Reviews – December 2022

Ellen Arkbro & Johan Graden I Get Along Without You Very Well LP (Thrill Jockey)
Ellen Arkbro’s Chords has been one of my go-to soothing drone records since it came out back in 2019, a richly resonant field of softly shifting sound. Naturally I was curious about her new collaboration with pianist Johan Graden, but I sure wasn’t expecting her to sing! What a nice surprise to learn that her talents extend beyond one mode of musicianship; it’s as if I discovered that Omar S was actually a sick metal guitarist or something. And for as much as I’ve enjoyed Chords, I’m loving I Get Along Without You Very Well even more. It’s really its own beast, some sort of cushiony, guitar-less, slow-core emo. Sustained woodwinds provide the deep melodic backing to Arkbro’s surprisingly indie vocals, hers an expressive delivery somewhere between The Cardigans and Sigur Rós. Graden’s synths and pianos are precise and enveloping, and alongside the patient drumming of Konrad Agnas, it often feels like The Necks with a pro-gear indie grandeur, the sort of act you’d expect Radiohead to choose as an opener and blow away their audience with. Plus, it’s simply cooler than any “indie”-filed music I’ve recently heard, reaching out into the world of drone but insisting on potent songs as their vehicle. It seems obvious that having an advanced CV in drone would greatly benefit forays into other forms of music, but Arkbro and Graden demonstrate it with casual grace and understated refinement here.

Mark Cetilia The New Way 2xLP (More)
The New Way was funded in part by the RISD Professional Development Fund, but don’t go putting on your monocle and bowtie just yet: this isn’t the stuffy academic composition of yore. Mark Cetilia is clearly a trained and educated producer of electronic music, but The New Way is lively and downright aggressive at times, less about the majestic presence of a few select tones so much as the chaos that can ensue from multiple electronic processes firing off at the same time. “Analog / digital electronics” are the credited instrumentation, and they’re described as both “improvised and generative” which makes sense when sitting down with it. Some of this stuff sounds like sparks flying from a downed telephone cable, whereas certain tones are so sumptuously synthetic it’s like watching sunlight hit the moon’s surface inside the Metaverse. If you’ve got two full twelve-inch LPs of electronic music at your disposal, might as well mix it up! Part of me wants to compare The New Way to Forcefield (it’s the Providence connection), but I’m also reminded of deliberate electronic synthesists like Black Merlin (though in the case of Mark Cetilia, only the faintest trace of techno can be detected here). Lots of patience-testing frequencies and brain-scrambling sonic mixtures to be found through this double album, but if you enjoy experiencing the wild things a person can do with a laptop and some gear, that’s probably what you’re after in the first place.

Chrome Jackson Cyborgs LP (Wrong Way Archival Bureau)
Stephen Mattos has been utilizing the electric guitar as a sonic irritant for decades now, from Arab On Radar to Athletic Automaton and Doomsday Student. Most recently, he’s been self-recording under the Chrome Jackson moniker, which sounds very much in line with what one might expect from “Arab On Radar guitarist solo project”. Most of these tracks start with a ramshackle, unchanging percussion loop, over which Mattos layers one or more guitars, usually delivered with the tone of an aggravated hornet’s nest, though certain guitars are more effected and elastic, calling to mind some sort of nightmarish day-glo psychedelia that one might associate with his old label, Load Records. The beats are more like looped Looney Tunes sound-effects than drum patterns (check the chattering teeth of “Jellyfish”) and alongside these caustic guitar lines, everything works nicely, trebly fits of anxiety and unexpected mutation. Things generally feel loosely improvised, with motifs reappearing in more of an unstructured way, as if we’re right there in the Chrome Jackson laboratory as he stomps different effects pedals and weaves his way through a variety of neon noises. Fort Thunder is surely yuppified condos by now but its spirit lives on.

Dale Cornish Traditional Music Of South London LP (The Death Of Rave)
Lots of boldly cheeky proclamations happening here, from the album title to the name of the label that released it. I’m not certain that either description is applicable in this particular case, but that’s fine with me, as Traditional Music For South London is another inventive record from London’s Dale Cornish, and the most excellent I’ve heard from him thus far. His releases tend to finger a weird theme and work it out, and this time around, he takes knotty techno as his focus and has buckets of fun playing around with it. Don’t file it under “experimental” or, even worse, “ironic”, though, as Cornish has a keen handle on what makes a weird club hit, preferring to create brand new sticky, slurpy grooves as opposed to abstraction for abstraction’s sake. 4/4 thumps are grounded, hi-hats are slightly crusty, and the rhythmic accompaniment is fancy and fun. I’d probably compare some of these tracks (like say, “Hoist Crash Fort”) to the sort of techno trickery Powell was engaging in back in the mid ’10s, though Cornish’s music isn’t sample-derived so much as coming from some other strange place, deep in the recesses of his gear. His voice appears on occasion as well, sometimes modified beyond recognition and sometimes clear and direct; take for example the palate-cleansing acoustic-guitar ditty that is “Norman Lewis”. It can happen that when you try to be a brazen punk and also play techno, you end up alienating both sides of the equation, but Traditional Music Of South London is sure to unite weekend club-night enthusiasts and the defiant artists who mill around smoking outside of them.

Carla dal Forno Come Around LP (Kallista)
Fourth album for Carla dal Forno, who solidified her personal style while residing in her homeland of Australia, moved to England for another album or two, and has now returned to Melbourne. Seems as though she’d be comfortable any place where there are lush hanging gardens and a stone bench to sit and contemplate, as Come Around is covered with pastoral, blurred images of dal Forno and foliage in full bloom, a common poise on her records. If you weren’t already familiar with her sound, you’d be forgiven for expecting some sort of folk or shoegaze, but dal Forno never wavers from her well-established personal aesthetic, one of patient rhythms, note-by-note bass-lines, calm vocals and dub effects. I thought she mastered her style on 2019’s Look Up Sharp, but Come Around pushes at her internal borders with sharp effect. There’s the sunshine-y guitar on “Come Around”, her first-ever duet “Slumber” (with dashing European recluse Thomas Bush) and an even greater ease in the way these songs are delivered. She might even be kind of happy here? The similarities to Young Marble Giants, Virginia Astley and Anna Domino are still in place, but it never feels like homage or imitation. These songs are precise yet incredibly comfortable, memorable and uncommon, and perhaps most amazingly of all, spotlessly recorded while still retaining the syrupy out-of-time sensation of classic dub. I’d send flowers to congratulate her on a fantastic new record but it seems she already has more than enough.

Delivery Forever Giving Handshakes LP (Feel It)
Not sure what to make of the title of Delivery’s full-length debut… are they complaining, or into it? Has anyone told them “well, at least it’s better than hand-jobs!“, and if so, how did they react? Whatever the case, this Melbourne quintet seems to be having plenty of fun on this album, a wiry kind of indie-rock that brushes up against post-punk in appealing ways. A good number of these tunes remind me of fellow Aussies The Shifters, the way in which both bands are clearly well-rehearsed without coming across as uptight, singing songs of domestic anxiety and writing hooks so that we, the listeners, can sing along too. There’s a bit more, uh, angularity to these tunes than that of The Shifters though, with oblong single-string guitar riffs that occasionally call Circus Lupus to my mind. Four of the five members are credited with vocals, but whoever sings the most has a great Chris Thomson-esque tone, though he comes across far less agitated and much more likely to smile or wink. All of this leads to what I’d consider another Excellent Parquet Courts Opening-Act Prospect, a sect of the underground that was probably around even before Parquet Courts themselves but seems to be particularly thriving today. The world doesn’t want the kids today to be funky, friendly and free, and yet Delivery are precisely that.

