at old photos of my family, the tears in my eyes are from the sweet sounds of Variation! The guitar is a constant TV-screen fuzz, leaving the bass and drums (any/all cymbal sounds swallowed up by the guitar) to hurl these songs forward. Their previous EP had Stapled Shut vibes (and I’m picking up those here too), but this time around I want to mention Rupture, the first flexis by Gudon and Confuse and any given Vilently Ill compilation tracks. Not sure if there is an actual Japanese connection to this group or if they are simply obsessive fans, as certain songs (and both center stickers) are written in kanji, but seeing as the record itself offers essentially zero information beyond one- or two-word song titles and the first names of Variation’s members (“Dumpy” is on the drums), it seems that Variation want to focus on the wretched, crusty hardcore they perform rather than their own personal selves. Their meekness is a lesson for all of us.

XIII Permanent Rain LP (Knekelhuis)
Absolutely exquisite new album from XIII aka Italian producer Alessio Capovilla. I believe previous XIII works were more of the left-field experimental sound-design offshoot of avant techno, but Permanent Rain is a stunning step forward (or sideways, depending on your perspective). This album mines the increasingly-familiar arena of new-age ambient dub with non-Western percussion, but goes far beyond surface-level signifiers. I don’t think there are any winding rainforest rivers over there in Italy, but boy does he conjure that sense of ominous natural wonder on tracks like “Where Are You Now” and “Hardtmuth” (featuring the cool conversational vocals of Hans Harsen). Other cuts take on the pensive, post-coke binge contemplation you might expect to hear in a late ’80s no-budget action flick: check the nylon stringed guitars of “Rientro In Alona”, ripe for a Miami Vice scene where they sneak into the bad guys’ lair to search for clues, no doubt. “The Distance” even ends on a post-rock stomp! As a whole, it can be reminiscent of Nicolas Jaar, John T Gast, Nuel and the Mandalorian soundtrack, though XIII favors organic melodies over abstraction and studio trickery. What makes Permanent Rain special is how all these elements come together in a polished and consequential way, substantial yet light to the touch.

Reviews – January 2024

Adulkt Life There Is No Desire LP (Jabs / Our Voltage)
Adulkt Life are the hottest typoed band this side of Wooden Shjips, and I was eager to check them out following so many rave reviews of their 2020 debut album. Huggy Bear’s Chris Rowley is at the helm here, and seeing as Adulkt Life have been described as post-punk, I was expecting something in the Huggy Bear fashion: scrappy and punk-centric, with plenty of treble, dance-y drum beats and skeletal guitar work, let’s say. Adulkt Life check none of those boxes! Much to my surprise, this group opts for a pensive, brooding attitude, with thick guitars more in line with mainstream alt-emo than anything Gravity ever released. And rather than delivering any sort of sassed-up sing-along vocal, Rowley sounds weary and kind of unintentionally creepy, like he’s moaning his lyrics to you through the ductwork from a separate room. Not at all what I expected! Even an upbeat rocker like “Future Cops” feels more in line with Thursday or Sparta than anything I’d associate with “UK post-punk”, which I suppose is refreshing in its unexpectedness even if it wouldn’t necessarily be my first choice. So many bands fall into their predetermined genre roles, especially as they get older, but it’s clear that Adulkt Life are not interested in fulfilling anyone’s expectations other than their own.

Pierre Bastien & Michel Banabila Baba Soirée LP (Pingipung)
Been seeing a few of these dream-team experimental pairings lately – Anla Courtis and Vomir, for example – and now this one featuring French junk-drawer electronicist Pierre Bastien and Dutch new-age experimentalist Michel Banabila. Both of these guys have LPs on my shelves already, and while the playfully unhinged manner of Bastien’s work might not immediately seem compatible with Banabila’s soothing fourth-world atmospheres, the sonic consensus they’ve reached here is lush, sensual and strange. As expected, there’s really no telling who is doing what… a rickety rhythm box might be Bastien’s, and a looped didgeridoo might’ve been pulled from Banabila’s closet, but their cohesion is surprisingly consistent throughout, and never bogged down by too many ingredients at the same time. Samplers, synths, loops, horns, flutes, percussive instruments and at least one guitar (“Roto Motor (Erbil Mix)”), there’s just a cornucopia of instrumentation here, most of which is performed in exploratory or non-traditional ways. Even their unlikeliest of instrumental combinations work well here, a testament to the keen ears these guys have developed over their many decades in the game. Much of Baba Soirée can call to mind the self-guided wonder of Ghédalia Tazartès and the alternate realms of Jon Hassell, but Bastien and Banabila were peers of those guys, traversing similar sonic territories of unknown origin at roughly the same time. Nice to see that they’re still out there in the thick of it, teaming up, and at the top of their respective games, no less.

