Reviews – May 2024

Argy New World 2xLP (Afterlife)
Absolute brain-shrinking Euro techno here from Greece’s Argy (short for the trickier name of Argyris Theofilis). I hadn’t encountered him before, probably because my techno tastes tend to detour around this big dumb populist sound, but I’ll be damned if Argy doesn’t bring it here on New World. If you have any tolerance for neo-trance, you’ll want to promptly step to the fourteen hefty tracks here, full of ridiculous vocal-chant samples as hooks, power-drops and speed-runs, decadent rave sounds meant for packed capacity rooms with nary a single native English speaker on the floor. It’s like going to Six Flags or watching a Michael Bay movie: sure, these moves are studied and corny, but what’s cornier is complaining about them instead of simply giving yourself over to the music’s joyous over-indulgence. It’s euphoria by design, but it’s still a form of euphoria, and I’ll take it. What’s especially crazy to me is how, across fourteen lengthy cuts, Argy keeps the energy fresh and renewed, with a wide variety of samples and sounds and patches all lunging with the force and grace of a track star. It’s gaudy and beautiful and boldly unashamed, and I completely get it, Argy!

Broken Hearts Are Blue Meeting Themselves LP (Council)
Aww, are they? They’re blue?? This Michigan group materialized in the initial era of saccharine-sweet emo bands, back when a name like Broken Hearts Are Blue seemed like a reasonable choice to all of us, and much like every other ’90s indie band, they found their way back together in the 2010s. Unlike many of their peers, however, they wrote a lot more music the second time around – rather than relying on old material, Meeting Themselves is their second full-length since 2021. I hadn’t caught them back in the day, and at least by now they sound different than I would’ve expected, with really only the slightest essence of emo rather than the prevailing sound and style. Broken Hearts Are Blue play rootsy, downtrodden alt-rock replete with Ryan Gage’s Corgan-ish vocals consistently piercing through the fog. It’s languid in presentation and tends to avoid taking any big risks, for better or worse. These are subdued and shy songs, geared for slow-dancing after the party guests have left, writing a love letter and not sending it, or romanticizing feelings of anxiety and gloom. It’s less distinctive than Elliott Smith, Cloud Nothings or The War On Drugs, but would fit right in on such a playlist. I can’t say I am feeling these tunes myself, though I will always salute fellow grown adults who pursue their music and art solely for the pleasure it brings them. It’s just that my hater heart is red.

Canal Irreal Someone Else’s Dance LP (Beach Impediment)
Canal Irreal’s 2021 debut didn’t leave much of an impression on me, but the follow-up Someone Else’s Dance comes roaring out of the gate and doesn’t let up. Whereas the first album felt restrained and moody, and, well, kinda rudimentary, Someone Else’s Dance pushes goth-y melodic punk to dangerous speeds and I’m loving it. They’re going for that whole Second Empire Justice thing that’s been hot lately (Home Front being its most blatant worshippers), but these songs stand up on their own, not as spot-the-influence punk nostalgia. It really helps that they’re playing with such vigor and intensity without sacrificing hooks or melody… the first four tracks come in so strong, calling to mind Naked Raygun and Bad Religion back when they had dogs in the fight. It’s hard for me to get excited by any sort of moody, chorus-pedal punk these days, and while Canal Irreal may have spawned from that general sound, it’s clear that they have so much more to offer than the rest of the pack. I also made it this far into the review without mentioning that Martin of Los Crudos is the singer, trading in the full-throated squeal of his 20s and 30s for a harsh yet tuneful bellow befitting his hardcore tenure. He could carry any punk band to some level of success, but Someone Else’s Dance is greater than the sum of its parts.

Chalk The Beat Sessions 12″ (Tall Texan)
Tall Texan continues to convert recent and obscure cassette releases into appealing slabs of vinyl, this new one coming from Chalk AKA Barry Elkanick (otherwise of Institute). I recall Chalk’s 2022 full-length on Post Present Medium, documented in these very pages, as a cool-if-scatterbrained discharge of noisy, aggrieved post-punk, and this new offering fleshes things out a bit with plenty of bumps and contusions along the way. The guitar tone is about as raw as you can get while still sounding death-rocky – can that poor chorus pedal handle being pushed to such scalding temps? It’s a nice fit for songs that recall the miserable white-boy voodoo of Gun Club, the frantic unfocused energy of Iceage’s early years, Poison Ruïn’s melodic-goth punk and Crisis-styled post-punk marching, not necessarily far from what Institute initially came up with (if perhaps more dynamic). A track like “Prickly Pear” is a nice example: the guitar is sickly yet melodic and memorable and the vocals are absolutely belligerent, presenting like Chain Of Flowers if they showed up hours late after their van was stolen and the singer quit. Not sure if Elkanick is responsible for all the instruments himself… I’ll award bonus points if that’s his fantastic drumming on here, though I’m secretly hoping Chalk is a full band now and one that I might get to someday witness live.

Coffin Pricks Semi-Perfect Crimes LP (Council)
Ryan Weinstein released a great album last year as Coffin Prick, the name an overt nod to the group he had going for a brief time in the early ’10s in Chicago, the plural Coffin Pricks (alongside Chris Thomson of The Monorchid and Jeff Rice of Calvary). If you told me in the late ’90s that a band featuring Skull Kontrol, Ottawa and Cavity members would someday exist, I’d have dropped my peach Snapple in a fit of ecstasy, and I’m still pleased to check them out today in the form of this posthumous full-length comprised of live and studio recordings. There’s a through-line in all Thomson-fronted bands – his distinctive voice is unmistakable – and Coffin Pricks maintains his rep as an agitated punk vocalist par excellence. Coffin Pricks play(ed) an upbeat, driving form of melodic punk, perhaps lacking some of the youthful aggression of the three players’ earlier bands but far from easing into mellow post-hardcore retirement. “Cielo Drive” gallops like The Monorchid, though Thomson’s voice is understandably reigned in a bit throughout, surely a matter more of physical capacity than a softened disposition. It’s not too far from the more straight-ahead Skull Kontrol tunes, and almost nearing Government Issue or The Descendents at some points, a very polished and tight performance by three seasoned players who continue to understand what makes punk work (something too easily forgotten by many of their generational peers).

Container Yacker LP (Alter)
Few Americans have straddled the line between noise and techno with the success of Ren Schofield. More than straddle it, he’s basically ridden it like a mechanical bull over multiple stellar full-lengths (deliriously all titled LP up until this one). Charting through his discography, his beats are somehow more visceral and impactful, his synths more corrosive and dangerous, his outlook more curious and sinister than the majority of his cohorts. I don’t want to say he mastered squealing-hot acid-industrial techno, but for the non-LP titled full-length Yacker, Schofield takes a slightly different sonic approach, a warm and wiggly call-back to his Providence noise-rock upbringing. Utilizing the most “real” drum sound palette to date, he essentially morphs the classic Load Records style into his punishing digital realm. These tracks sound like synthetic versions of Lightning Bolt, from the tirelessly bludgeoning drum patterns and the way they subtly shift (and gain intensity) with repetition to the body-jab bass-lines which stick like duct tape to the percussion. It’s almost uncanny! The gear and overall sound is purely electronic, but the feel is ecstatic, rhythmic noise-rock, like Yamatsuka Eye whipping his glowing orbs at M Ax Noi Mach across a firecode-failing warehouse show space. It’s a great twist in the Container story, and a sound that no one else is doing, even with half the intensity. I can already smell the low-ceilinged-basement art-kid push-pit frothing up against Container like waves on a shore, and you know what, I want more than just a sniff.

Double Morris Sunshine Numbers LP (Half A Million)
The cover of Double Morris’s Sunshine Numbers makes it clear: never get between a toad and his moonshine. That’s par for the course with this appealingly perplexing release, apparently a 2013 recording of a Chicago-based group whose current activity level eludes me. They’re a rock group that is loose by design, the songs tumbling outward and onto the floor in a manner that feels close to US Maple, although whereas US Maple couldn’t conceal their seething contempt, Double Morris come across like hound dogs with broken hearts. These songs sound like they’re really going through it, to the point where it can feel as though you accidentally walked into an elevator where a couple are breaking up for the fifth and final time. The album opens with the lines “remember for years we didn’t speak? / then I tripped over you for weeks / well what is it you’re after? / after a six pack and muscle relaxers” and proceeds from there, spotlighting emotional wounds both fresh and scabbed-over. “The Cost” sounds like a hybrid of Dirty Three and Cows, a sea-sick shanty that wishes it could play some Mudhoney riffs were it able to get out of bed. It’s simultaneously a very Chicago-sounding record and pretty darn unique, like they could’ve had a Touch & Go run if they existed a couple decades earlier, confusing the stupider fans of Shellac and The Black Heart Procession if given half a chance.