Engürdetz Sillmjölke LP (Happiest Place)
Happiest Place continues to herald the unheralded with their second Engürdetz reissue, this one originally released as a 1988 split cassette with Lille Roger. 1988 was a pretty interesting time for noise, particularly in that it was far removed from both the initial wave and the turn of the millennium’s resurgence. There was no expectation of “fans” beyond a few random folks who were probably also making similarly indigestible noise collages, and there’s a glorious freedom in that, knowing that no one is really paying attention. The satisfaction comes from the creation, not the commercial success, which is how I personally like it! I can see why Happiest Place would go so far as it press this old session up on vinyl, as Sillmjölke bears a striking resemblance (and level of quality) to much of today’s Swedish noise scene. This is crude, tape-deck-based music, which required craftiness and inventiveness if you wanted to create oddball and oppressive sound collages beyond a basic level of flimsy tape hiss. Engürdetz clearly had a knack for such techniques, churning out some impressively heavy low-end among crude loops, abused guitars and tape samples both intense and silly. “Cock-A-Cola” might be my favorite track of the bunch, so brain-numbing is its repetitive vocal loop, but the guitar strangulation and sampled argument of “Calm Fucking Down” feels like the accidental sibling of Harry Pussy, or at least a really great Prick Decay track. I don’t know what sorta material Lille Roger brought to his side of that tape back in 1988 but I hope he brought his best.

Extortion Seething 7″ (no label)
Seething, the newest seven-inch EP from one of Australia’s most revered hardcore-grind groups opens with a moderate crossover riff, just long enough to leave one wondering if this powerhouse unit has toned things down in their old age. Not so! The rest of “Conquest” snaps into high-velocity hardcore as technically flawless as it is raging, and the remaining fourteen tracks maintain that extreme level of relentlessness. It’s a glory to behold! The sheer quantity of grind records out there can lead to listener fatigue, but when a record like Seething arrives, it’s a stark reminder that this style can absolutely blow your wig right off. I really appreciate that Extortion manages to take cues from Crossed Out and Siege, just like everyone else, but rather than replicating those earlier groups to a precise tee, they take the stop/start, slow/fast, extreme-brevity template and make it their own. This sorta thing can live or die by the drumming, and it’s absolutely astounding here, as precise and inhuman as the finest death metal but performed with the rugged attitude of hardcore. Great riffs too, but the drumming is just so forceful and precise that it steals the show. If some other band is ahead of Extortion on today’s grind charts, you’ll have to let me know!

Flex TMG Whisper Swish 12″ (Domestic Departure)
Funny how time works – I just watched that Meet Me In The Bathroom doc over the weekend, and the debut EP from Flex TMG sounds like it could’ve been ripped directly from that scene. Their sound is immediately identifiable as the party-friendly indie-disco that James Murphy wanted to hear in 2002, a slick and funky form of dance rebellion that Troubleman Unlimited would’ve jumped on during Dubya’s first term in office. How does it sound now, you ask? I can’t speak for all retro no-wave disco acts that existed from 2001 through present, but Flex TMG sound pretty sweet on Whisper Swish, more of a natural fit for their particular talents than another project trying to sound like everyone else. For one, not many acts are sounding like Liquid Liquid and Pigbag these days, so I’m assuming Flex TMG’s intentions are true, and they do right by the sound, with perfectly muted bass tones, percolating synths and rhythm tracks that deliver only the necessities: 4/4 kick, the clatter of snare and hi-hat in various forms and at least one cowbell. Vocalist Hannah D’Amato is confident and cool, and the backing tracks (the work of one Rob I. Miller) are lively and interesting, coming together to propose an alternate timeline where Karen O fronted !!!. Actually, that probably must’ve happened at some point, but I’d rather just listen to Flex TMG now anyway!

Grotto Terrazza Kalte Köstlichkeiten LP (Maple Death / Cut Surface)
Lots of pulpy fun to be had here within Kalte Köstlichkeiten, the first vinyl outing for Munich’s Thomas Schamann under his Grotto Terrazza guise. These retro tracks are geared to setting the scene from top to bottom, with rotary phones ringing in the background, convertible sports cars peeling out past palm trees, scorned lovers staring at each other across the room and phone numbers scrawled on hotel-bar napkins. It’s like library music for German millionaire playboys and the detectives who have to figure out who murdered them. The instrumentation seems to vary track-by-track, mostly instrumental in nature, veering from classic Giorgio Moroder electro to Delroy Edwards-styled roller-rink funk to wistful Molly Nilsson-esque serenades. Grotto Terrazza takes it a step further sometimes, with tracks like “Dusty Kapers Skit” operating as pictureless film shorts more than songs, which adds to the madcap fun, even if it the whole thing is steeped in fantasy nostalgia. A little Tarantino in there, and a little Altman too, which helps tie it together. Nothing wrong with ostentatious revelry, especially if you’re doing it with the straight-faced humor (and new-wave funk) of DAF, as can be the case here. The title translates to “Cold Delicacies”, a perfect fit no matter the native tongue.

Gunfighter Ballads 7″ (Under The Gun)
This one takes me back, all the way back… to like 2008! Right around that time, punks started breaking out of the band format en masse, setting up practice amps in weird bedroom configurations and recording whatever nonsense they could muster without their roommates calling a house meeting. As Liam would say, I don’t look back on that time in anger, and it’s nice that artists like Gunfighter are keeping that particular flame alive. With Ballads, a drum machine on one of its three basic settings lays down a rhythm, surfy, garage-y guitar comes streaming out in impetuously low fidelity, and a guy gobbles and quacks as though he were accidentally possessed by the spirit of the Surfin’ Bird. Less aggressive than the Pillow Talk seven-inch but more jarring than even the earliest Cramps singles, Gunfighter almost certainly maintains either obnoxious facial hair, assless chaps or some sort of sartorial detail to call attention to the fact that he routinely flips the bird at God and would sell all of his records to buy a hot rod if he actually owned any records. My favorite song might actually be “Trot, Trot… Shot, Shot”, which eschews guitar entirely for chintzy keyboards, closer to Damian & The Criterions’ “Atlantic City U.S.A.” than Link Wray. A gunfighter he surely ain’t, but maybe one day if we’re lucky, he’ll throw up on Orville Peck’s fake-ass cowboy boots somewhere on the Sunset Strip.

Horse Lords Comradely Objects LP (Rvng Intl.)
Gotta hand it to whoever is in charge of Horse Lords’ publicity, because they’ve been everywhere lately! Can’t pull up a music website without seeing their name, it seems, and while I’m sure part of that is lucky timing or whatever, it also feels well deserved. The Baltimore group’s newest album, Comradely Objects, is as skillfully composed as it is easy to listen to, hitting that sweet spot where experimental composition overlaps with upbeat and joyous melodies, like a sweet candy that actually improves your health. I really appreciate that this is a band, a group of multiple people committed to the same (unusual) musical cause who work it out together under a shared title. Feels like there’s far less of that than individual collaborative players and solo projects, and I appreciate the rarity in finding and gelling with three or four other likeminded souls, particularly in a scruffy little city like Baltimore. Anyway, not enough talk about the actual music outta me: it’s drums, guitar, sax, bass and electronics, performed the way a band would play, but written in the form of complex “just intonation” compositions. These are extremely cyclical pieces, full of changes that you don’t realize are changes and quite dazzling in the steadfast repetition where even the slightest flub could send the whole thing crashing. In the same aesthetic neighborhood as Joshua Abrams Natural Information Society at times, what with the unflinching grooves and abstract patterns, and the same general sense that they’re trying to unlock the key to happiness via complex mathematical tuning and composition. I’d say they’ve gotten there, because Comradely Objects slaps a big smile on my face every time.

Kitchen’s Floor None Of That LP (Petty Bunco / Eternal Soundcheck)
The past couple years have been particularly bad for all of us, but jeez, someone go check on Matt Kennedy, the sole constant member of Kitchen’s Floor! Sure, he’s the type of songwriter who thought the phrase “kidney / kidney infection” worked for a vocal hook (“Kidney Infection”, 2011), but the lyrics to None Of That are bleaker than bleak… they make Nick Drake sound like Andrew WK or something. The chorus of “Before Dawn” goes “I wanna die before dawn” and it’s hard not to take him seriously. I hope he’s just getting it out through his art, as I’ve loved the music of Kitchen’s Floor for as long as I’ve known it, and this newest one (after a fairly long absence) is great, the sort of thing that deserves more shows, tours, and at the very least, continued living. It’s some of Kennedy’s heaviest music on a sonic level too, with plenty of heavily-distorted guitars, rumbling bass and vocals as often shouted as they are murmured – “Blood” could be a damn Slapshot cover, I swear. I’ve enjoyed Kitchen’s Floor as a creaky, lo-fi acoustic-guitar project, but None Of That has some thick hairy meat on its bones and I find it particularly satisfying, recalling both strum-centric Kiwi pop and the darkly aggressive post-punk garage of Venom P. Stinger depending on the tune. The most moshworthy Petty Bunco release you’ll hear this year, unless they plan on sneaking out a Violent Students VHS tape in time for Christmas.