Carrier Fathom 12″ (Felt)
A simultaneously hypnotizing / brutalizing affair here from Alexander Lewis in his Carrier guise. You might remember Lewis from his Blackest Ever Black album a decade ago, and while that remains a solid entry in the noise-infected industrial-techno realm, Fathom is exponentially more vigorous. Opener “Fathom” is the one, a cascading assault of greyscale breakbeats unlike many other. Somehow it doesn’t feel like the cut-up drill-n-bass of Venetian Snares and the like, but rather the serpentine techno of T++ or Surgeon with newfound superpowers, even at its extreme speed. If Silent Servant simmers, “Fathom” is a rolling boil! “The Cusp” cools off a bit, but that same sense of rapid movement is there… it pulls off the trick of being so fast that your brain can simply follow along at half- or quarter-time, the internal “rhythm” appropriate for a relaxed head-bob. “Markers” brings an imposing low-end to the forefront, and “Trooper” plays with pitch, but the general approach is the same throughout: a precise frenzy of thuds, slaps and snaps. The tracks move horizontally but the sounds themselves are constantly shifting and changing shape, providing a similar presentation to time-lapse videos of massive ant colonies at work. Really impressive, aggressive techno for both mind and body (your soul will have to find nourishment elsewhere).

Dank Goblins Fruity Cigars LP (Iron Lung)
Iron Lung knows what’s up: when some of the West Bay’s power-violence pioneers want to release an album of trunk music, you get the record-pressing plant on the phone immediately! You might recognize DJ Eons One from his time in the legendary Spazz and Frank Marchi from the (to me, even more) legendary Agents Of Satan, and with the help of a couple friends they put together this dank-heavy instrumental full-length. No hardcore here, just stoned-to-the-bone bass-lines, laid-back drum loops and trippy samples, a universally-appreciable form of hip-hop meant to be blasted from cars (preferably a fully tinted Crown Victoria) with smoke pouring out of the cracked windows. DJ Eons has been at it for more than a minute, mostly relegating his home-cooked grooves to small-run tapes and tracks for friends, so it’s nice to get a full collection here, heady boom-bap instrumentals that, in another world, could easily accommodate bars from Nas or Ghostface. As an LP, it’s a beautiful thing, but I don’t think Fruity Cigars will have reached its final form until I have a burned/scratched CD-r copy with the name tagged in Sharpie, blasting from an old Jetta, upgraded rims more expensive than the car itself, idling in a convenience store parking lot across from my high school. That’s how I first listened to Spazz and Agents Of Satan, after all.

Equipment Pointed Ankh Downtown! LP (Torn Light)
Like a true krautrock troupe from the ’70s, Louisville’s Equipment Pointed Ankh deliver a second top-quality full-length in under a year, this following their standout From Inside The House. It’s rare that I mentally memorize instrumental music, but as I’ve been spinning From Inside The House enough to unintentionally do so, it’s nice to have this new platter, as gloriously zonked as From Inside if perhaps a bit more playful overall. They’ve got some seriously merry melodies happening here, tracks that sound like the last Blues Control album if it was bent into the form of a Sid and Marty Krofft TV theme. These instrumentals are vivid and probing, lots of keys being tickled, resonant surfaces getting thwacked and strings plucked. Reminds me of the candy aisle in the way that so many vibrant color combinations are competing for your eye’s attention, but in a way that feels exciting and fun, not sickening (that feeling is reserved for post candy-consumption). There’s a bit of a post-punky dance element to some of these tracks as well: see the hypno-throb of “Olympics IV” or the show-stealing funk of “Steppers’ Block”, which calls to mind an evening collision of Stevie Wonder and Conny Plank at the craft service table. As previously proven, Equipment Pointed Ankh wield their impressive chops in the name of light-hearted exploration, one of the few groups who can reasonably pump out two excellent albums a year, each with their own rich rewards.

Gob Psychic How Can Anyone Be So Lucky? 12″ (Le Cèpe / Beast)
The rambunctious six-song twelve-inch debut from Danish garage-punks Gob Psychic has me remembering what it was like when Amdi Petersen’s Armé showed up and immediately became the best “old-school” hardcore-punk band back in 2000 or whatever. Only in this case, instead of making us Americans look bad, Gob Psychic put together a bouncy EP to rival the best of Australia’s garage-y post-punk scene, bands like Ausmuteants, Alien Nosejob, R.M.F.C. and the like. How Can Anyone Be So Lucky? isn’t speedy so much as lively; while surely recorded in a studio setting, I can only image how much Gob Psychic bopped around while playing these songs, headphones falling off and cords tangling into knots. Their singer has a vibrant sneer, and he recites his lyrics in the manner that Johnny Rotten shouted his “England’s dreaming!” line, drawn out and full of bite. They manage to play their songs tightly without feeling remotely professional about it, a good part of that due to the singer’s wobbly delivery, at times hitting the anthemic qualities that Shame and Fat White Family seek out while still sounding punk, not “indie” or whatever. What’s not to like?