Giulio Erasmus Second Attempt LP (Mangel)
Pretty cool case of the apple not falling far from the tree: Giulio Erasmus is the son of Factory Records’ founder Alan Erasmus and he’s been making his own music for a few years now. The young Giulio probably could’ve finagled that familial relationship into some sort of social-media influencer grift, maybe hocking his own line of rip-off Unknown Pleasures t-shirts (and having some actual claim to do so), but he takes the far nobler route of making music that actively avoids the spotlight. I wouldn’t expect to encounter the extremely warped post-punk of Second Attempt anywhere but tucked into a deep, dank NTS or WFMU show. It’s surely a home-recording / non-live deal, which allows Erasmus to tinker throughout, editing a variety of strange electronic snaps over backwards sped-up strings (check out “Tomorrow, In Winter”) with a seemingly wide variety of sound-making devices at his disposal. If the drums aren’t “real”, they at least sound like they used to be, knocking up against all sorts of crusty synths and errant pulses. A post-punk/dub groove is never far away from the madness, with tracks like “Collapsed, Speech” and “Strangers” sounding like Exek blown to bits or Mark Stewart kicking his gear across the room in a fiery act of protest, all with the nagging sense that Erasmus appreciates Not Waving and Actress as much as the classic post-punk canon. When it comes to effects-laden post-punk grooves, there’s a tendency to either gravitate towards the center or fling one’s self outwards: Second Attempt is out there in the deepest orbit and sporting a sly grin.

Famous Mammals Famous Mammals LP (Inscrutable)
Famous Mammals were the configuration I still needed to hear from that vague constellation of San Fran outré indie (Non Plus Temps, The World, Preening, Cindy, Children Maybe Later and so on), somehow sleeping on that Siltbreeze album that made some waves the way a solid Siltbreeze album will do. Inscrutable Records took the opportunity to release Famous Mammals’ 2021 debut cassette on the appropriate twelve-inch-sized vinyl slab. As far as UKDIY-inspired lo-fi pop goes, Famous Mammals is easy to enjoy. A drum machine sputters without fills or intros and bass-lines are deployed over top, leaving plenty of room for guitar, vocals and an assortment of sound effects to color the space with personality. Andy Human is one third of the group, and while I know he’s got roughly a hundred different bands under his belt with varying degrees of “success”, Fam Mam feels like a vehicle he can relax in, where precision comes in last place behind experimental tinkering, simple jangly melodies and (self-)amusing ideas. I love the squeaky clatter of the opening track “Psychological Housekeeping”, just as I appreciate not knowing if that’s an accordion or trumpet I’m hearing in “Ode To Nikki” (neither instruments are credited in the liners so it’s almost certainly a third thing). Time to go raid the Siltbreeze warehouse across town to snag a copy of their other LP – anyone have razor-wire cutters I can borrow?

The Follies Permanent Present Tense LP (Feel It)
Made it through a few songs on this vinyl debut from New York’s The Follies and I was thinking it sounded a whole lot like the Vanity guy singing. Turns out it is indeed Evan Radigan on vocals and guitar, and in our age of complete media oversaturation, it’s a nice trick to have a sound that’s not only memorable but recognizable as well. Radigan brings unsung axe-master Michael Liebman in on lead guitar (who first stole my heart in Vexx), and with a proactive rhythm section has quite the band going in The Follies. They tackle the era of late ’70s power-pop as it converged into hard rock, breathing fresh new life into its well-worn leather. They’ve got too much integrity to fall back on overused riffs, so these songs dart and dash in interesting directions, though never to the point where they lose the script, one of Thin Lizzy, Aerosmith, Socrates Drank The Conium, Rose Tattoo and the punker end of the Powerpearls bootlegs. These folks have clearly done many bands before this, yet there’s an excitement behind these songs that feels more like a group hitting the road for the first time than the seasoned players hooking up for their eighth new project that they are. Maybe this one’ll stick around!

Jayson Green & The Jerk Local Jerk / I Need Love 12″ (DFA)
Here’s a record that should’ve happened in 2006 but I’m glad it’s happening now instead… quite simply, certain sounds are best received when fully out of step with the times. Jayson Green is of course the frontman for Orchid (I say “is” instead of “was” because they’re playing shows again!), a longtime Brooklyn hipster/agitator in the best possible sense, and he shares his first material under his own name in the most appropriate manner: a big DFA twelve-inch single. I wasn’t sure what to expect exactly, but it turns out he’s serving the same undisputed, disco-fied, Ze Records NYC post-punk with which DFA established themselves back when Brooklyn was still meeting each other in the bathroom instead of on Taskrabbit. “Local Jerk” pushes the drums up front, fat and crispy, with a !!!-caliber bass-line, some sharp horns and a group vocal chant, garnished with some lively party chatter. Does Green even play anything on this track? Sure, it’s been done many times before (by this very same label), but if you don’t enjoy a cut like “Local Jerk”, chances are you’re a bit of a loser, I’m sorry. “I Need Love” looks to skewer DJ culture with a deadpan vocal over weirdly menacing guitar and industrial-funk bass, and while this topic has been successfully roasted countless times before, Green’s heart is clearly in it, a hilarious success that entertains throughout repeated listens. Orchid should cover it!

Hooper Crescent Essential Tremors LP (Spoilsport)
Melbourne’s Hooper Crescent chose an approachably quirky painting for the cover, what with various fruit and objects spraying forth from a volcanic lava blast, and it offers a reasonable introduction to their (also approachably quirky) sound. They’ve got a synth-forward indie-rock style happening here, friendly and funky and silly without going overboard. The songs bop at a relaxed pace, with wry lyrical commentary on modern life delivered in an offbeat yelp. I’m reminded of Imperial Teen and the way they worked their way around synth-y power-pop with multi-gendered vocals and the sense of a historical relationship with punk rock. The melodies are busy without getting messy, darting around the fretboards in a manner that reminds me of fellow Melburnians Vintage Crop and Total Control, at least if either of those bands listened to lots of Pylon and Talking Heads. If that’s your kinda sound, Hooper Crescent present a fine offering in Essential Tremors, well-produced and sharp, though it might be a little too friendly and well-mannered for my personal tastes. It just sounds like a band where every last member is perfectly well-adjusted, competent and aware of their eccentricities, and well, how exciting can that really be?

Kite Losing / Glassy Eyes 7″ (Dais)
Very psyched to see Swedish duo Kite linking up with American synth/goth/industrial arbiter Dais, as perfect a fit as skinny forearms in black PVC opera gloves. Kite’s profile in their homeland has grown considerably through the years, performing in venues like the Royal Swedish Opera, the open-air limestone-quarry-turned-theatre Dalhalla and next year “on ice” in the Avicii Arena, yet it still doesn’t feel like these stadium-sized venues are large enough for the incredible bombast of their dramatic, romantic synth-pop. They’re certainly poised to be the Celine Dion of gothic synth music, and this new single (they only really seem to release singles?) is another heart-pounding requiem. The beat doesn’t show up for the first couple minutes in “Losing”, leaving plenty of room for Niklas Stenemo’s otherworldly vocals. He’s joined by Henric de la Cour, a vocal pairing that could invoke rich emotional pathos from a damn Family Guy script. Eventually the beat arrives and we’re wiping our eyeliner-stained tears and dancing. “Glassy Eyes” is another forlorn ballad, free of percussion or anything besides a keyboard’s mournful reverberation and Stenemo’s unmistakable vocal, like the eyebrow-less alien lovechild of Geddy Lee and Whitney Houston. The thought of building a colony on Mars seems pointless and silly to me unless Kite get to be the first group to perform there.