Matt Krefting & Bill Nace The Academy LP (Half A Million)
Two hefty sleep paralysis sessions here from Bill Nace and Matt Krefting, both of whom have strong ties to the noisy Massachusetts underground from wherein they’ve resided. Not a lot of information to go by on this one – no credited instrumentation, specifically – but the sound here is so stark, relentless and defined that I suppose a rig rundown isn’t super helpful or necessary. Each of these two pieces works a choppy loop of what, by my amateur estimation, is probably a violin or some other string instrument being patiently bowed, the sound slowly layered upon itself and speckled with the accidental percussion of microphones being struck or buttons being pressed. They slowly build, Alvin Lucier-like, though there is no crescendo or violent overloading of sound; both of these tracks find a restless point of gravity and orbit it like drunken moths around a bulb. The titles “Mr. Jinx” and “Miss Lucy” offer little insight, though my best guess here is that they’re probably cats’ names? Maybe they’re people? Did cats make this music? Everything I’m doing is guesswork here, except of course for laying back in a reclined position and allowing these two wobbly drones to burrow into one of my ears and slowly drift out the other.

Kilynn Lunsford Custodians Of Human Succession LP (Ever/Never)
Kilynn Lunsford has frequently been the coolest-dressed person in basements all across the United States, spending the ’00s in Little Claw and the ’10s in Taiwan Housing Project (among other bits and pieces). And now, after plenty of time making music moderated by traditional dude-filled backing bands, she’s cutting out on her own with Custodians Of Human Succession. I loved Taiwan Housing Project, but if you’re willing to consider my opinion, this is her finest work yet! I’d say it’s her Queen Of Siam, though any theatrics found here are wonderfully tawdry, and to be honest I’d rather listen to Custodians anyway. Lunsford comes across as murderous one moment and wounded the next, saturating these skeletal-yet-vibrant tracks with a spectrum of high emotion. Even when deadpanning, like on the perfect album opener “Reality Testing”, I feel drawn in to her vibe no matter if it becomes increasingly clear that she’s putting me in danger. Reminds me of Die Tödliche Doris at their least shrill, the morbid synth-wave of art-punks like Voice Farm and German Shepherds and the more disturbing ends of early no-wave (think Boris Policeband and Jeff & Jane Hudson). My favorite cut might be “Three Babies Make Ten”, whose funky bass-line and maddeningly looped vocals make it near-impossible to comfortably file in any pre-existing slot. I think we all expected this solo debut to be good, but it’s really really great!

Moin Paste LP (AD 93)
I remember when I first heard Raime, and how taken aback I was by the intense emptiness of their music… how could you get away with what sounded like distant echoes of basketballs dribbled in an airport hangar as the entirety of a track?? I felt a similarly minor shock upon hearing the Raime side-project Moin for the first time (or is Raime the side-project of Moin now?), as this British electronic duo, firmly settled in the avant-electronic world, made a record that sounded like the quiet parts of Chino Horde or Still Life songs and nothing more. How’d these British ravers know about American emo?? Shame on me for presuming techno guys don’t have rich interior listening obsessions. Now that I’ve heard a few of their records, I’ve come to expect this exquisitely reductive take on ’90s emo-core from Moin, and Paste maintains the path they’ve forged. Live drums care of the omnipresent Valentina Magaletti match stiff, muted guitars, resulting in “quiet part” emo-core instrumentals that recall those I Hate Myself and Indian Summer moments before the drums kick in and the screaming (read: crying) starts. In lieu of such a vocalist, Moin utilize a bevy of spoken-word samples, apparently often poetry readings from decades prior, to provide the (fabricated) human gravitas that these morose rock instrumentals benefit from. I wouldn’t argue if you called it a gimmick, but it’s a trick no one else thought of, and an album that’ll leave an impression no matter what side of the rock / electronic fence you’re on.

Mutated Void Slash The Altar 7″ (Sewercide)
Has Nova Scotia’s Mutated Void done a split with The Radioactive Faith yet? Released by Violent Dischord Records, of course. This hardcore group doesn’t hide their influences, both aesthetically and musically, and when it comes to dirty unhinged hardcore, that works for me. At first pass, the nearly black-metal vocals threw me for a loop (a similar sensation to when I heard Devola and Jeromes Dream for the first time, leading me to ask myself “did they really take it that far?”), but taking hardcore in an extreme direction is always a more successful path than a polished or “experimental” one. United Mutation, Void and No Trend are clearly some reference points, but the classic band I’m hearing the most is Septic Death. I always wondered why there weren’t many/any Septic Death clones, though I suppose their style is too singular to truly emulate. Mutated Void come pretty close though, with song structures that nervously jump between parts, slam headfirst into dead-ends and scatter like rats. Thanks to the over-the-top Pushead-goes-metal vocal approach, Slash The Altar results in the sort of spastic, blackened hardcore that would’ve sat well amongst Youth Attack’s roster circa 2010 (though not as well amongst their current “I’m a big mean angry man all of the time” vibe). I can’t imagine there’s more than one band in Nova Scotia that sounds like this, and if there is, it’s Mutated Void’s duty to kill the others.

Non Plus Temps Desire Choir LP (Post Present Medium)
The last out-of-nowhere unanimous favorite to come from Post Present Medium was P22’s phenomenal Human Snake back in 2020, and it seems a similar acclaim is worthy of bestowing upon Non Plus Temps’ debut, Desire Choir. I still have no idea who anyone involved with P22 is, whereas Non Plus Temps feature the familiar names of Sam Lefebvre (the talented writer also of Preening fame) and Andy Human (of an ever-increasing number of Bay Area rock projects). Rather than the unfiltered skree of Preening or the classic garage sounds of Andy Human’s many bands, Non Plus Temps is dubbed-out post-punk through and through, where various friends guest on instruments and vocals as needed and groove is always king. No sampling is noted in the credits, but the way in which horns and voices and keys slide over and throughout these tunes has me wondering how it all came together… in Non Plus Temps’ hands, it all seems so easy and natural. The roomy drum sound, passive vocals and dub bass-lines bear frequent similarities to Exek (and less directly, Anika) – a song like “Facts Sound Like Myths” shares so many facets with the first couple of Exek records that you could’ve slapped their name on it and put one over on me, if that’s how you like to get your kicks. Nevertheless, there is room for at least two excellent On U-Sound-influenced contemporary post-punk acts in my life and Non Plus Temps is certainly one of them, even if it feels like a minor scene betrayal that Max Nordile’s presence is nowhere to be found on Desire Choir. Maybe they’re saving him for next time?

Norcos Y Horchata Forever Disheveled LP (Rust On The Blade)
New band here from Amado Movado of Bill Bondsmen and Devious Ones, following a classic trajectory from aggressive hardcore-punk to sing-songy adult-oriented pop-punk. In a flash, we seem to transition from high-school-class-cutting miscreants to stay-at-home dads wearing newsboy caps to cover up bald spots, and I don’t see any reason to stop playing music once that happens (though sharing it publicly can be another story). The songs here fall into a sort of Riverdales / Flogging Molly / Hold Steady axis, local anthems for craft beer tastings, dog adoption drives and I dunno, any lovable-loser behavior with a punk frame of reference. My favorite part of Forever Disheveled, by far, is opener “All Roads Lead Downriver (Dix & Champaign Forever)”, which, intentionally or not, involves a repeated sing-along chorus of “Dix and Champaign forever!”, which can take on an entirely different meaning if you’re hearing it instead of reading it. Kinda wish Norcos Y Horchata were an unabashedly hedonistic pop-punk troupe ala Pansy Division, but Pansy Division might still be around anyway. Maybe they’ll cover it!

Prayer Group Michael Dose LP (Reptilian)
Some grisly Eastern seaboard noise-rock here from Richmond’s Prayer Group (on Baltimore’s longstanding Reptilian Records). Hadn’t heard of this band prior to my encounter here, but it’s nice to know there’s another sonically-unfriendly rock group down in Richmond when needed. Their style bears a direct relation to The Jesus Lizard, with riffs that push and pull and stomp without fully moshing, and a vocalist who howls in a manner that demonstrates he is aware of the music played by his bandmates but not directly beholden to their time signatures. A track like “Speculative Fiction” reminds me a bit of Philadelphia’s Leather, whom I personally deeply miss, though Prayer Group are a bit more relaxed in their approach. At the very least, they seem to arrive at their sound via Am Rep and hardcore versus any form of technically-driven metal, much to my relief. Closer to Unsane than Hydra Head, though fans of either entity would surely respect what Prayer Group are doing here, or so I’d like to think.