Golpe Assuefazione Quotidiana 7″ (Beach Impediment)
Props to Italy’s Golpe for bringing hardcore to the masses in 2023… I must’ve seen at least a hundred different flyers with their name on it in the last year, floating around in my various digital dwelling holes. If the live members of Golpe somehow managed to not get Covid like a dozen times thus far, they need to release their vitamin intake regimen so the rest of us can follow suit. Anyway, this five-song seven-inch is a blast of meaty fast-core, presumably influenced by the popular contemporary set of influences (Poison Idea, Discharge, Hoax’s “Down”, pogo drumming) in a way not entirely dissimilar to Warthog, S.H.I.T. and Electric Chair. The d-beat is prominent but not all-encompassing, with riffs and breakdowns that allow the pit to move both sideways as well as counterclockwise. I was wondering if Golpe might sound overtly Italian – y’know, maybe some of that sweet Wretched / Indigesti sauce – but their sound, as fashionable as it is, could really come from anywhere on the globe right now, from Trenton, NJ to Timbuktu. Apparently all the instruments are played by one Tadzio Pederzolli, and while the proliferation of the hardcore-punk solo-project is certainly a sign of the times, so is writing raging songs and playing them proficiently, of which Pederzolli is also guilty.

Gruuel Elite Controller / Softness On The Other Side 7″ (Deviations)
Gruuel’s debut seven-inch is still warm and we’ve already got this tasty follow-up! Now expanded to the trio of Beau Wanzer, James Vinciguerra and Tarquin Manek (whose new solo album as Static Cleaner Lost Reward I need to check out), these two songs offer a more dynamic approach to warped post-punk dub. “Elite Controller” chugs along zombie-like, the dubby bass-line and mechanically-clattering rhythm held together with tape while the manipulated vocals (must be Vinciguerra again) sounds like Gollum if he were an Elf On The Shelf (do they have that miserable thing in Australia?). “Softness On The Other Side” is ear-deep in the quicksand, Wanzer’s rhythms taking a backseat to the various clarinets, synths and noises, an imp-like swarm around the unexpectedly measured spoken-word vocals. The first Gruuel single was primitive and gross, whereas this one is flamboyant and vivid, rambling down candy-colored hills as opposed to chained away in a greyscale cellar. Both singles are great, but this one’s my instant fave; imaginative tunes from three minds that don’t think the way the rest of us do.

The Haxan Cloak N/Y 12″ (Archaic Devies)
The Haxan Cloak was a strong competitor in the 2012 Industrial Techno Olympics, poised for some sort of industry success outside the realm of little websites like this one. I’m not sure what happened – maybe he became a star and I had no idea? – but whatever the case, he now returns to putting out records, even if it’s simply this one-song clear-vinyl twelve-inch. “N/Y” is very cool though, kind of Lebron James-like in that it’s physically larger than most of the competition yet lithe and fast; a real all-star prospect. The jackhammer techno ballistics of Kerridge and Objekt are working hot and fast here, with an HD sound design befitting Ben Frost at his most butch. If I never heard any music before and someone explained moshing to me, I’d assume it would mostly be done to tracks like this, particularly during the overloaded crescendo complete with body-blows, air-raid sirens and fiery crackle. If four minutes of music for like twenty bucks (plus shipping) is something you can justify, this might be the way you’d want to spend it.

John Heaven Nouminimal 12″ (Public Possession)
Love a good techno record with the guy’s face unflatteringly large on the cover, a true Aphex-ism that never goes out of style. Mr. Heaven here is from Barcelona, and he’s a lively DJ whose own productions are in the Perlon school of minimalist tech-house: playful and bright with a subtle subversiveness running through it all. Extremely minimal by design, these tracks primarily consist of synthesized drum-machines – electronic snaps, clicks, thuds, kicks and cracks – with repeated spoken phrases throughout. Simple to the point where it’s almost silly, Nouminimal makes a strong case that melody isn’t necessary so long as the beat is wound-up tight and there’s a memorable vocal moment or two. Reminds me of Errorsmith’s mischievous approach to tech-house, or perhaps the seventeenth minute of a Ricardo Villalobos edit, long after the melodic leads and synths have left the club. Glorious, ridiculous club music, particularly as the breathy vocals of “El Baile Sensual” get progressively more delirious. I wonder if DJ Hell would ever play this, or if the conflict of interest is too strong.

The Hell The Hell 12″ (Not For The Weak)
Indestructible Cleveland hardcore debut from The Hell, featuring members of at least a couple other Cleveland hardcore bands (Woodstock ’99, Cruelster and that general gang of goofballs). Whereas I usually associate Cleveland hardcore (and Cleveland punk-related music in general) with outrageous humor both zany and deadpan, The Hell play it pretty straightforward, from the humble grid on the album cover to their overall sound and style. It’s all ripping first-wave hardcore, in league with Necros, Government Issue, Circle Jerks, Germs and the like, bands whose t-shirts adorned skateboarding miscreants in small towns and big cities across the United States in those seminal early ’80s. No moshy breakdowns, no gang vocals, just classic American hardcore-punk (with punk and hardcore equally represented), not even the faintest trace of metal or new-wave. Even though it’s clearly authentic, no-frills stuff, I kept waiting for there to be some hidden punchline or gag, just from the nature of the people performing it, but the gag seems to be that there’s no gag, just aggro pant-splitting punk. No need to be overtly wacky when lyrics like “you failed your whole life but now you’ve found your place / a toilet bowl of power and a badge that you embrace” make their intentions perfectly clear.