Laksa Voices 12″ (Ilian Tape)
Munich’s Ilian Tape makes it easy for dilettantes to keep up with the vanguard of European underground techno, covering a variety of styles with a trustworthy level of quality. I recognize Laksa from the Bristol-centered post-dubstep bass scene of the mid ’10s, folks like Batu, Ploy and Alex Coulton, and that’s more or less what he’s still up to here on Ilian Tape. You can’t call a track “Tech Steppas” and half-ass it, and he certainly does not – it’s a big mean skank, a double-time percussive loop over a half-time strut. “LED” whips some wobbling bass into a frenzy and “The Art Of Slip” goes hard on the cowbell and a big thick synth rip, sounding like God zipping his anorak up and down. I’m reminded of all those Hessle Audio singles that taught me to love forward-minded Bristolian bass music, but much like the best sides from Joe, Bandshell and Elgato, Laksa imbues his cuts with a playful creativity, like he’s having as much fun in the studio as I am in front of the stereo. Do I do it? Do I step up and purchase Ilian Tape’s full digital discography on Bandcamp for €501.38? It’s only a click away…

Love Child Never Meant To Be 1988-1993 2xLP (12XU)
From the endlessly fertile artistic grounds of New York City and its surrounding counties came Love Child in the years outlined in the title of this comprehensive discography release. A trio comprised of Brendan O’Malley, Rebecca Odes and a pre-improv Alan Licht, they swapped traditional rock instruments and took turns singing, each member clearly bursting with ideas different from one another but welcomed just the same. Nothing was off-limits if they could play it, it seems – paisley jangle, fuzzed-out pop-punk, no-wave freakouts and avant-minded college-rock are all on offer here, happily clashing up against each other like the varied characters you’d have found in Sonic Youth’s pit at the time. If you could uncover it, there was a wild variety of underground sounds happening at the time and it seems that Love Child soaked it all up, whether it was Pussy Galore’s noise or The Replacements’ tuneful debauchery. Two LPs of archival recordings is a lot to chew on, but the sheer excitement Love Child puts on display makes for an easy trip. Whether they decide to write a song called “Diane” and shout that name over and over until it’s just a sound, trip into an extended bout of dark and noisy psychedelia on “All Is Loneliness” or toss out a catchy new-wave bop with the casual cool of “He’s So Sensitive”, the pleasure they obviously shared in being a creative young band is both palpable and infectious.

Francisco Mela & Zoh Amba Causa y Effecto, Vol. 2 LP (577)
The second summit of saxophonist Zoh Amba and drummer Francisco Mela is uplifting enough that my back pain recedes while I sit here listening to it… they’re like chiropractors of the soul! As a duo, Mela and Amba perform a fairly traditional form of drums-and-sax free-jazz, while also revealing that the very nature of the music can easily slip into timelessness when performed by devout practitioners with a deep love of both sound and each other. Amba slips into countless melodic phrases, as repetitive and different as the flow of a stream, and Mela takes a relaxed, congenial approach, as if he’s setting the table for Amba’s colorful charcuterie. Mela also sparsely sings throughout, seemingly off-the-cuff and only when his spirit is moved towards vocalizing; “Experiencias” opens with his lively babbling before Amba even steps into the room. They never reach full-throttle freakout mode, which of course isn’t their point anyway. Causa y Effecto, Vol. 2 is a convincing argument for the powers of “unity in sound”, free-jazz’s kinder gentler side but no less thrilling than even the most bum-rushing white-knuckle skronk.

The Minneapolis Uranium Club Infants Under The Bulb LP (Static Shock / Anti Fade)
It has truly never been easier to make music than right now, what with the proliferation of cheap/free recording software and the vast and unpaid marketplace wherein to hock your wares digitally. Any one of us could whip up an egg-punk band over the next weekend and probably have it sound halfway decent, which is simultaneously good and depressing. As such, I find myself drawn more than ever to qualities that cannot be replicated with ease, namely artistry, effort and vision. The Minneapolis Uranium Club (I call ’em “Uranium Club” for short) are thankfully here to provide me with musical and artistic concepts that can’t be churned out overnight – take the cover of Infants Under The Bulb for example, which apparently involved hiring like a hundred people to wear costumes all in a choreographed group shot, solely because Uranium Club had this weird idea and carried it out. That dedication to finding their own thorny path seeps out of this new album, one that maintains the high level of quality I’ve come to expect from the group. The songs continue to skip tightly and rambunctiously, somewhere in the vague realms of The Fall, Richard Hell & The Voidoids, Coneheads and Parquet Courts, with vocals that either react to the music dramatically or ignore it entirely, spools of cleverly-constructed lyrics decrying our uniquely awful time. There’s a spoken-word audio-play in three parts, a song that turns the luxury fashion tag “Tokyo Paris L.A. Milan” into a catchy refrain, and most importantly, an inspired collection of ideas and songs from top to bottom that you won’t find anywhere else, not at least until PunkMusicGPT gets wind of it.

Nah Totally Recalled LP (Viernulvier)
Normally when there’s a project based around cut-up drum loops, breaks and samples, you’d think weed would be the associated drug of choice, but in the hands of Nah (AKA Mike Kuun) it’s all distilled into pure Monster Energy. Kuun’s restless spirit pushes his dynamic and fast-changing tracks closer to something like footwork, though Totally Recalled flows with a polished slickness, with many sonic motifs appearing for a blip or half a blip before disintegrating, a different approach from the jackhammering repetition of classic footwork. It’s all about rhythm with Nah though, and the rhythms are frequently dazzling – I’d point you to the ecstatic drum workout of “Hallucinated Several Times” in particular, which reaches a manic techno-adjacent frenzy I’d expect to hear at a Príncipe DJ night. I could live in that fist-pumping, snare-driven rave stasis forever, but Nah swiftly shifts patterns like an Ioniq cutting across multiple lanes on a highway, each new idea introduced with a treacherous burst of excitement. Totally Recalled is an album unable to contain its enthusiasm, a sonically transmitted boost of energy no matter where Nah originally sourced its components.

Olsvangèr Icy Hookups 12″ (Kalahari Oyster Cult)
Amsterdam’s Kalahari Oyster Cult is a strident contributor to the Euro techno scene and beyond, dropping like a dozen EPs a year with some full-lengths peppered in for good measure. They’re a crucial lifeline for a guy like me who isn’t out there in Berlin, Antwerp and Copenhagen four nights a week, and their track record reeks of quality and discernment. This brings me to the new EP from Berlin’s Olsvangèr, coming correct with four tracks of not-too-hard tech house. These cuts nod to big-time ’90s rave moves, calling to mind the echoes of Underworld and Darude (you know, “Sandstorm”) but updated with today’s post-internet aesthetics in mind. I think “Paranoweed” might be my favorite, a real throwback gem that finds new angles to familiar chords – it’s like the techno that accompanies the pause screen of a Dreamcast racing game from 2001, eerily able to stick in your mind long after the power is turned off. After years of groove-less industrial-techno infecting my bloodstream, the swing of “Bubble Toy” and the maximum-vocoder twist to “Grand Slammin'” are welcome mood shifts, uplifting and effervescent with trance and funky house touches.

Reek Minds Malignant Existence LP (Iron Lung)
Quite a potent distillation of fast n’ ugly hardcore here from Portland’s Reek Minds, a righteous full-length follow-up to their two great EPs. They remind me of when power-violence bands would slow it down half a notch and play fast hardcore instead of grind for a song or two, capping it off with first-wave death-metal vocals over these aggro rhythms in the spirit of Koro and YDI. “Cast Me To Hell”, for example, careens through alleys in a manner befitting No Comment, though the whole thing feels notably grosser, like you’d have to finally wash your jeans if Reek Minds brushed up against you in the pit. Malignant Existence is the least approachable form of classic American hardcore, stuff that the clean-cut folks who mostly collect all the early Revelation and Dischord stuff will never fully appreciate, which of course is a sign of top caliber hardcore-punk. Why spend your paycheck on the fifth-coolest Minor Threat variant when you can pick up Battalion Of Saints and White Cross EPs instead? The cover art is a fittingly modern corollary to the monstrous imagery Morbid Mark was known for back in the late ’80s, and that same spirit carries over to Reek Minds’s sensibilities. If there’s ever a sequel to the Apocalyptic Convulsions compilation, Reek Minds deserve the side-one track-one slot.