Rhyw Honey Badger 12″ (Voam)
Blawan’s Voam label has come to deliver left-field techno records as hard-hitting as they are strange, and this new one from Berlin’s Rhyw sticks to the MO. “Honey Badger” is the star of the show here, and it’s a pretty memorable one. While it has the corset-popping low-end and sturdy thwack of the finest Blawan beater, its groove consistently stumbles over itself, surely resulting in some confused (if entertained) dancers. It’s like walking down a flight of stairs where every seventh step is missing or twice the size, and it’s a bold move for anyone whose purpose is to move a crowd in unison. “Sharknado” follows, and it locks into steel-plated rhythm immediately, with some sort of gating effect that adds a car-chase sort of tension to what is otherwise some pristine techno artillery. “Kirkhusa” is a little freakier, a fast staccato bounce that sounds rubbery yet painful, like getting smacked with a tire. “Foamcore” wraps it up, as playfully elastic as the rest of the EP but with more of a hands-in-the-air sensibility than the evil trickery of the title track. There’s a party-drug aggression to the whole thing, imposing techno that’s dizzying if you try to pay close attention and likely to raise your heart-rate even if experienced passively. In other words, perfect for Voam!

Sluggo Sluggo LP (4.Q.)
If you had a hardcore band in the early ’80s and it hasn’t received a reissue retrospective with sepia-toned live shots, a comprehensive booklet and quotes from the successful indie-rockers who attended your shows as awestruck teens, did that band really exist in the first place? The adultification of first-wave hardcore-punk is still a little weird to me, treating and presenting teen-written songs with the sentiment of “my school sucks” as though they share the seriousness of a Cy Twombly canvas or Eileen Myles poem. I mean, I think teen punk is one of the greatest human inventions, but it still feels slightly off somehow, the whole reissue ecosystem (Numero Group in particular) that’s putting its money into the past versus the present. Sluggo were Cincinnati’s premier early ’80s hardcore unit (and the effusive quote on the promo sticker here comes from David Grubbs), and their legacy is heralded here with not only a reissue of their sole seven-inch EP Contradiction but the previously-unreleased Eighty-Four EP as well. Not first-tier hardcore by anyone’s estimation I’m sure, but a solid second-tier outing, clearly redolent of Minor Threat, Necros and Ill Repute, with whom they probably shared stages and snail-mail correspondence. Of particular note to hardcore obsessives is the unreleased EP here, which despite its August 1984 recording date sounds more like hardcore circa ’82 than the cross-over thrash, new-wave college-rock and burgeoning emo-core that were exploding the underground at that time, even with the addition of a second guitarist. Now that Sluggo’s dapper retrospective is complete, I think only Jackshit and No Milk On Tuesday are left… any takers?

Ssabæ Azurescens LP (Few Crackles)
As if it isn’t miserable enough buying records these days (a hundred bucks gets you what… three albums??), Few Crackles goes and makes it even less fun with this blink-and-missed pressing for Ssabæ. If you can find a place that has it for sale, lemme know so I can tell some friends! The label must be aware of how cool this music is, and yet most of us will have to accept Bandcamp MP3s and YouTube streams for the time being. Anyway, Ssabæ is a French group, presumably sharing some (if not complete) overlap with labelmates Bassæ, and while Bassæ’s last EP was equally impossible-to-find a day after its release last year (and also killer), Azurescens is the richest work from the Few Crackles crew yet. I associate the label with a sort of comatose techno and/or room-clearing avant-industrial, but Ssabæ come from a more pastoral angle, sounding like it was recorded in an ancient cabin in the French countryside where you can see right through the floorboards. Electronics are still at play, but in service to distant guitar, French/wordless vocals, domestic field-recordings and sax. It feels like a lost, severely-damaged ’70s psych record if they had access to today’s recording technology, or if those early Demdike Stare records were inspired by Eric Rohmer films instead of Giallo. Supremely trippy, but not in any sort of forced way – Ssabæ move at their own pace, slightly out of time and welcoming without being patronizing. I’m reminded of my first experiences listening to Nina Harker, another post-industrial/noise/experimental concoction outta France who assured me that weird new strains of music are out there waiting to be created. I just wish we could all purchase a copy!

Ulla Foam LP (3XL)
Here’s the third vinyl full-length from Ulla in just as many years, and while her sound and style remains identifiably the same, Foam isn’t without its own unique freshness. Of course, I still had to pull up the internet to determine the album and song titles – this is another extremely hermetic Ulla release without a single written word or recognizable text character anywhere on the packaging – but these tracks are shorter and sweeter, perfectly matching the big blurry daisy on the cover. These fourteen tracks hover between two and four minutes for the most part, and they work similarly to each other, all serving the whole. She takes recognizable sonic cues from styles like modern R&B, ’80s new-age ambient and ’00s IDM and slashes it all up into bits of varied sizes and shapes. You might get rich dubstep bass intermingling with fricasseed vocals and clusters of piano chords, or those same initial sound sources might appear as smudgy, indecipherable patterns. At least one track sounds like a thousand-piece puzzle featuring a picture of Kate Bush and Fennesz, except the pieces are dumped out all over the table and you’re still trying to locate the edges. It’s a thrilling listen in that regard, as Ulla consistently locates the perfect bits of melody to contort and strangle (lovingly, of course). At least in the careful hands of Ulla, there’s quite a bit of life left in today’s electro-acoustic ambient-collage style.

Beau Wanzer / Hieroglyphic Being 4 Dysfunctional Psychotic Release & Sonic Reprogramming Purposes Only 12″ (Natural Sciences)
Can’t think of a better pair of ambassadors from Chicago, brought together for the first time care of Manchester’s Natural Sciences. Smart move! Beau Wanzer found his lane almost ten years ago now and he’s stuck to it faithfully ever since: absolutely filthy downtempo analog grooves, cuts as creepy and murky as they are oddball and entertaining. Hieroglyphic Being (aka Jamal Moss) is far too vast of an entity to properly describe in a couple sentences, but keeping that in mind, I will say he’s been a Chicago dance institution since the mid ’00s, reaping countless collaborations, projects and mixes from the halcyon days of cheap CD-r duplication through to the present. Really nice to see them together here, and both of their cuts deliver the proper goods. Wanzer’s “The Table Scrap” is as molten and corrosive as ever, deftly adjusted in real-time and enhanced by some gnarly vocals, as inscrutable as they are appropriate to the mix. Moss comes forward with the incredibly titled “This is the Right Time in Human History 2 Be Stupid”, which continues his meditation on digital mainframes as psychedelic pathways. His groove is hypnotic and shifty, reminiscent of Morphosis (though really just sounding, as always, like himself). Two killer and lengthy tracks on what very well might be my favorite split twelve-inch of 2022.

Why Bother? Lacerated Nights LP (Feel It)
Iowa’s Why Bother? follow their 2021 Feel It debut with Lacerated Nights, which I presume for them means those times when you’re running home through a cow pasture at night and accidentally catch your leg on a barbed-wire fence. Much like their unusual location for a record-releasing punk band, their sound isn’t overly formulaic, albeit unquestionably punk in design and practice. The songs here continue the haunted-house punk sound they previously established for themselves, not necessarily building on it so much as writing more songs in that same style, and it works for me. They’ve got a Misfits-indebted songwriting technique apparent in some of these tunes (ie. spooky choruses you can shout along with), and a particularly Spits-like sound in the way the songs cut through the speakers. Why Bother? strike me as less nihilistic / personally unhappy as The Spits though, and they even get a little tuneful in a post-punky way on occasion, sounding less like a VG copy of the Meaty Buys seven-inch and more like, I dunno, one of those early Blank Dogs singles (before the magic was gone). Even when tuneful and less aggressive, there’s no dressing up Why Bother? for a handsome senior picture – this sorta lo-fi heartland punk rock will never be accepted by the mainstream, and I applaud them for their contributions.