Michel Henritzi Flowers Of Romance LP (Bruit Direct)
Look back through the last few decades of harsh avant-garde music and you might find Michel Henritzi lurking nearby: collaborating with Junko, Kathy Acker, Tetuzi Akiyama as well as a member of noise action-unit Nox. He clearly enjoys collaboration, but Flowers Of Romance spotlights Henritzi by his lonesome, armed with a lap-steel and various effects with which to process it. The album comes in the form of two side-long live pieces, each one full of squealing feedback, physical aggression, faint traces of rhythm and hypnotic drift, like garbage cans on their sides rolling back and forth in the wind. He even shreds a bit on the second side, his mean-mugging slide splitting the difference between Macronympha and White Zombie. Harsh throughout, Flowers Of Romance is in constant motion, both hands active and probably a foot or two clicking down on the various effects-pedals that help render such a sick and muddied sound. Sewer Surfin’ might’ve made for a more appropriate title, but I can’t deny anyone a little Public Image Ltd. appropriation.

Hulubalang Bunyi Bunyi Tumbal LP (Drowned By Locals)
Hard not to get a little excited by the discovery of the Drowned By Locals label. First of all, that incredible name, along with the fact that it’s doling out otherwise-unheard experimental electronics, and based in Jordan, no less? We’ve already got one to watch, and this LP from Indonesia’s Hulubalang is a great place for us (or maybe just me) to start. Hulubalang is one Aditya Surya Taruna (aka half of Gabber Modus Operandi) and while his group is cool, Bunyi Bunyi Tumbal is even more to my liking, a desperate and unfriendly album of razor-sharp electronics, heavy synths and fiendish rhythms. These tracks are as imposing and impenetrable as one of those giant modern video-game bosses whose only weak spot is a tiny flashing red light that opens up every thirty seconds. These tracks recall the serpentine beats of Vessel’s Punish, Honey, Emptyset at their most hostile and Tzusing’s sword-sharpening avant EBM, all with the jump-scare production of early Arca. Should maybe come as no surprise then that Taruna actually provided beats for Björk (and joined her on tour in Japan), though Bunyi Bunyi Tumbal allows for only the faintest cracks of light through its granite/steel/rainforest composite exterior. Any sense of melody or uplifting inspiration would’ve been immediately killed and eaten in Hulubalang’s world.

Lexicon Poison Head 7″ (Iron Lung)
Seattle doesn’t have an abundance of great hardcore-punk bands, but when it does, they’re always particularly gnarly. Take Lexicon, for instance, who snarl like chained dogs, or at least behave like they are being yanked by tight collars choking their throats. They’ve got a sound that isn’t particularly hard to find these days – burly d-beat hardcore with noise-not-music aesthetics – but there’s something about this particular suite of songs that does it for me. The drums go hard without overextending themselves, like there’s still some sort of a rugged American aspect to these tunes, and while the guitar is a filthy buzzsaw cutting through septic pipes, the overall sound is as heavy as Public Acid or Quarantine. The vocalist is in full-on scalded demon mode (“demon” being one of the more underrated genders), which certainly fits the overall vibe, a realm where punks have been replaced by winged skeletons. Crasher-crust excellence for sure – even though I’ve heard the chord progression to b-side closer “Zero Sum Game” countless times before, Lexicon spruce it up with flashes of napalm guitar and a plodding insistence, a harsh admonition that it’s your choice, peace or annihilation.

Mattin Seize The Means Of Complexity LP (Xing)
Ever the sonic provocateur, Mattin’s newest solo piece is a difficult listen, even by his uncompromising standards. Seize The Means Of Complexity is a stark album, one that does a fine job of examining the experience of living in 2023; it’s probably better utilized as a time capsule for future generations to dissect than you or me to sit and listen to right now. Across two twenty-minute sides, there are long stretches of chattering electronic interference and gut-soothing bass tones, and equally long stretches of chopped-up pop detritus. Familiar (yet warped) bits of Taylor Swift, Shakira and Soulja Boy songs cascade forward, as if you’re stuck in an infinite TikTok scroll with a battery at one percent that never shuts down. For many noise artists through the years, inflicting pain upon the listener has been a stated goal, and I can’t think of a better way to accomplish that right now than the sounds of a soul-sucking digital-pop slideshow (at least until noise artists start harnessing those secret CIA noise cannons that cause vision loss and evacuated bowels). Honestly, when the clips of pop-music surrender to the void of choppy arhythmic noise for a few minutes in the middle of the second side, it’s a relief. Only Mattin could offer harsh electronics as a welcome respite to whatever else he’s serving up.