Regler + Courtis Regel #13 [Noise Rock] LP (Nashazphone)
Regler, the occasional duo of Brainbombs member Anders Bryngelsson and the infamous Mattin, are joined by Anla Courtis of Reynols for the thirteenth thematic Regler album, this time tackling the genre of, you guessed it, noise-rock. Overly saturated yet well-suited for the talents of these three, Regel #13 [Noise Rock] operates much as I suspected it might. That is to say, the fun is sucked out of it completely, offering zero concessions to the listener in search of the deepest darkest noise-rock truth, somewhere in its base atomic form. I think it’s Bryngelsson on the drums, and of course he plods ever forward, nary a fill or break in sight, as Mattin and Courtis unload their tuneless guitar distortion like cement pouring into a cavern. They’ve certainly got enough to turn the Grand Canyon into a skatepark, pouring it out with the jet-engine thrust of Skullflower at their least friendly. That’s the a-side cut, whereas the b-side dispenses with any notion of “rock” for a digital hurricane of harsh noise, as if The Rita got ahold of the stems to the first side and tossed it like chum into his shark tank. The pitch of the frequencies are always changing, but the harsh-noise-wall outcome is consistent, a powerful clog remover for even the nastiest of drains. Cool stuff, though “noise rock” seems like a softball for these guys – let’s hear your spirited take on hyperpop, Regler!

Rosali Bite Down LP (Merge)
Gotta hand it to the hardest working rocker in the biz, Rosali Middleman! Alongside her band of scruffy, smiley beardos, she’s been on the road more than at home in these post-lockdown years, opening for bigger bands, cutting out on headlining jaunts and promoting it all in the soul-killing social-media way without appearing even remotely beleaguered – just going for it. As I write this, she’s on tour and posting at least one new Instagram a day to help get folks to the gig. I’m exhausted just thinking about it! I enjoyed the tender yet complex vibrations from her solo material, but it’s fun to have a band, and Bite Down showcases some of her most widely-appealing Americana indie/rock/pop, all with a gloriously unsettling cover image sure to scare off those with weaker constitutions. These songs feel true to her heart, one where the weathered velvet of Fleetwood Mac and Aimee Mann meet the patched-up denim of The Band and Steve Gunn without clashing in the slightest. It’s a warm, inviting sound, and she’s got some great hooks this time around, like the endless chorus of “My Kind” for starters. Opener “On Tonight” happily carries the spirit of Lou Reed via rickshaw down an overgrown country road, and the way she says “fuck me or fight me it’s all the same” on “Slow Pain” will make you blush and believe. Feels like it was engineered to be a “breakthrough” record in a way, but even so, the songs themselves ensure that whatever breakthrough might happen is fully deserved.

Claire Rousay Sentiment LP (Thrill Jockey)
Claire Rousay is a fun experimental artist to follow. For one, she’s constantly putting stuff out, and for two, the depth and variety of styles she takes on is both impressive and fun. I would’ve been content if she just kept releasing inscrutable solo percussion works, bouncing quarters on a snare drum while rustling a newspaper with her feet, but Rousay’s mind is far too active and impatient to remain in any one sonic mode for long. Sentiment is her newest left-turn, albeit one that (perhaps savvily) points towards a melange of trend-friendly underground sounds. Easily qualified as her “emo” record, Rousay enlists acoustic guitar and violin, softly domestic field-recordings, synths and her extremely AutoTuned vocal, resulting in some new strain of digital-emo slow-core, all at a time when the prospective audience for such a sound couldn’t be riper. It’s like Very Secretary, Pedro The Lion, the slow songs on Clarity and Duster given a Zoomer TikTok makeover, ready to soundtrack grainy social-media posts that swipe up and down seconds later. The songs are as appealingly mopey as her bedroom portrait on the cover, grappling with messy emotions without any sense of resolution in the way that the best mainstream indie-emo always manages to do, vulnerable intimacy facing forward. Sentiment might be a little brazen in its aesthetic references, but I for one have no time for half-stepping emo moves at this point, and appreciate Rousay’s restless ingenuity, even when it arrives in the form of actual pleasant music such as this.

Sexpill In Dust We Trust LP (Beach Impediment)
Didn’t expect to find myself fleeing in terror from a band called “Sexpill”, but here I am, cowering in an alley as the sound of their hardcore draws nearer! With a name like that, they should be a Blood Brothers side-project or something, not the Mad Max steamroller exploding from my speakers and liquifying my intestines. The songwriting of this Texas outfit is more or less typical pogo-core for the times, so I suppose the vocalist (whose pronouns seem to be it/that) is due a large chunk of the credit for making In Dust We Trust such a standout. It’s almost as if they had never heard hardcore (or even rock music) before, ignoring standard vocal conventions such as timing and pitch in favor of random moans, guttural squeals, coughing with effects pedals turned all the way, snot dripping from the ears and black tar on the tongue. Sometimes they even sing more when the song is over than during the actual track! It’s refreshing, and combined with the absolutely earth-shaking production, In Dust We Trust is a full-scale riot, closer to the wartime feel of Kriegshög or even Forward’s bullying than any American hardcore acts. The songs themselves are secondary to the presentation, one of utter sonic decimation without pleasantry or concession. There’s simply no way to market this sort of sound to any respectable audience – Liquid Death would run from this madness – which is precisely what hardcore should aspire to do, now and whenever.

Soup Activists Mummy What Are Flowers For? LP (Inscrutable)
Martin Meyer has spent much of his musical career answering to the name “Lumpy” – he sang for Lumpy & The Dumpers and ran Lumpy Records – and I for one can’t blame him if he decided it was time for a change. Now he’s got his new label Inscrutable Records going, along with the vinyl debut of Soup Activists, his calmer, poppier solo-project. While there’s nothing remotely hardcore going on here, these cutesy, charmingly DIY pop nuggets are clearly still beholden to punk rock, a scrappy performance that’s rough in all the right spots. Mummy What Are Flowers For? has a distinctly American DIY feel, sharing the attitude and presentation of K Records, Dead Milkmen, the goofier side of Lookout!’s first few dozen releases and those Messthetics-related Homework compilations of obscure fly-over early ’80s new-wave power-pop groups. You know, true outcast weirdos who bared all their silly little romantic feelings over simple guitar chords that very few people would ever hear, virtuosity and machismo be damned. “Chaos Girls” is an easy recommendation, like a sugar-coated Beat Happening pill that’s particularly easy to swallow, as is “The Times”, whose vocal chant and chugging riff remind me of that great first Rentals record (which still hasn’t been pressed on vinyl – are you listening Record Store Day??). I still love those Lumpy records, but I’ll admit, it’s nice to engage with Meyer’s artistic sensibility without having to worry about slime staining my clothes.

Ulla & Ultrafog It Means A Lot LP (Motion Ward)
Kind of a funny title, because let’s be honest, this genre of music doesn’t really seem to mean very much at all. Don’t get me wrong, I love Ulla’s abstracted ambient – it’s like incense smoke refracted through a series of prisms, both sensually satisfying and inexplicable – but it’s not like there’s really much meaning behind it, is there? Naturally, the title could be referring to something completely separate from the contents of this nice new collaborative album with Japanese producer Ultrafog, but as is the case with Ulla and the Motion Ward posse, nothing ever comes close to being explained… half the time you have to look up the record online to figure out the track titles, so hermetic and unforgiving is the typical design. That said, in typical Ulla fashion, this record is a winner! I’m not sure which of the two is responsible for the gauzy, lazy guitar chords that take center stage, somewhere between ECM jazz-guitar and Cocteau Twins (and drastically reduced to the simplest form), but they act as a cornerstone throughout. Digitally-tweaked synths, patches and effects twinkle and warble patiently, with hushed, processed vocals confirming some vague sense of human involvement. There’s some of Fennesz’s classic Endless Summer in here too, although It Means A Lot stands just outside of the sun’s rays, blissfully lounging in the shade. If you don’t have any Ulla records already, you need this one, and if you have the rest, what are you gonna do, not keep up?