Reviews – November 2022

A+A 060 12″ (AD 93)
The Whities label brought me happiness in the form of their initial EPs from Avalon Emerson and Anunaku a few years ago, and now that the label has evolved into AD 93, I had to check out this new collab between the two of them. Previously, Avalon Emerson swept me away in her blissful synth-work and commanding melodic leads, whereas Anunaku rearranged my brainpan with his dazzling feats of percussion, and while their respective styles are evident in 060, the aesthetic here leans closer to Emerson’s domain. Works for me! Opening cut “Eternal September” sounds like a lost Avalon Emerson cut from the mid ’10s, a pink-hued sunset with deftly layered synths and a lightweight house beat, a precious track that could be swept off course from even a modest breeze. The rest of the EP follows suit, twinkling like a metropolitan skyline from a utopian future, pollution-free light-rail transit systems operating efficiently from bird’s eye view. I suppose you can dance to these tracks – tech-house beats are present for all of them, with “North Star” the mightiest of the bunch – but something about the effervescent lightness of these proceedings overshadows A+A’s existence as “dance music”, resulting in more of a tender trance style. After all, what kinda dancing can you really do when you’re floating ten feet off the ground, blissfully drifting to A+A?

Ace Of Spit Ace Of Spit LP (Sophomore Lounge)
The band is called Ace Of Spit, and there’s a cool old-looking pic of a teenaged punk holding a guitar on the cover… you’ve got my attention, boys! I was hoping that teenager was the Ace Of Spit himself, but this is a dual-guitared quartet outta St. Louis, not a single kid. Even if these songs do not specifically involve the cover star, they pay his image proper respect with Ace Of Spit. The group plays a clearly understandable form of garage-rock, more punk by the way in which these songs are played (aggressively, sometimes noisily, always with attitude) than in the riffs themselves. Take some Link Wray and Cramps moves, put your cigarette out on ’em and leave the room without saying a word. There’s a bit of the plucky angle I associate with the early years of Planet Pimp Records here (bands like The Phantom Surfers and The Mummies and their various off-shoots), though Ace Of Spit aren’t silly at all; they seem to be solely interested in slamming out the raucous Fender energy like the countless Midwestern outcasts before them, no concessions or gimmicks. A traditional style for sure, so while your mind might not be blown apart by new musical concepts here, it will be reassured that gritty rock played by human beings in the company of each other endures like a hardy weed, refusing to die no matter the unfriendly circumstances.

Blemish Blemish 12″ (Not For The Weak)
I’ve come to accept Not For The Weak as a hardcore label on the burlier side of things, generally releasing music meant to knock me on my can rather than pick me back up, so Blemish’s vinyl debut took me by surprise. This is tunefully sullen melodic punk, reminiscent of the early punk bands who continued through hardcore’s emergence, paying some homage to the louder/faster rules of the day while still insisting on a dark melodic edge missing from most adolescent hardcore. Bands like D.O.A., X and CH3 come to mind while listening to this twelve-inch, as does early UK anarcho stuff like Conflict and Alternative, as does the ’90s pop-punk iteration of that same aesthetic ala A.P.P.L.E. and Naked Aggression. Much as is the case with pizza, you’ve gotta get a good crust ratio with your downcast melodic punk, and Blemish have located that sweet spot. The group leads with the vocals, which slice through many of the important topics of our time: violence, the police state, doomed romance, financial insecurity and paranoia (the opening cut is appropriately enough called “Paranoia”). This sort of mid-paced, not-entirely-aggressive sound isn’t normally what I reach for, but I’ve spun Blemish a few times and I’m enjoying its increasing familiarity.

Burial Streetlands 12″ (Hyperdub)
It’s always a treat when the (bi-)yearly Burial EP arrives unannounced, this new one clocking in with three tracks at a little over half an hour. I’d like to maintain my stance that Burial absolutely rules, one of the most deeply inventive and influential artists of the last couple decades – whatever he’s up to, I will proudly celebrate, or at least listen contentedly if it’s not one of my favorites. Recent EPs found him venturing into beatless territory more often than not, and as a master of the evocative soundscape, it’s a solid place for his imagination to roam. That said, these tracks are slight, shy and subtle, perhaps his least gripping material yet. Opener “Hospital Chapel” barely does anything at all for eight minutes, so when the title track actually rustles through vaporous synth leads, chirpy vocals, lingering drones and sporadic crackles, it at least feels like there’s activity out there, rather than staking out a haunted house all night where nothing happens. Burial basically created the “sounds of a rave ringing in your head as you take the bus home at 4 AM” vibe, but Streetlands is even further from the faint remnants of a club sound; this is more akin to remembering you went to the club over the weekend, then came home and played Final Fantasy XVIII for a few hours, just wandering dark alleys and windswept cliffs instead of fighting any monsters. Gonna go spin one of the other seven Burial records on my shelf right now and remind myself why he’s the greatest.

Shanti Celeste Cutie / Shimmer 12″ (Hessle Audio)
Crazy to think it’s been fourteen years since I first started picking up Hessle Audio twelve-inches, and even crazier that the pleasure in which I derive from them remains unabated. This British label releases uniform-looking electronic EPs, generally inexpensively (which is appreciated), with artists both familiar and new, a sense of community both closely knit and globalized. This new one from Chilean-born, London-based Shanti Celeste is a pair of uplifting bangers, making me wish it was summer again even though I only turned the air conditioner off like two weeks ago. “Cutie” is the hit, a warm and robust house / UK garage hybrid that rides an unquestionably cute vocal hook across a sea of smiles. There’s such an art to putting together a weird choppy vocal hook – you want it to be catchy but not plain, weird but not entirely alienating – and “Cutie” crushes it, a perfect reminder of how fun tech-house can be. “Shimmer” is a little more nighttime-oriented, synths twinkling like headlights on a dark highway, vocal snippet punctuating the beat and a pleasantly kinetic feel throughout. Feels akin to Deadboy, Cosmin TRG, Overmono and even a little Silkie; cool dance music that envelops the room in a glorious confection of highs, lows and mids. Both cuts are excellent, rekindling my deep appreciation for all things Hessle Audio.

Cheval De Frise Cheval De Frise 2xLP (Computer Students)
Really impressed by the extravagance Computer Students puts into their releases: from bespoke “radiant aluminum foil bag” packaging (on top of already-handsome cardstock sleeves) to their own proprietary cardboard record mailers (probably necessary to accommodate that extra-large aluminum bag), it doesn’t appear they leave any detail unconsidered. With a roster of artists like Big’n, Oxes and Drose, it’s clear that they trade primarily in audacious math-rock, so it’s the perfect home for a lavish double twelve-inch vinyl reissue of French math-rock duo Cheval De Frise’s 2000 debut. I was unaware of the group while they were active, but they would’ve fit in nicely next to the Hella and Don Caballero CDs in my Case Logic car visor. As a guitar-drums duo, Cheval De Frise had to rely heavily on each other, but they’re clearly two virtuosos up for the task. The drum patterns are explosive in a proggy screamo sort of way – no issues there – but Cheval De Frise really shine thanks to Thomas Bonvalet’s electro-acoustic guitar. Without distortion or effects, his frenetic playing dazzles, calling to mind Pat Metheny, traditional Flamenco, Derek Bailey and David Pajo, sometimes in the course of a single song. Listening now, I’m recalling the fevered push around the turn of the millennium to push mathy post-hardcore to its furthest limits, and Cheval De Frise were clearly a favored competitor. And now they’ve got an attractive vinyl reissue to commemorate it, dressed up in its own little spacesuit.

Elbis Rever Happy Birthday LP (no label)
Don’t think we’ve ever had a band come through here before claiming a dual residence of Hong Kong and Bilbao, but Elbis Rever apparently aren’t other bands! I have no idea how that works logistically, but seeing as their music is electronics/beats-oriented with dual vocals credited to “Natalia y Alba”, perhaps it’s digitally portable in a way that rock bands aren’t. Lots of mystery that I’ll surely never unravel within Elbis Rever, and it suits their music, which comes across like electro new-wave karaoke from a Lynchian alternate universe. These tracks vary in energy-level and sentiment, but are mostly quite moody and hazy, even when covering ABBA as they do here (“Lay All Your Love On Me”). Reminds me a good bit of Maria Minerva’s Not Not Fun run, or Lena Platonos, particularly on the loopy “Blue”, which sounds like a telanovela swirling down an Autotuned drain. Strange stuff, both in the music’s origin and how surprisingly smooth some of these tracks can be. Elbis Rever seem to think they’re simply playing “pop music”, which I suppose is true, but then they’ve also got Al Karpenter weirdly warbling a spoken-word accompaniment on “Nothing”, which sounds both DIY and ready to soundtrack a sexy big-budget sci-fi thriller. Nice to know some artists are still completely unqualified to cleanly reside in any pre-existing box, fame or glory be damned.