Money Money 12″ (Beach Impediment)
Authentic bad vibes emanating from this twelve-inch by Texas’s Money – I’m afraid if I leave it around the house long enough, someone’s pet will die, or I’ll start having sleep paralysis or something. They’re a hardcore band who apparently revel in the darker elements – drugs, mostly – seemingly aware of their eventual downfall but giggling in the reaper’s face anyway. Their music takes a similar stance, each song feeling like it has the potential to be someone’s final ride. The drums are a steady, potent d-beat (fills are rare), the guitars behave like blackened thrash and the vocalist, mostly obscured by the sonic muck surrounding him, barks like a wounded hound. Money collects both a demo and a cassette EP (originally packaged in a sealed plastic bag – just like drugs!), the latter tracks taking on black-metal motifs with the bottled violence of hardcore. I suppose metal guys could dig it, but Money’s whole atmosphere isn’t necrowolves howling from frostbitten cliffs, it’s about surviving the streets, or at least glorifying the terror they can entail. I like Money in hardcore mode, but their metallic stuff is even more fun – “No Cut” hits especially hard, like Exodus if they only listened to Framtid for inspiration. I know what’s good for me, so I won’t be messing with Texas anytime soon!

Multiplex Segway Cops 12″ (Not For The Weak)
Bremen’s Multiplex pack a dose of levity with their fiery squat-punk style. After all, when the tables finally turn, even the Paul Blarts of the world will get marched off a cliff with the rest of the pigs. Multiplex have a ragged sound to go with their anti-authority sentiment, classically crusty and pogo-laden in that typical modern way, all with shout-along choruses and plenty of energy. The dual-gendered vocals remind me of Fleas N’ Lice, or at least the general punk demeanor of Profane Existence’s Skuld Releases counterpart… I’m already picturing a German crowd mingling in faded black band-shirts (with disintegrated armpits), cooking a giant vat of vegan stew before the gig. It’s gross, but you get used to it! Songs like “Cyberpunk” and “Bored Society” are perfect for sloshing around after the dinner, elbowing your new best friend in chest as you angle your way to the front. Good news, Klaus is hitching a train early tomorrow morning, so there’s an empty bunk in the communal sleeping area! Stay as long as you like.

Bill Nace / Emily Robb split LP (Open Mouth)
This split LP between Philly Phavorites Bill Nace and Emily Robb is an impressive memento of their June 2022 tour. Recorded earlier that year, they both contribute side-long pieces showcasing their instrument du jour. In Bill Nace’s case, it’s the taishōgoto, a sort of Japanese spin on the pedal-steel, a laptop stringed instrument that, in Nace’s hands, unleashes cascades of harmonic fuzz. This is apparently his first publicly-available recording of the taishōgoto, and it’s glorious, like Kevin Shields endlessly riffing on Terry Riley’s In C, or Oren Ambarchi trying to hit a thousand notes per minute. I realize it’s only his first recorded attempt, but it already feels kind of definitive, at least from a solo taishōgoto perspective. Emily Robb is a red-blooded guitarist, and stretches her legs out mightily here, on what might be my favorite track I’ve heard from her yet! Over a humming loop, she extends and hyperextends her blues scales, like Les Rallizes on the last spaceship to Mars. I haven’t seen video, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she fashioned her guitar neck into a pretzel by the time the tape ran out here. Might be hard to believe that anyone would grant their most inspired material to a split LP in this day and age, but this one right here is a prized document of Philadelphia’s finest string-slingers. Vigorously recommended!

Nina Harker Nina Harker LP (Aguirre / El Muelle 1931 / La République Des Granges / Animal Biscuit / All Night Flight / Be Coq)
Nina Harker arrived on the scene and immediately claimed the title of “freakiest French duo”, a status they maintain with this, their second self-titled vinyl full-length. A lot of weird music comes through these pages – weird in all sorts of ways, too – but Nina Harker truly manage to sound like no one else. I wonder if they even sound like themselves? There are elements of DIY post-punk, what with drum machines, effected voices and errant noise, but there’s also plenty of classical acoustic guitar, soft keys, sung vocals and a ghostly folk presence. It’s really the way in which Nina Harker combine these elements that is so unique: there’s no telling where any track will go, so idiosyncratic and mercurial is their song-craft. Opener “Le Pont à Voiles” is a good example, as they pair repetitive European acoustic guitar with cut-up tapes of squealing humans, resulting in something that sounds like Devendra Banhart choking on his own vomit. The track then takes a soft turn to chanson, leading into the next track, “De Dos Il Fuit”, which sounds like Lolina experimenting with a trance dial-tone. As separate tracks, they’re charmingly fascinating, but taken as a whole, Nina Harker unspools like a loony art-house masterpiece, full of little girls in corpse-paint, pianos floating in the open sea and poodles chainsmoking cigarettes. Oui oui!