Unchained Gabbeh LP (A Colourful Storm)
Seeing as Unchained-the-project is one and the same with artist, musician and academic Nate Davis-the-person, the two entities have morphed, adapted and evolved in tandem over the years. Whereas Unchained recordings from decades ago favored harsh noise, field-recordings and lo-fi experiments, Gabbeh reveals Davis as the richly developed man that he is, passing through life at a leisurely, distinctly European pace (even if he grew up in the neon-splattered Providence underground scene). You may have enjoyed his tasteful little bass thumps in Francisco Franco (and later Francisco Davis), and this record kind of follows suit, softly quizzical vignettes that linger like charcoal smoke in an open-air market. It’s mostly a guitar record, kind of a private-press acoustic / bossa nova sort of thing with bass-guitar and percussive accompaniment, as loose as Jandek but served by familiar melodic tunings. Much like Davis’s fantastic newsletter Hôtel de la Gare, his music wanders without any purpose that extends beyond the moment, the sonic equivalent of biting the tip off a fresh baguette and doing all you can to really taste it, to bask in simple pleasures easily taken for granted. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind if you sipped some coffee while reading an engrossing novel and forgot that Gabbeh was on in the background… it’s proudly, almost defiantly mellow when you consider what the rest of this ugly world is like.

Yokel 4 A.M. 7″ (Accidental Meetings)
Seven-inches are increasingly maligned, fiscally-irresponsible (for both producer and customer) and more or less obsolete, but I love sitting there and listening to them, and applaud the folks who still release them against all better judgment. I especially love it when the music is as ambiguous, evasive and cool as the four tracks offered up here by Bristol’s Yokel, a name tied to the thrilling Bokeh Versions and Avon Terror Corp camps that I haven’t yet otherwise encountered. It opens on a dour note, with the funereal gloom of “M3D”, an ominous portent of dungeon-synth that has seemingly nothing in common with the three tracks that follow it. “Pill Creek” shifts from black church clothes to black leather, a grainy cut of instrumental dark-wave that borders on L.I.E.S.-styled house if it wasn’t so overtly sinister. Flip it over and take a guess at what a track called “Seitan BBQ Junt” sounds like: chances are you didn’t expect this tweaky electro post-punk groove, like an aggressive dub of Fad Gadget that increases in intensity towards the end. I’m picturing Cosey chasing Chris around the studio with a cat o’ nine tails. That’s already plenty of great tunes, but “One 4 Zee” wraps it up with an electro b-boy groove, the incessant ringing of school bells and someone trying to rap yet failing to say more than just the word “rhythm” over and over. The whole thing goes by quick, but that’s where the listener steps in, physically flipping the record and starting it over at the beginning. Try it, it’s fun!

Hex Enduction Hour compilation LP (Easy Subculture)
Had this website started in 2001, it could’ve very well been CD-r focused. It was an extremely fertile time for cheap handmade underground sounds, case in point the Easy Subculture Hex Enduction Hour compilation CD-r, originally released back then. Some twenty-three years later the vinyl version is here, a bucolic time capsule of pre-codified New Weird America sounds. Notably opening with the first-ever solo Steve Gunn recording (a folksy fingerpicked instrumental bearing signs of his future styles), it gives way to lesser-known artists like Millbrook, The Twin Atlas and xPlanet And Bethx, all of whom kick the pollen around in those twilight hours of our society before we all had cellphones and could comfortably cease in-person interaction entirely. Each artist is warmly lo-fidelity, sounding like their songs were transferred to two different cassettes before making their way to vinyl mastering, which is precisely how the organic sounds of Currituck County’s “Locomotive Rag” and Millbrook’s “Spring Time” are best heard. Perhaps one day, after a particularly nasty solar flare shorts out our satellites, we’ll be forced to go back to CD-rs stapled into photocopied sheets of paper by hand as a means of connecting with like-minded souls, and I hope I’m still around to be there when it happens.

Kosmoloko 3 compilation LP (Galakthorrö)
Over three decades in and Galakthorrö continues to operate strictly on its own terms, one where design, aesthetic and mood are as stoic, entrancing and imposingly beautiful as the Salk Institute. This label might be the rare case where it feels like you’re dancing to architecture, come to think of it! Galakthorrö has always had a strong commitment to its own roster, nurturing a restricted number of artists through the years, sparingly releasing only the finest industrial / goth / dark-wave / electronic music. If you’re a fan of this stuff, you’ll never feel cheated investing in Galakthorrö product. This newest release, the third iteration of what is essentially a label sampler, is a perfect example. Ten Galakthorrö artists contribute one new and exclusive track a piece, with nary a throw-away or filler cut in the bunch. Two of the artists, Haus Arafna and November Növelet, share the same exact personnel – that’d be Mr. and Mrs. Arafna, who also run the label – and their tracks are stunning, from the haunting “The Other’s Joy” (“your sorrow becomes the other’s joy”, oof) to the weepingly melodic “Black Rain”. The rest of their roster, while sounding so similar as to verge on the interchangeable at times (that’s part of the fun), are strong across the board – Te/DIS, Sühne Mensch and Hermann Kopp stand out to my ears in particular, but Kosmoloko 3 is as high quality as we’ve come to expect, another essential document from this insular and resolute stable of artists.

Reviews – April 2024

Maria Bertel & Nina Garcia Knækket Smil LP (Kraak)
No, the garbage truck outside your apartment hasn’t tumbled into an open lava flow, that’s just me blasting this incredible new guitar/trombone improv record a little too loud! Nina Garcia is on guitar and Maria Bertel is on the trombone, and it’s a filthy, chunky set of unapproachable post-no-wave noise-improv of the finest caliber. Nina Garcia makes her guitar swallow its own tongue, in proximity to Mark Morgan’s early work in Sightings, Arto Lindsay’s work with DNA and Gary Smith’s concrete-mixer guitar-tone in Aufgehoben. Maria Bertel’s trombone is the highlight, though, as it sounds absolutely nothing like any trombone I’ve ever heard before. It scrapes, glugs and churns, calling to mind things that don’t exist, like violent balloons or molasses-powered engines. While each of these eight tracks are immediate room-clearers, the one or two people left behind might pick up on the variety of motifs and sensations rendered by these two – I find the title track particularly appealing, sounding like two monster trucks with dead batteries arguing with each other over who’s at fault. As I’m blasting it this very moment, a car alarm just started blaring outside my window, and I can’t help but assume it felt compelled to join the grotesque cacophony of these two fearsome players.

Cartoon Nyuck Nyuck Boing! LP (Human Headstone Presents)
It feels like I’m going to have to dispel some of the pre-conceived notions one might have about a band called Cartoon and their Nyuck Nyuck Boing! album. They packed a lot of youthful silliness in there, but the music they’re making, while playful and prone to bouts of high-spirited mania, is no joke, not even a funny one. Featuring the inspired drumming of Carnivorous Bells’s Leo Suarez, Cartoon combine elements of post-punk, jazz-fusion and avant-rock in a way that manages to avoid feeling stuffy or pompous. Okay, maybe the whole name thing helps diffuse any accusations of pretentiousness, but the music is way too much fun for the level of musicianship on display no matter if they went by a stuffy, academic list of their last names instead of “Cartoon”. These songs are firmly orchestrated but explode within their confines, each player getting a chance to express themselves with flair. I don’t want to mention Frank Zappa in this review (though I realize I just did): think more of the invigorating physicality of Laddio Bolocko applied to the virtuosic compositions of Mahavishnu Orchestra, but crafted by guys who show up in their work clothes to the dumpy practice space where they rehearse, inspired by whatever kraut-rock and mid-’80s SST releases they were able to find for under twenty bucks at the Philadelphia Record Exchange.

Chimes Of Bayonets Replicator LP (Peterwalkee)
The packaging for Replicator is artsy and probably a pain to put together, as the standard LP jacket is surrounded by a screened plastic sleeve, sealed in traditional ’90s emo fashion with an actual postage stamp. It hearkens to a time when putting out your record was more or less the dominant form of communication available towards the rest of the hardcore scene, so you gave it your all, the opposite of today’s hermetic design (you’d be surprised at how many albums come through here with absolutely zero words on the covers or sleeves, knowing fully well they’ll only ever be purchased on Bandcamp). Anyway, good for Chimes Of Bayonets for caring about what they’re doing, though the music they’re offering up here doesn’t elevate the twisty, stop-start form of ’90s post-hardcore emo so much as simply keeping it going. That’s not to say it’s bad – had Chimes Of Bayonets earned a spot on an Ebullition or Revelation compilation in 1996, I’d have heartily enjoyed it – but nothing particularly new or noteworthy is being brought with the form, even if some of the jagged rock riffs recall The Party Of Helicopters (one of my personal faves). Like most styles of rock music, often the singer can carry (or sink) the group, and the vocals here are just kind of there, an appropriate post-Fugazi shout-sing that neither offends nor grabs the ear. Seems like they’re a dedicated group, clearly passionate about their band, so maybe that passion is already translating to their live performance, or will result in more interesting sonic territory on their next recording.