Glitterer Fantasy Four 7″ (Lockin’ Out)
If you’re at all a fan of this website you’re reading right now (or, by some perverse chance, a hater seeking other modern music writing to despise), you’ve gotta sign up for Joint Custody’s “Record Freak” newsletter. I’m not even sure how you do it – there’s probably a link on their site, but I had trouble finding it in the past – but each week, the lovable crew of this DC record shop spins highly thoughtful and conversational takes on music both old and new. I’ve only briefly met Ned(d) Russin, who edits and consistently contributes to that newsletter, a couple times in the past, but he’s started to feel like an old friend just from reading his thoughts on a weekly basis, so I decided to peep the newest EP from his solo project Glitterer. It’s pretty nice! I saw Glitterer perform in upbeat-karoke format a few years ago, like an emo (err, more emo) John Maus, but Fantasy Four is sensitive slacker grunge-pop through and through, much like the kids seem to be enjoying these days. Fuzzy guitars are strummed casually, live drums keep the pace of a riding mower and Russin extends each syllable in strained (but in-tune) emo cadence. The Promise Ring meets Narrow Head, kinda? I appreciate that these songs are kinda understated and easy, and at four of ’em in eight minutes, they feel like sweet sketches from the back of his notepad come to life in Will Yip’s trademark studio.

Katie Alice Greer Barbarism LP (FourFour)
It’s never easy for punks (or in the case of Priests, don’t-call-us-punks) to embark on a solo project after attaining notoriety in a band – nothing checks the ego like having to start from scratch under your own name. And yet, Priests’ Katie Alice Greer did precisely that, essentially learning how to do it all herself in the process, from playing instruments to producing and mixing. Phew! That alone is an accomplishment, but the fact that Barbarism is so damn good is another success entirely. Priests were always a deeply weird band constrained by their mostly not-weird rock band formation, and Greer lets her freak flag fly with this one, digging deep into sounds that wouldn’t have found a home anywhere else and forming catchy little songs out of them. She utilizes loops, live instruments, lo-fi mystery sounds, samples, pretty much anything that can be performed into a microphone or dragged across a laptop screen, and she cobbled together a stunning suite of modern-day reclamations/lamentations. Check “Fake Nostalgia” for starters: riding on a rickety graveyard loop is an absolute earworm of a vocal hook, as if Russian techno-industrialist Pavel Milyakov collided with Taylor Swift in a double-booked studio. It’s that weird/good! The rest of the album dips into Broadcast-y ghost-dance, lo-fi political trip-hop, and there’s “Dreamt I Talk To Horses”, which sounds like pre-“Loser” Beck and Jenny Hval drunk-dancing in the street together. The benefit of doing it all from scratch yourself is that there’s a solid chance you won’t sound like anyone else; Katie Alice Greer is on her own powerful, beautiful trip here.

Indre Krig Destroyer 7″ (Adult Crash)
Unfair judgment alert: I never checked out anything on the Danish Adult Crash label before, solely due to the obvious Minor Threat reference in their name. I understand that an overwhelming percentage of hardcore after, I dunno, 1985?, has looked backwards for inspiration, but Minor Threat are a little too on the nose for me. Am I wrong? I could be wrong, but I also wouldn’t chase down a record by a band called Damaged or Frankenchrist, either… it just seems like aspiring to entry-level homage rather than something hopefully fresh and personal. Unreasonably long rant aside, let’s finally look past such trivialities and peep Indre Krig’s vinyl debut following their 2021 demo, Destroyer. Surely the members of the band previously played in other hardcore-punk bands, as Destroyer is way too polished and lean to be a first-run attempt. Opener “Destroyer” unfurls with the glossy ‘core production of Good Riddance or Strike Anywhere, but the hardcore drum patterns and rapid performance are unmistakeably non-commercial in nature. Certainly in the neighborhood of modern hardcore acts like Punch and Slant and older Euro-core like Demon System 13 and Electric Deads, though Indre Krig’s recording quality is far more produced, full and clean than any of those other bands. With production being so crucial to how hardcore-punk connects to the listener, and me being someone who’d rather listen to Solger than Have Heart, I’d probably prefer something rawer to Indre Krig’s smooth precision, though I respect their approach and recognize Destroyer as the real-deal hardcore-punk it is.

Lady Neptune Noz 12″ (Night School)
In case you didn’t already know – no city parties quite like Glasgow. I didn’t know it until I went there myself, but that population, no matter the style of music or personal aesthetic, really understands how to collectively give yourself over to the night, and it’s a beautiful thing to behold. Thus, it comes as little surprise that Lady Neptune hails from such a locale, her live shows allegedly featuring “foam guns” and “tequila pistols”(?), lots of sweaty skin and bodies flailing like it’s Murphy’s Law at CBGB. She plays a frantic form of gabber techno, with machine-gun style kicks and rave synths that leap across the keyboard. It’s a sound that suits her cover image, eyes rolled back in her head and smiling in a string bikini of some sort, presenting like a new Dollskill x Aphex Twin collaboration. What’s not to love? If anything, I was a bit surprised by how commonplace Noz sounds, utilizing a familiar set of drum sounds and synth pre-sets rather than injecting these tracks with something unexpected, weird or deeply personal. It’s cool stuff for sure, but the music has less distinguishing personality than say, Disciples Of Annihilation, Rob Gee or Nasenbluten. Most likely, the concept of calmly listening to these tracks by myself in my room is far secondary to their primary nature, which is blasting out of a well-worn PA system in the basement of some grimy Glasgow pub, creeps and lovers headbutting the speakers until the sun comes out.

Long Knife Curb Stomp Earth LP (Beach Impediment / Black Water)
There’s no questioning the punk bonafides of Portland’s Long Knife – hell, their second release was a split with Forward, whom they toured the US with back in 2014. You come out the other end of that either hardened and invincible or you’re never heard from again, but Long Knife are clearly thriving, now with the release of their epic third album, Curb Stomp Earth. This is driving hardcore-punk through a diesel-and-black-leather filter, the sort of thing that unites fans of Motörhead and Severed Heads Of State (not that it’s been a difficult bridge to gap in recent years). You could probably win over your stubborn uncle who only listens to Suicidal Tendencies and Pantera with a track like “The Curse” as well, such is the diplomatic nature of these tunes. I can’t help but hear a bit of Fucked Up in Long Knife’s sound (check “Trip To The River” and tell me I’m not crazy), but a friend of mine who spends more time on this side of the ‘core spectrum insists that I’m off the mark. Wouldn’t be the first time! Maybe it’s just the wide-screen delivery of Curb Stomp Earth that gives it that larger-than-life feel, not to mention the inspired choral flourishes (and horn section on “Uncle Phil”, which is just a skip and a jump away from Voodoo Glow Skulls territory, which isn’t a complaint!). Long Knife know that if you wanna go big with hardcore, you have to fully commit – these songs are fully confident and impervious, steamrolling any wishy-washy listeners and uniting the rest of us.

Mai Mai Mai Rimorso 2xLP (Maple Death)
Couldn’t get it out of my head that Italian industrial producer Mai Mai Mai was somehow tied up with Avarus and the Finnish freak-folk scene, at least until I realized I was thinking of their Lal Lal Lal label. This is the type of talk I spare my friends and loved ones from and deliver unto you instead, dear reader! So, it turns out I didn’t know Mai Mai Mai at all, but after spending some time with the rich and expansive Rimorso, his eighth full-length if Discogs is to be believed, I’m a fan. It’s a pretty easy form of rhythmic industrial music to like, with heavy throbbing bass tones, mysterious percussive loops and, as the star of the show, various guest vocals. Mai Mai Mai must’ve been thrilled when he got the raw vocals provided by Maria Violenza Vera Di Lecce, Youmna Saba and Nziria, as they add a level of haunting humanity to these otherwise frigid soundscapes.”Nostalgia” sounds like Diamanda Galas working with Demdike Stare, a perfect goth-industrial combination of dim light and pitch black, whereas other tracks recall the ghouls-night-out playfulness of Ectoplasm Girls or the brooding antagonism of classic Throbbing Gristle. I prefer the rawer moments myself – the choral vocals sometimes get a little too dramatized for my tastes – but Rimorso flows well because of the various ways the listener is pushed and pulled. There are many ways to enter the abyss, and Mai Mai Mai explores them with respect and awareness.