Onyon Last Days On Earth LP (Trouble In Mind)
Last Days On Earth opens with a series of wrong notes, an excellent first impression for Germany’s Onyon. They’ve got that morose floor-tom post-punk thing happening, as disaffected and over-it as the countless many who came before. And while I appreciate the guitar/synth playing, particularly just how off or out of tune it sounds, the songs themselves are pretty average for the course. Onyon certainly sound like a new band (they are) as well as a first band (I have no idea), and while I love bands comprised of people who are still figuring out their instruments, Onyon’s songwriting is plain and predictable, two traits that leave me weary when it comes to a genre where really, you can do whatever you want at any skill level. Not bad by any means – if you like plodding, primitive post-punk guitar rock, it’s exactly what they do – but I suppose at this stage in my life as a listener, I need it to do more than simply exist for me to purposely put it on more than once or twice. I hate writing reviews like this, because I bid no ill will to Onyon, who are surely fine people having fun playing in a band, but what am I supposed to do, heap praise onto every record out of an obligation to be nice? My loyalty lies with you, dear reader!

Ovef Ow Vs. The Worm LP (What’s For Breakfast? / Oort Cloud)
Got a good first impression from Chicago’s Ovef Ow – the bold, airbrushed cover art was striking, and the band name, looking as if “Oxbow” degraded over time, was appealingly irksome. I’m sad to report then that the music is, well, just okay. They’ve got a dance-y post-punk thing going, though the energy is never bursting and the songs lack the hooks necessary to make this sound jump out of the speakers and into your heart. Feels like they’ve got a lot of ideas – there are slow songs, weird metallic guitar tones, vocal harmonies, airy synths – but it never quite comes together for me. I’m picking up on moves and motifs reminiscent of Sweeping Promises, Priests, Mocket and Yeah Yeah Yeahs even, but you might be disappointed if you picked up Vs. The Worm expecting a lively mixture of those four. Maybe they’ll hook me in next time, or they’ll simply lean into the potential obnoxiousness that comes with their band name (which, according to their Bandcamp, rhymes with “Whoa, Jeff, Wow!”) and their next record will lean into some sort of terrifying amalgam of Fat Worm Of Error and Teenage Jesus. Wouldn’t that be something!

Paint It Black Famine 12″ (Revelation)
No matter how far Revelation Records might wander from New York City circa 1988, there’s something about that yellow R-in-a-star logo that can never be tarnished; it looks particularly nice slapped on the back of the furious and sincere hardcore of Philadelphia lifers Paint It Black here in the mid 2020s, too. Paint It Black has long been Dan Yemin’s most aggro band, he of Lifetime and Kid Dynamite fame, though his trademarked aggravated tunefulness runs through Famine, even as he tries to bite your head off. These songs push and pull in the way that great emotive hardcore does, music that doesn’t cater to moshing and diving so much as it tries to shake the listener into action, or at least some form of movement. I’m certain that multiple people have found themselves slammed in the pit at a Paint It Black show without realizing how they got there, so commanding is Dr. Dan’s oratory presence. As is the case with their earlier material (which somehow spans twenty years now!), there are some fist-in-the-air sing-alongs (“Safe” being the immediate standout), though I’m struck by the overall quality and strength of Yemin’s lyrics throughout. I don’t think I paid close attention before – maybe he’s always been this good – but his words here are consistently righteous, insightful, vulnerable and empowering, and they get there in novel and eloquent ways, far from the corny platitudes found in many “good guy” hardcore bands. Yemin would rather blow up the White House than be the president, which is why he’s getting my vote.

Parking Lot My Life Is A Mess LP (Phantom)
There’s been a certain strain of garage-punk in recent years that pushes self-deprecation to new levels, a sense of “isn’t it interesting that I’m a deplorable loser?” as if recognition of this sorry state of affairs is of itself noteworthy. I mean, Sub Pop made those LOSER shirts decades ago, Beck’s breakthrough hit is due for its thirtieth anniversary this year… it’s a tale as old as time at this point, and German group Parking Lot are adding to the ketchup-stained, couch-sleeping genre with My Life Is A Mess. I assumed this particular fascination with personal failure was an American thing, but I can understand its universal appeal, especially as a general lyrical motif to accompany an indie-punk sound, even as it’s not what I’m overly interested in hearing. Parking Lot’s style is garage-y and agile in a way I’d align with Vintage Crop and early Parquet Courts… a little Ty Segall when they get particularly rowdy (“Chicken Wings”) and a little Cake when they try to get funky (“Elevator Man”). It’s hard to feel sympathetic to songs about trying and failing to buy beer, or the first-person narrator of “Old Piece Of Shit” who eats potato chips and farts, but I get the impression that Parking Lot aims for these cheap laughs over anything more substantial.

Zach Rowden No Middle Without The Beginning LP (Torn Light)
Some real cabin-in-the-woods noise here from Zach Rowden, the handy instrumentalist you may know from Crazy Doberman or Tongue Depressor. These two sides are full of repetitive creaks, (super)natural groans and blistering distortion, very much in the tape-loop domain of Aaron Dilloway. The first side simmers a bit, and I have to wonder if Rowden isn’t running a bow across some strings, as the corroded, half-limping loops recall Samara Lubelski’s work given a proper cheese-grating. The b-side gets a little more traditional in the realm of slow-building chopped-up noise textures. Each side clocks in somewhere under twenty minutes, which is a nice length for stretching out into the rotten stew that Rowden has stirred up, oddly hypnotic for how car-crashingly Merzbow-esque some of these sounds can be. Fans of Rowden’s other projects will surely enjoy him out on his own here, whittling away a mean old pile of metallic splinters in some isolated shed.