Choncy 20X Multiplier LP (Feel It)
Go on, try to be a cool punk band in Cincinnati and not receive the support and engagement of Feel It Records – you cannot! Choncy are a young band, both in physical appearance and length of their existence, and they utilize the energy that exists solely within actual youth well here on their second album (and first on vinyl), 20X Multiplier. From the guitar tone, raw-ish recording and vocal production, the sound of these songs could easily be classified as garage with an egg-punk twist, but the manner in which they belt them out can only be associated with hardcore. It’s a satisfying combination! “Parked In” flails like METZ in full-body spasm, for example, though I prefer when they keep the energy high and temper it with some form of melodic hook. The homemade video for “Dead Meat” is charming, vocalist Liam Shaw and his bandmates shouting into their iPhones, yelling at their bosses or landlords or random rich jerks (sadly, no lyric insert is provided so the exact aim of their ire remains a mystery); I can’t imagine they’re all still standing upright after blasting through the infectious punk tantrum of “Cover Letter”. “Jacked” might be my overall favorite cut on the album though, with the catchiest (and dumbest) sing-along chorus, more fantastic, inspired drumming and that same tippy-toe energy that characterizes this fine vinyl slab.

Cindy Standard Candle Demos LP (Sloth Mate)
For the first few weeks I possessed this record, I assumed the group was called Standard Candle… perhaps I can be forgiven for such an error, since the band name Cindy is nowhere to be found anywhere on the vinyl or sleeve. I guess you’re just expected to have internet access these days and figure it out, huh?? Anyway, this is Cindy, one of the preeminent Bay Area lo-fi guitar-pop groups, also one of the few that I haven’t previously heard. I’m guessing this demos collection isn’t the place to start, as it consists solely of soft, foggy vocals and room-echoed guitar, though I understand Cindy to be a traditional rock band usually consisting of four (or more?) members. These songs really do come across like blurry sketches, pencil-on-pad songs whose forms are basic and ready to be rendered in full-color by a group of musicians, too slight to make me feel much of anything in any direction. I find myself thinking about those dainty Green Day demos from before they recorded Dookie, though I have the benefit of recognizing the final appearance of those, and it could just be the Bay Area connection putting them together in my mind. I’m sure there are some eager completists and lo-fi pop diehards eager to hear the Standard Candle Demos, and well, I’m happy to give you this copy if we are hanging out together anytime soon.

Collateral We Still Know 7″ (Scheme / Fortress)
How long has it been since we’ve had some Florida hardcore in these pages? Collateral are young and scrappy and proudly advertise themselves as from “Broward County”, the sort of thing that might mean a lot to their fellow Floridians but probably not many others. Which is cool! I love when hardcore bands keep a fiercely local scope, which is probably a product of being fresh out of childhood, where it feels like an adventure to drive to a Wendy’s two towns over. I remember that feeling, and I remember the excitement that Collateral are thriving in with this feisty five-song EP. They’re firmly in the capital-H hardcore camp, those legions of unranked Hate5Six bands vying for an opening fest slot, but rather than appeal to the basest of beatdown dummies, Collateral mostly just rip. The first Madball EP seems to factor heavily into their sound, Raw Deal and Underdog too, though they are surely as likely to be inspired by their peers who are also inspired by those seminal NYHC acts as the OGs. I appreciate that the songs are short and more fast than mosh, though there are plenty of moments appropriate for imprinting the sole of your Nikes onto your best friend’s face. EP closer “Play To Win” is a fun one, offering an appealing requisite breakdown with the lines “turn that shit out” and “get off your ass” ruthlessly delivered. The vocalist has kind of a schoolyard-bully vibe the whole time too, though one respective of your preferred pronouns. As Rick Ta Life plainly stated some many years ago: hardcore rules!

The Conformists Midwestless LP (Computer Students)
St. Louis’s The Conformists get the deluxe Computer Students treatment – gatefold sleeve, poster, glossy promo picture, probably a sticker or something else, all tucked into the chemtrail-proofed aluminum foil outer bag, which can be repurposed to keep a dozen Pringles fresh (you just have to lay them side by side in rows, rather than stack them). Like the rest of the Computer Students roster, The Conformists are gleefully mathematic in their post-hardcore, post-emo, post-noise presentation. I’ll give you one guess which famous poker player recorded the album! Operating with a bare-bones guitar/bass/drums lineup, their riffs and patterns follow their own secret morse code, never audacious or glitzy, always technical and tricky. Overall it’s pleasantly subdued, particularly in a genre stuffed with groups that love to force you to witness how crazy they are. Vocals appear as well, often more as a character in the play that is “The Conformists” than as a typical singer, which of course works well considering there’s no easily natural vocal rhythm that could be applied to these tunes. Whereas the Drose and Cheval De Frise albums released by Computer Students really push the Slint- and Shellac-oriented math-rock form to new and unexpected ends, Midwestless is perhaps more typical genre fare, if perhaps more calmly repetitive and introverted. No matter what, they must love playing this stuff, because the idea of rehearsing these songs until they’re tight and not loving the hell out of it is absolutely crazy.

Mike Cooper & Pierre Bastien Aquapelagos Vol. 2 Indico LP (Keroxen)
Following their initial 2022 encounter, here’s the second volume of the Aquapelagos series from renowned British psych-exotica guitarist Mike Cooper and French multi-instrumentalist prankster Pierre Bastien. That’s over one hundred and fifty years of combined life experience coming into play here! They really show the kids (aka anyone under sixty) how it’s done here on these four loopy, soupy tracks. Cooper’s guitar is especially refracted, elasticated and pretzeled here, a guitar by name only. It makes plenty of room for Bastien’s tropicalia-industrial mechanical processes, with extensively affected trumpet, his “musical robots” and whatever-else, resulting in humid sound-baths, organic murmuring and the sort of naturally sinister vibe one encounters having washed up on a jungle shore. What a great atmosphere for Cooper to set up his little hammock in, twisting his twangy guitar into little letters in bottles and casting them out into the deep. I feel like Wolf Eyes may have ventured into something similar to this not too long ago in one of their less aggressive forays into paranoid psychedelia, though by the time a choir of riotous thumb-pianos are deployed in opener “Return To Chagos”, it’s clear that this fascinating sonic territory can be claimed by Cooper and Bastien alone.

Jordan Darby Through The Intercession LP (Hissing Objects)
Jordan Darby goes on my short-list of punks who followed their unique musical journeys with such resolute determination that I can’t help but blush when I think about my own interest in “selling records” or what have you. You might remember him from the scattershot weiro-core of Dry Rot, or the dazzlingly unpredictable post-hardcore of Uranium Orchard – on his own here, he offers an advanced acoustic-guitar performance alongside tunefully sung vocals. His playing is dextrous and limber, so even at his most restless the songs are fluid and precise. His vocals are direct, a well-enunciated tenor with lyrics that are nearly hymnal and unabashedly spiritual. Robbie Basho meets Pedro The Lion? Darby gets into the weeds of his morality and digs around from start to finish, trying to find some purpose or understanding, presumably with some sort of Christian background acting as the guiding beacon. It’s a little cryptic, of course, but the religiousness of these songs is hard to deny, even for a lapsed Satan-worshipper like me. It’s a captivating package, with such a bold intent and delivery that all these bands who sing about nothing and have no purpose besides sounding like a specific genre should feel at least a little embarrassed. The back cover photo might be the most clever guitarist portrait I’ve seen in forever, but I don’t want to spoil it – I think he’s actually giving these albums away rather than selling them (I told you, he’s one of a kind), so go, uhh, ask him for one?