Microwaves Discomfiture Atlas LP (Three.One.G)
Over twenty years of Pittsburgh’s Microwaves! Throughout their history, their approach has stayed mostly the same: Melvins-sized riff-bludgeoning with the pesky buzz of Arab On Radar and an overdose of extemporaneous electronics misfiring throughout. A great formula indeed, and while it doesn’t pack the same WTF punch that it did back in 2002, Microwaves continue to display their mastery of their own particular form on Discomfiture Atlas. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that these songs are more tangled and intricate than ever, as most bands tend to write more elaborate songs the longer they exist, but whereas your average hardcore band’s “maturation” often results in unlistenable pap, complex riffs and off-kilter timing fit Microwaves like a latex glove. They’ll take a tense Fugazi-style guitar lick and blast it into the sort of punishing metal-core associated with Converge or Botch, and then flip that on its skull in some sort of mean-spirited Captain Beefheart impression. It really works! My favorite cut of the bunch might be “New Strategies”, which encapsulates all of what is good about Microwaves right down to the demented Speak & Spell voiceover. Can’t even imagine what these guys’ll sound like in another twenty years!

Mister Water Wet Significant Soil LP (West Mineral Ltd.)
Lots of activity from West Mineral Ltd. since its founding by Huerco S. in 2017, often with artists equally new or newer. They trade in a lot of Midwestern artists with global social connections, Mister Water Wet fitting the bill for nearly all the traits I’ve listed thus far. His debut album came out on the label in 2019, and Significant Soil is his solo follow-up, another stoned-to-the-bone adventure of richly unquantized laptop tricks, tropical confusion and what used to be called IDM before everyone realized it’s a horrible genre tag. It smells like Autechre, trip-hop, Nicholas Malkin, Kid606 and Milan W., all sloshing around in a Nutribullet as the various flavors compete for prominence. It’s a style that could be either incredibly difficult or incredibly easy to create; depending on who is arguing, I could be convinced that Significant Soil was created over a weekend or as the product of two years’ of writing and editing. The real question is whether or not it sounds good, and while this particular style of kitchen-sink ambient is quickly becoming standard par for the course, Significant Soil is a pleasant ride from start to finish, no matter if you’re jostling over a rocky patch or gliding across one of its many glossy membranes.

More Klementines Who Remembers Light LP (Feeding Tube / Twin Lakes)
Meanwhile, over in rural Connecticut: there is no war, no inflation, no technocratic oppression, no sadness, just dogs on a lake, organic vegetable stir-fry, warm friends and endless jams. At least, that’s the impression the Northeastern psych-rock scene has been transmitting for at least half a decade now, from Western Mass to New Haven, CT and Hudson, NY, chock full of good tidings and peaceful connections. This new one from More Klementines follows a path of heady rock tranquility as well, the trio comfortably stretching their legs out on the deck. Bass and drums don’t fully lock-in so much as casually converse while the guitars spiral skyward, not unlike Bardo Pond or the geographically-similar Headroom. These tracks feel improvised, or at least are loose enough around the collar to instill a similar feeling of unhurried psych-rock exploration; a single tone will float for seemingly minutes as someone swipes their hands across bar chimes (as if the music didn’t already conjure images of kindly wizards). “Key Of Caesar” takes a folksy turn, the shortest track and only to feature vocals, which sound like they’re coming from some Neil Young lookalike who welcomes you into his roadside cafe for a quick bite, the last stop before you reach your mountaintop camping destination. Can’t say I know the names of anyone in More Klementines, but I leave Who Remembers Light feeling like friendly companions.

Overcalc Fruits Of The Decision Tree LP (Sleeping Giant Glossolalia)
Overcalc blew me away with his unassuming debut back in 2019, and I thought I was the only one who cared, at least until now that I see Sleeping Giant Glossolalia has released album number two. It’s still great! In case you don’t recall (and I get the impression many of you failed to peep in the first place), Overcalc essentially merges guitar-hero histrionics with perplexing drum machine grids and a krautrock sensibility. Imagine an extended durational meeting between Manuel Göttsching and Mick Barr and you’re on the right track, or perhaps Champs as remixed by Black Dice, or Iron Maiden, had they been produced by Conny Plank for a 1976 Brain Records release??? These songs open up plenty of space for wild fantasies, further proof that heavy-metal guitar showboating can be applied to essentially any musical template with solid-to-exceptional results. Granted, this sort of idea could easily fall apart in incapable hands, but Overcalc (the solo work of Baltimore’s Nick Skrobisz) is inspired in its performance and construction; Skrobisz runs through counterpointed riffs and strict musical delineations with flair and technicality, taking on the role of a mad scientist more than a home-recording guitarist. He’s certainly found a shining form of musical alchemy here, and while I probably can’t convince every one of you to pick up this record, most of y’all should check this out.

Roméo Poirier Living Room LP (Faitiche)
Yes, this is another bleep-bloop gauzy-loop domestic-ambient artist, and if you’re getting a little sick of those I don’t blame you, but for those of us with continued capacity for this style, Roméo Poirier’s newest is a cut above the rest. His previous album (2020’s Hotel Nota) garnered some attention for its lazy, languid trips, electronic ambient music somewhere between sunburnt and sunkissed, and this new one feels equally beachfront, albeit a beach on an entirely different planet. I’m reminded a lot of Mike Cooper’s tiki-tronica, though there aren’t any guitars here, really – this music moves on a subtle current of synths and passive fourth-world percussion, like coconuts clanking together overhead while violins, a snoring puppy and a neighbor watering their garden are slip-slided through a catacomb of reverb and dub effects. Compared to many contemporaries reviewed in these very pages, Living Room is more active and attention-grabbing than most, a humanized form of pop-ambient electronic music that relies more on sweet melodic twists and memorable sounds than extended field-recordings, drone or spoken-word. Rather than a purposely passive background music, Living Room bristles with life and activity, chock full of sonic vignettes that promise, if not an entirely better world, at least a very believable illusion of one.

Radiation Risks Welcome To Bad Boy City 7″ (Swimming Faith)
Buffalo’s Radiation Risks made the most of their couple years on this planet, moving from demo tape to Lumpy Records single to self-released album in the span of a couple years. Delays and hold-ups have become part of the record business landscape, so I’m not totally surprised that Welcome To Bad Boy City comes out some four years after the groups’ demise, and after spinning it, I can see why Swimming Faith insisted on getting it out to the public. This is some cool, frantic hardcore-punk! Their hardcore essentially pushes garage-punk to unhinged speeds, yet they manage to keep it tethered down – they allegedly toured the hell out of the years they were around, and these songs sound like they’re extremely well-rehearsed. I’m reminded of Brown Sugar (maybe they even share a member, who can say) in the way that the music tumbles forward without sacrificing creativity or weirdness. For example, someone in the band decided these songs needed the noodling of a clean guitar here and there and what do you know, it really works. Fans of The Rites, S.N.O.T. and even The Dwarves will dig in to this one immediately, a rowdy hardcore climax right through the cowboy-fied Dead Kennedys’ style of the final track, “Prescription Pest”.

R.M.F.C. Access 7″ (Anti Fade)
No, not R.F.T.C., this is Rock Music Fan Club, the bedroom punk project that comes from an Australian named Buz Clatworthy, whom I insist on believing was named that at birth. This is some “sounds too fast at 45 RPM but is actually to be played at 45 RPM” punk, and I’m still a little suspicious – are his drum rolls and guitar licks really that fast? Let’s assume that “Access” is a real song, because it’s a hot little number in the crowded field of weird-punk. The guitar whizzes out a confident little riff with aplomb, and the drums punch it into the floor, like The Embarrassment’s early stuff (but faster) or a more, umm, mature progression of the Coneheads sound. No keyboard bleeps or impossibly-nasal vocals, just some extremely cool guitar work and a song shaped out of it. “Air Conditioning” is allegedly a cover of The Lillettes, but seeing as I’m suspicious of everything else about this record, I wasn’t certain they were a real band until I took a look at Discogs and confirmed that such a band existed in Australia between 1979 and 1981. A shame they never made it to vinyl in their day, as “Air Conditioning” is a gratifying post-punk bop, going static-robot on the verse and strumming coolly on the chorus, or at least that’s how R.M.F.C. decided to spin it. In a scene of punks trying to out-weird each other, R.M.F.C. did the weirdest thing of all by offering up some damned understated brilliance on both sides of this single!