Secretors Comparing Missile Size Vol. 1 7″ (Roachleg)
“The unofficial Roachleg house band” drop their first hard piece of wax, appropriately on that very label, and if you’re expecting anything less than corpse-chugging hardcore-punk miscreancy, you better get your head checked! Perhaps a side band of sorts, Secretors features personnel from Warthog, Urchin, Institute & Glue, though I get the impression that Secretors have been playing more shows than the rest of them as of late. I certainly need to catch them myself, as this is the kind of renegade hardcore I need in my life, as burly as it is uncompromising. The specter of early, metallic-influenced Japanese hardcore looms throughout, with hints of the earliest Nightmare and Bastard material, though Secretors doesn’t come across like a surface-level tribute. It seems more that they understood the best possible sounds for a hardcore EP titled Comparing Missile Size Vol. 1 and they assembled it perfectly, powerful yet constantly at the mercy of chaos. Six songs, all perfect little prayers for the hasty passing of the mass-murderers that try to pass themselves off as “world leaders”.

Spllit Infinite Hatch LP (Feel It)
New Orleans post-punkers Spllit took a different approach from the rest of the pack on their debut, egg-punky but open to extramural ideas, and this sophomore follow-up pushes things outward in a way that I find particularly appealing. These songs are constantly on the move, as quick to stop-start as Pig Destroyer or Botch, except Spllit utilize DEVO-esque synth zoinks and Deerhoof-ish guitar licks instead of metallic grind. Infinite Hatch brings oddly-angled funk and Addied dance-punk in and out of focus, calling to mind the whizz-bang approach of Guerilla Toss and the art-nerd attitude of Suburban Lawns. At first, it’s almost disorienting how quickly these songs shift, but after a few listens I find myself able to make some sense of it all, even if it’s the unexpected five-second cow-punk bridge in “Growth Hacking”, the detuned xylophone of “Shine Sheen” or the “hidden MIDI” within “Bevy Slew”. They’re clearly talented musicians, but it seems that Spllit went particularly wild with the digital recording methods available to them on this one, much to the listener’s benefit. Sometimes sonic adventuring leads you to a dead-end, but Spllit discovered a variety of gloriously weird new paths here, as playfully disconcerting as the two Ls in their name.

The Sundae Painters Sundae Painters LP (Leather Jacket)
Some of my friends could probably write biographies of the New Zealand indie-rock underground, so deep is their knowledge and appreciation, whereas it still feels vast and unwieldy to me, a person who is probably more invested in DIY music than whoever’s in front of you in line for coffee. I kinda just dip in at random, obsessing over certain bands and straight-up whiffing on others, but one thing I do know is that one can’t go wrong with the late, beloved Hamish Kilgour. He was in The Clean of course, among many other celebrated/unknown acts, and he played in this new-ish group, The Sundae Painters, alongside members of Toy Love, The Bats and Tall Dwarfs. Consistency has always been one of this scene’s honorable qualities, and Sundae Painters comes correct with that signature New Zealand strum. This time, however, these players stretch their legs on motorik drum beats and a downright kraut-y churn, songs conjured out of the ether rather than rigidly assembled. This loose fit works well for their scrappy jangling, with guitars given the chance to solo (and they do) and vocalist Kaye Woodward getting downright groovy at times – is that sitar in the opening cut “Hollow Way”? It’s the kind of record that might lead my mind to play tricks on me, this spiritual possession of Agitation Free and Guru Guru in some “farm shed in the South Island” as their bio explains.

Thollem | Riley | Cline The Light Is Real LP (Other Minds)
There’s something about old weirdos that I find particularly inspiring: clear evidence that you don’t have to shrink into quiet mellowness as an artist, even as you enter the age of Medicare and Social Security. The eternal Terry Riley joins up here with the mononymous Thollem and Nels Cline, and my god it’s tied with Nina Harker for weirdest record of the month. I guess it’s mostly Thollem and Riley at the helm here, both of whom are busy making a consistent babbling-brook of mouth noises. Pure unbridled gibberish, and multiple overlaying tracks of it! The vocals are gloriously ridiculous, as if Riley and Thollem are competing in a contest to see who can make the other laugh first with neither side giving in. Cline adds some very soft guitar touches throughout, occasionally lingering on a melody or scrabbling out some light improvisations, and combined with the lively vocalizing, The Light Is Real feels quite otherworldly at times, the first side sounding like a couple grumpy gods arguing in their holy language, the second side more like the snores of their passed-out angels after a particularly raucous bacchanal. It’s inspired improv at the outer limits, a testament to the liveliness of these eternal eccentrics.