Deep Heavy Fear Doorway 12″ (no label)
The debut Deep Heavy Fear single hit me like a ton of tulips, a funky-cool post-disco act from Berlin who released their hook-laden record themselves (and charged a surprisingly low price, ingratiating themselves even further to a thrifty guy like me). Cool to see they’re at it once more, again using all twelve inches of vinyl for roughly eight minutes of music, again in a handsomely silkscreened (and painted!) chipboard sleeve. “Doorway” immediately gives me visions of Washed Out: a hiccuping drum machine breaks out over sweet-n-sour synths and a male vocal sings a melody somewhere between indie-pop and R&B. It’s like the music that plays over TikTok videos that tour luxury AirBNBs, only much cooler, and made by real people. “Cherries” opens on kind of a Blue Nile tip, with an adult-oriented bass-line and guitars that linger like the steam of the night, thought the vocals remain passive and indie-soft. Kinda wish they’d have found a dashing Berliner to bust out their best Bryan Ferry impression over this formalwear groove, but alas. Cool tunes, although neither surpasses the unexpected quality of their debut, which remains a discount steal on the secondary market. Score one now and thank the poor taste of the masses for the bargain!

Exit Hippies Niu LP (SPHC)
At some point I was tempted to change the name of this website to Exit Hippies Fan Club Zone, and while alienating anyone who isn’t an Exit Hippies fan is fine by me, it was simply too much work to put into practice. Thankfully there’s a new album from this essential Japanese noise-core / acid-techno entourage, or should I say Niu album, offering a beautifully dusky color palate on the cover in blatant Neu! homage. If you aren’t already familiar, you’ve got a lot of catching up to do, as this unhinged group likes to pair the most ear-piercing of lo-fi crust-noise with mind-melting acid-trance techno, occasionally even combining the two for particularly unstable results. This time around, however, Exit Hippies eschew the boiling d-beat drums and screeching guitars entirely. You get thirteen tracks of smudgy techno, full of plagiarized loops and far-out echoey effects. They borrow or “remix” obvious Crystal Waters and Geto Boys cuts amidst their own authentic 3:00 AM techno, fully divorced from even the slightest sonic semblance to Disclose. Punks may be disappointed, but it’s a diverse and compellingly odd set of short techno cuts for the modern raver. I don’t think anyone else has tried to emulate this aesthetic, but even if some brave soul did, there could only ever be one Exit Hippies.

Flower Festival Age LP (Moone / Anxiety Blanket)
Clearly there’s no mosh potential in an artist that goes by “Flower Festival”, but it leaves open the possibility of blissfully swaying in place, arms softly flapping as if guided by invisible waves. It seems that Flower Festival has released a couple small nuggets before – two tapes in editions that total a scant forty-five copies worldwide – and Age is the formal introduction. I appreciate any artist that opts for a lengthy gestation period, taking the time to locate their authentic selves before blasting their social-media feeds with whatever they just did, and it seems that Flower Festival is finally ready to share their gleefully hazy alt-pop with the world. It’s psychedelic in a very “indie” way, with high-pitched vocals, groovy runs on the bass-guitar, simple drumming and continuous effects. Gives me vibes of a pre-cancelled Ariel Pink, a coke-boogerless King Tuff happily gliding on a mushroom trip, or if Animal Collective were a local hippie band in Portland, ME who never got the attention of anyone besides their close friends. No bad or heavy times here, just the pleasant sensation of strolling through a flower festival and taking in the colorful sights and smells.

Grazia In Poor Taste 7″ (Feel It)
Some punk bands lead with distortion or aggression, but new London duo Grazia enters the room personality-first. It’s driven by vocalist Heather Dunlop, who brings the trashy camp as though she were John Waters’ precocious British niece. Fetish-wear and condiment stains commingle in opener “Cheap”, which establishes Grazia’s basic parameters: anyone-can-do-it guitar chords, beach-party bass and disinterested vocals, all played at comfortable (or downright lackadaisical) speeds. Let the toxically-masculine boys compete in the louder faster harder department – Grazia are out here reading old fashion mags and eating fast food while their boyfriends paint their toenails (even if said boyfriend is the other half of the band). There’s a history of cool femme British punk like this, of course, most recently calling to mind the late great Primetime, although Grazia are gentler and notably less sweaty, for better or worse. “Stupid Paradise” revels in the group’s own ignorance, and while I’m not convinced the self-lobotomy route they celebrate is the right choice for me, I have been chewing gum with my mouth open more after listening to it.

Joker Juggernaut / S Wave 12″ (Kapsize)
Been about six years since we last heard from Bristol’s Joker (which equates to roughly six hundred years in the world of techno music), but I always found the laidback bounce of his dubstep (and post-dubstep) to be charmingly and cool. He even self-defined his particular genre of music as “purple”, which is oddly spot-on. Listening to his big-room bass-heavy swing, my brain makes the disparate connections between Prince’s wardrobe, Southern rap with codeine in the cup, and this Bristolian dubstep. “Juggernaut” operates as if it was still 2010, with trap hi-hats, a thuggish melodic lead and brash, bullying horns, recalling the intimidating swagger of Girl Unit’s early singles. “S Wave” is even more juiced up, working some knife-edged synths and below-the-belt bass in a manner that leaves me wanting to lecture my punk friends about the greatness of early Skream and Benga (as they quickly make up excuses as to why they have to go). When the synths cut out and it’s just the aggro strings, kick and snare, it makes me wish I was watching a Victor Wembanyama highlight reel, straight-up pulling the ball out of other people’s hands while flatfooted, so full of braggadocio and toughness is this track. I suppose, in our technologically-advanced world, I could do that right now.

Lès Modernos Ciutats LP (Bruit Direct)
Even by Bruit Direct’s standards, this album from Lès Modernos is a particularly slippery fish. Though formally represented as nine tracks, these two sides of twelve-inch vinyl play out in the form of zonked-out audio collage. Crackly, errant noises turn into loops, skipping CDs bleed into live recordings of the radio, or maybe a band, or maybe a street? It’s a wild mess. When, exactly, is the right moment in one’s life to sit down and listen to such a deliberately maddening hodgepodge of sound is up to each individual, though I can’t imagine it’s a fun listen in the car, or with friends, or in the morning, or while doing the dishes. Maybe late at night when everyone else is asleep and you’re fully sober and want to feel wasted, or vice versa? Imagine Seymour Glass, Mattin and Eric Copeland hard at work trying to impress each other with the most twisted sounds they can find, blended smoothie-style into a dark purple slush even though none of them brought any açai. If there’s any sort of logic to these tracks, it’s lost on me, but you know what? I can go take a community-college algebra class if it’s logic I’m after. Lès Modernos pick at the scabs of the profound, and yes, it’s gross.

Lupo Cittá Lupo Cittá LP (12XU)
Guitarist Chris Brokaw pulls the cool move of doing a new band while avoiding any sort of spotlight for it. He’s got nothing to prove and clearly knows it, and just seems like a guy who, given the chance, would play guitar with every other cool person on earth for the next hundred years. Lupo Cittá are Boston-based though well-traveled, and it feels guided by Jenn Gori, who holds down the perverse dual role of drummer and lead vocalist (as well as a full-time job as a, you guessed it, gene-editing research scientist!). Their songs are low-stakes, feel-good garage-indie material, certainly befitting their general age range (older than me), the sorta thing that fans of contemporary Mudhoney and Yo La Tengo albums would also appreciate. For all of Brokaw’s varied musical abilities, he goes easy on us, with classic Fender combo-amp heat and the basic riff formula any rock apprentice should have studied. They’re not here to conquer the world with their rock n’ roll – Lupo Cittá are good-natured and easy to enjoy, as domestic as Coors Light and equally as reliable.

Lysol Down The Street 7″ (Feel It)
I saw Lysol last month and the singer, looking like an undead bondage-doll extra in Suburbia, immediately brained an unsuspecting audience member with a traffic cone, hard. Ouch! It’s not a great way to gain new fans, but Lysol seem content in maintaining an insular punk social network rather than appealing to the masses for approval. They also sounded a lot more first-wave West Coast hardcore-punk than I remembered from prior material, and that style is apparent on this new four-song EP on the righteous Feel It label. These riffs give a mean, unfriendly spin on surf and country in the same way that Dead Kennedys and Adolescents did, with the muscularity of Dead Boys and the snarl of The Cheifs (whose name still sends a chill down my spine any time I type it). All the tunes are tight, though the creepy-crawl of “15MG” might be my favorite, calling to mind visions of Sick Pleasure sneaking into my bedroom at night and cutting me up with their razor-sharp nails. It’s a punk rock nightmare, and Lysol are directing the action.