Coby Sey Conduit LP (AD 93)
The cultural temperature of London has always been best assessed by the music coming out of it, at least for as long as I’ve been alive. Much like where I live, that city seems buzzing and teetering on the edge of revolt right now, as evidenced by the melancholic grey skies of Burial, the street-level psycho-drama of Blackhaine, the febrile tension of Moin and the dizzying spoken-word industrial of Coby Sey’s Conduit. Conduit is constantly on the move, shark-like I’d say, from staccato blasts of static interference to downtempo illbient (“Permeated Secrets” being a nice example of the latter). Sey raps, speaks, and intones spools of lyrics throughout, and while a comparison to Moor Mother isn’t entirely unwarranted, Sey’s personality is far more relaxed, casual and, well, British. He’s not speaking on generational trauma or alternate realities so much as the people he bumps shoulders with on the tube, paper cups of coffee on the bus, personal hopes and communal longings. It works well with the wide variety of rhythms and sonic approaches, touching on grime and footwork and noise without planting roots in any one territory. For example, “Night Ride” starts off like Rrose or something, stark industrial-techno that abruptly gives way to pitched vocal tracks you’d never hear on a Rrose track. Conduit isn’t an obvious fit for AD 93, or any other label at all really, simply because there isn’t much else out there right now that sounds like this.

Smelly Feet Smelly Neu Pollution LP (Minimum Table Stacks)
Minimum Table Stacks makes the admiral jump from a blog that champions old neglected weirdo lo-fi music to a record label that releases the very same! Their inaugural release is this discography of sorts from Auckland’s Smelly Feet, the solo project of one Brent Hayward. If you’re not familiar, please google his band Shoes This High and listen to their sole EP (dare-I-say a top ten post-punk single), and once you’ve experienced that thrill, we can talk about his acoustic solo project that followed it, Smelly Feet. Bold name for a project, but according to the loving liner notes from Stuart Page and The Dead C’s Bruce Russell, Hayward walked his own freaky walk in an era where punk existed far outside the mainstream. Smelly Neu Pollution collects the two Smelly Feet seven-inch EPs along with some cassette tracks – all the Smelly Feet any reasonable person could require – and it’s a fun and rambunctious display of his personality. Some songs are silly, others are remarkably vulnerable and forthright, but they all come from Hayward’s effusive heart and his beat-up acoustic guitar, a true free-thinking oddball who followed his nose and no one else’s. For fans of tweaky Kiwi post-punk, The Fall, Beyond The Implode, and so on…

Sumerlands Dreamkiller LP (Relapse)
Gratuitous heavy metal bliss! I loved the first Sumerlands record, the brainchild of metal wunderkind Arthur Rizk, but this new one takes his metal kingdom to even higher heights. You might know Rizk from producing basically every metal and metal-adjacent album you loved in the past ten years (from Trapped Under Ice to Kreator and back), but Sumerlands is a richly traditional affair, staunchly ’80s in its formulation and approach. Intricate, pitch-perfect guitar solos are guaranteed, and new vocalist Brendan Radigan (of Magic Circle) fills Phil Swanson’s leather boots and then some. Ozzy Osbourne’s Bark At The Moon often comes to mind as I listen, though the power ballads “The Savior’s Lie” and “Night Ride” call to mind Journey at their most brooding (which I love), and the righteous “Force Of A Storm” reminds me of Gamma Ray’s mix of introspection and technically impeccable riffage. They don’t just nail the sound and style (though they absolutely do that) – Sumerlands crafted an album of brand-new heirs to the classic heavy-metal canon, sing-along rippers that should be blasting out of FM radios in mechanic garages during the day and pizza shops at night. The best metal transports you elsewhere while solidifying a sense of self and connecting you to likeminded souls, and Dreamkiller takes me away every single time.

Aki Tsuyuko Leo LP (Enban)
Lucky for Aki Tsuyuko, her music became inextricably linked in my heart to a couple of heavy Christmas present-wrapping sessions I had back in late 2020. I had picked up her album with Ippei Matsui a couple weeks prior and it was the perfect soundtrack for the task at hand, modest keyboard miniatures for warm thoughts of family while still in stressful isolation. Tsuyuko is a lifelong musician, seemingly less interested in proper releases than simply enjoying her keyboards and the spaces in which she can play them, so I’m glad that Leo is now here. It features her KAWAI Dreamatone organ, a keyboard she’s played for so many years that it’s apparently on its way out, which adds a sweet sadness to the humble melodies found on this record. Field recordings are used to roughen-up or contextualize the proceedings, as has quickly become a common custom of the underground. Sounds like she’s walking through a thicket at one point on the side-long a-side track, or maybe opening a packet of crackers? A key unlocks a door as the Dreamatone warms up, cozier than a weighted blanket with a sleeping cat on top. Would’ve been a perfect contribution to the sweet nappytime sounds on that Labyrinth Of Memories compilation, but it seems that Tsuyuko has been working in longer form lately as opposed to brief vignettes. I’ve enjoyed Leo both passively and actively, either way wishing it would kinda just go on forever.

V-3 Hit Dead Center With My Disease LP (Bravecloud)
As our interest in the future declines and we seek further comfort in the past, it’s been working out nicely for the world of underground reissues. No less than three full-length V-3 albums were released without warning at the same time, all on the Nudge Squidfish-related Bravecloud label, all of which offer previously-unreleased material from Squidfish’s V-3 “vault”. The tracks span a number of years, and are sequenced here in non-linear order – a weird tossed-off post-punk explosion from 1990 might back into a somber groove from years earlier, culled from a variety of studio sessions and live shows. I’m reviewing Hit Dead Center With My Disease here, but on The Enemy Within, one track goes back as far as 1980! Interesting choice to issue three separate albums rather than a sole boxset, but it’s kinda cool they did it this way, as you can check out as much as you want without the commitment of a big purchase (a single LP is a big enough purchase these days anyway). What’s crazy to me is how, in the scheme of sub-underground American rock deviancy, a strong case could be made for the essentiality of all three of these new V-3 albums! Helmed by the late great Jim Shepherd, V-3 shifted between emotions, energy levels and instrumentation with the grace and proficiency of an Olympic dancer. On Hit Dead Center, they seem to predict the existence of various future underground trends (warped collage, spazzy freak-outs, simmering post-punk, blazing Americana, drum machines) while reveling in a post-Velvets post-punk haze at a time when few others could grasp it. Shephard, Squidfish and the rest of their crew proved an inspired team, surely under-appreciated in their day. The world seems to be catching up to them, though, these three reissues perfectly timed for dreary autumnal accompaniment.

YNV Cosmic Cult EP 12″ (Neubau)
Vienna’s Neubau label always garners my attention, as their dedication to slow and seductive techno in the form of stark twelve-inch EPs is deeply aligned with my personal interests. This new one comes from YNV, who tows the company line appropriately with these three songs. He certainly got the BPM memo: the first two tracks shuffle at like 80 BPM or something, pulsing with ominous presence and old-school techno sound effects. “Cosmic Cult” is the perfect soundtrack to a man in a tailored black suit carrying a mysterious briefcase through Cairo’s streets after dark, whereas “Chasing The Oracle”, the final cut, reveals that he was simply hand-delivering refreshments to a hookah lounge on a penthouse floor. Cool stuff for sure, but when weighed against Neubau personal faves like Gil.Barte, AngstLust and Tassilo Vanhöfen, YNV has less of a distinctive personality, more of a placeholder sound than a breakthrough moment. Nothing wrong with that, especially if your Neubau levels are low, but it probably won’t be too long before I hide my YNV tab and refresh my Gil.Barte one for updates. New Gil.Barte record when??