Tojo Yamamoto 山​本​東​条 10″ (Forbidden Place)
Most bands, if they’re lucky, have one or two interesting aspects to their existence, and yet here’s Tojo Yamamoto racking up the notable details: they’re a wrestling-themed, blown-out rock band featuring members of Nine Pound Hammer and ZZ Top! Yes, that ZZ Top, as if there could ever be more than one. Elwood Francis replaced Dusty Hill after he passed, and he handles guitar duties on Tojo Yamamoto’s debut. Musically, this is blown-out, grooving noise-rock in the Am Rep tradition, not too far from The Hammer Party (or the more locked-in riffage of Landed) and Cows. It’s not excessively noisy, but the primitive, laid-back riffing and caustic guitar tones are all redolent of the traditional noise-rock formula, punk rock’s greasy, sluggish offspring. Larry Joe Treadway is a capable vocalist and deserving of his two first names, sounding like he’s crashed at least one car that he was able to walk away from without a scratch. All that, and the lyrics are mostly referencing various old-timey bad-ass wrestlers, the guys whose Dark Side Of The Ring episodes were more about shooting pistols at bloodthirsty fans than wasting away on pills. If none of these various attributes strike you as intriguing, well you must be a far more sophisticated person than I.

Violent Change Starcastle LP (Sloth Mate)
My favorite psych-rock group named after a Minor Threat song returns with LP number four, perhaps their most refined and comprehensible yet. On previous records, Violent Change boggled my mind with their recording fidelity, mixed in such wild ways that it became a defining quality of the band. One guitar would be in your face, the other out the door, the drums sound like wet paper except for the ride cymbal… it could be so superbly confusing and disorienting at times. I could also understand it turning off any but the most intrepid of listeners, though, and I feel like Starcastle does a fine job of splitting the difference between psych-pop pleasures and avant home-taper experimentation. Recorded between January 2017 and January 2023, Violent Change give us the best of their past few years, with moody, low-lit psych numbers, power-pop jangle and deep-fried synths/tapes. The one-two combo of “Conduction Wire” (tensely tuneful post-punk) and “Batman” (American Tapes-styled harsh collage) is particularly alluring. Starcastle calls to mind The Olivia Tremor Control, The Scrotum Poles and The Lavender Flu at times, all groups who reached their psych-pop outcomes through uncommonly warped means, though Violent Change’s casual crusade against indie-rock decency is entirely their own.

Wet Dip Smell Of Money LP (Feel It)
Cool confrontational debut album here from Austin’s Wet Dip, a trio of two sisters (Sylvia and Erica Rodriguez) and Daniel Doyle, guitar and bass swapped between members. The group seems interested in punk as a means of direct communication, a shout-in-the-face inches from the crowd, not propped up on a stage. Their disregard for “the way things are done” leads to some interesting decisions, as certain songs are noisy post-punk with a vocal sneer, whereas others allow for long periods of Sylvia Rodriguez’s softly-sung acapella vocals. Anything seems to go, and go it does! I’m most intrigued by the loosely-structured bash-fests: “Finale” and “Train Wreck” remind me of the gleeful patience-testing of Psycho Sin, both songs reliant upon stick-clicks and first-attempt guitar noise. With Wet Dip, it’s no guarantee that all three members will be playing their instruments at the same time, and even if they are, the chance of them all playing the same melody or rhythm is unlikely. How about a rendition of The Pixies’ “Silver” played in the style of Cyanamid, except with sweetly-sung vocals? You’ve got it here! Wet Dip don’t think twice about blowing up the rulebook, and if you don’t find it at least a little refreshing, it may be worth examining your allegiance to hardcore-punk orthodoxy.

XpoemsX / Photon Band The Birth & Death Of The Historical Buddha LP (Jabs / Easy Subculture)
Two cool split LPs in the same month?? A guy could get used to this! This one comes from the heady pastoral enclave of Eric DeJesus and his Easy Subculture freedom squad, an extremely DIY imprint he’s run from various Northeastern dwellings over the course of like, four decades now? And yet if you saw him, you’d swear he’s a newly-turned thirty year-old himself… such is the youthful effect of staying punk. XpoemsX is DeJesus himself looping a couple acoustic/electric guitars alongside some spoken word in his trademark “red-wine emo” style. It’s soft, hypnotic and heartfelt, as if the guitars of Ash Ra Tempel, Spiritualized and Nagisa Nite were finely ground into a smokeable powder distributed in certain copies of the Breathing Walker demo. I was expecting Photon Band to immediately bring the hammer down with their long-running downtown garage-psych, but was pleasantly surprised by the looser, stranger moves they’re sharing here. They’re incredibly breezy and lugubrious here, with some fuzz-mangled guitar, interstitial vocals and tender psych-folk songwriting, all bouncing off each other like little bacterium in a petri dish. Very “home recorded” sounding in the best of ways, the sort of thing Blackbean & Plancenta would’ve begged to release back in 1997. (I’d say it sounds like something Darla Records would’ve released back then too, but that’s actually the case, seeing as Photon Band released four albums with the label.) I love Photon Band in this messy presentation, what sounds like various tapes being popped in and out of a dusty deck to reveal a band in constant conversation with itself. So nice that after all these years, these life-long friends and collaborators can get together for such a fresh and vibrant split.