Memotone Tollard LP (The Trilogy Tapes)
Memotone (aka William Yates) has constructed a fascinating world of sound on Tollard, my first experience with the Bristolian performer. From the size of his discography, I’ve clearly got some catching up to do, especially if previous work is on par with Tollard. He has an omnivorous take on all forms of outsider musics, from folk to drone to avant-garde to noise, which of course is kind of standard practice for most “experimental” artists these days, but it’s the way in which Yates synthesizes these elements that stands out. Really what he does is compose fully-functional songs from his toolkit; sure, some of them push the limit of what you might consider “song”, but it’s there. “Munday’s Pond” feels like if Volcano The Bear were on Thrill Jockey in 1994; opener “The Marionette” winds a clunky metallic gear into a moody noir piece care of smooth-as-silk horns; “Laughing Grass” pulls a banjo from the back of the room only to suffocate it in swirling sunbeam melodies. My brain spins with half-correct call-backs to Gastr Del Sol, Arthur Russell, Graham Lambkin, the moody dub-techno of Sébastien Casanova, Luc Ferrari, that incredible double album by Ippei Matsui & Aki Tsuyuko that was reissued a couple years ago… there’s so much happening here, but none of it feels forced or pastiche for pastiche’s sake. Yates clearly has a vast reservoir of sonic inspiration to draw from, condensed down into a richly rewarding listening experience over and over again. Of all the records this month, I think I’ve listened to Tollard the most!

MPU101 MPU104 LP (Ilian Tape)
You ever get the chance to sit down in front of some fancy synthesizer and maybe program a basic modulation or two, hold down some keys and just soak up the brilliantly warm analog sound? Well, MPU104 is the best possible outcome of that sort of situation, a collection of rich pulses, blissful melodic echoes, celestial chords and even a tasteful form of low-lit dub techno. I sense a kinship with other lonely explorers of the outer-realms of synth music like Black Merlin and TM404 (can’t deny that similar naming convention) in the way that MPU101 will present a sonic motif, be it a twinkling melody or a fuzzy, droning chord, and let it repeat or hover for a few minutes before moving on to the next track. One idea per track, but with the way his ARP sounds (or whatever boutique synths he’s programming), it’s so nice to experience these sounds uncluttered and up front. “TrailerparkBeauty” is a bouquet of shimmering lights; “doepfARP” is eight solid minutes of the same uplifting progression; “BLOCK-1_2AREA666” lands the mothership on a fat analog drone. Beautiful, stately simplicity from Ilian Tape’s most scientific synthesist.

Paradise Next Paradise Next 2xLP (Industry Standards)
Isolation and loneliness are two of the defining traits of our post-Covid era, so it makes sense to see an uptick in not only bedroom-based solo-projects but stoic outlaw troubadours as well. Paradise Next is one such solitary man, Anthony Boruch-Comstock, based out of San Francisco and a member of Swanox. He begins his solo career as Paradise Next with a double-LP opus, twenty-two songs recorded from December 2021 through October 2022. While accompanied by lead Mystic 100 Alex Coxen on bass for a track, the rest is loner acoustic guitar and his tender, heartfelt voice. The sound is strongly redolent of Bill Callahan (were he of the millennial generation), a King Dude / King Darves hybrid, and Nick Drake if he made his way to the American west coast and found an uneasy peace there. The playing is staunchly traditional in the doom-y, blues-y Americana tradition, but not in an NPR way – Paradise Next doesn’t make friendly concessions like that. He clearly approaches the project as all punks do: from a punk perspective. (See the inner layout design redolent of the Youth Attack label and those Milk Music records, or the song “Punk Time” for further clues.) Paradise Next is doing an old thing, but in search of new vistas, even quoting one of Richard Brautigan’s lighthearted poems on the insert, another clue as to his artistic impulse.

Part Time Filth Full Time Filth LP (No Sabes)
There comes a time when you have to make a decision: are you going to clean up your act, or commit wholly to your filthiness? It seems that Tennessee’s Part Time Filth have chosen their path, one proud in its defiance of good taste, cleanliness, sexual abstinence and sober living. Though they rep the fake town of “Pigfuck, TN” as their home, this isn’t really noise-rock of the same sub-genre name. Rather, Part Time Filth play speedy, rough-around-the-edges garage-rock indebted to early ’90s GG Allin, The Spits, Nashville Pussy, or any sort of rudely childish, staunchly-inebriated punk of that ilk. For example, there’s a song here called “Fuckin’ In The U.S.A.”, which opens with a mocking interpretation of the national anthem before ripping into a crisply distorted groove, raving about all the gloriously nasty sex that’s in Part Time Filth’s future. Do I need to explain what “DUI In My UFO” is about? Full Time Filth is filled with the sorta thing that would make any delinquent 9th grader squeal with naughty joy, and seeing as there is a large (mostly male) portion of our population who really haven’t progressed past that point, it’s not a shock to hear fully-grown men play songs like this. The filth, after all, is the point.

Perc The Cut Off 2xLP (Perc Trax)
My first encounter with London techno heavyweight Perc came in his 2015 EP Gob, whose back cover displays the producer face-down in a bowl of gruel. That’s more or less the sensation I’ve gotten from listening to his music, like I’m slammed in some dark and sticky place and it’s going to take moment to recalibrate once I pull myself out. Albums are tricky territory for techno, especially that of such a mono-directional style as this, but Perc keeps it lively, loose and wild, though perhaps a bit much if taken in one dose. It’s populist hard-techno, always locked into a brazen 4/4 thud, the sort of thing that, if pumping in the main room of a club you just entered, ensures a proper night out. Opener “Can You Imagine?” teases an airy trance motif before dropping the absolute heaviest chisel-on-steel beat, a full-body bludgeoning sure to leave noses bloodied and eyes rolled all the way back. There’s the intensity of gabber without the extreme tempos and the hair-raising soft/hard contrasts of dubstep without feeling dated or trendy… Perc is an expert convoy of his dance-floor regime and clearly relishes his role as puppet-master, unconsciously controlling our limbs. What are you gonna do when the acid line in “Cold Snap” unexpectedly kicks in, not dance??

Persher Sleep Well LP (Thrill Jockey)
Feeling particularly tickled by the existence of Persher, comprised of Jamie Roberts and Arthur Cayzer. They’re both prominent techno producers and have been for a while – Roberts records solo as Blawan, responsible for some of my favorite techno ever – and they actually make scratchy-yet-brutal beats together as Karenn. Persher, on the other hand, is mutated digital crust-core, an almost diametric opposite of electronic dance music. I love when people from certain scenes approach a totally different style with their own unique musical baggage and curiosity, and it works out excellently as Persher. It’s warped, in-the-red, crushed and heavily distorted, with (presumably electronic) d-beat drums, choked-out grindcore vocals reminiscent of Agents Of Satan and guitars that are processed to sound like anything but. Why haven’t regular hardcore/metal guys ever tried anything as demented and unusual? Persher’s music appears as songs, but they don’t follow the usual verse/chorus template, so much as just slop around in and out of various parts. Surely there’s some surgical studio editing at play here, rather than the typical live-in-a-room hardcore take, but that just makes it more interesting. “Medieval Soup From The Milkbar” is where I’ll send you first, an absolutely wretched stomp-down filled with unnatural guitar textures and guttural vocals… it’s a fine continuation of the imaginative bloody chaos that Napalm Death and Extreme Noise Terror stirred up in Persher’s home country some forty years ago.

Public Acid Deadly Struggle 12″ (Beach Impediment)
Oddly enough, it seems fitting that the hot new twelve-inch from one of the finest American hardcore bands active today sounds overtly non-American. We all hate this place, and seeing as we have a full generation of hardcore kids who simply dialed up the music of Kohu-63 and Winterswijx Chaos Front for free rather than undergoing the obligatory scarcity-based listening of mid-period 7 Seconds, DOA and MDC, they’re going to make music based on their experience. I enjoyed the previous Public Acid EPs and Deadly Struggle feels like the culmination of their mightiness. Across eight dense songs, they rage in reverent homage to the early Swedish d-beat classics (and obscurities) and manage to integrate overtly metallic influences without feeling like anything less than pure hardcore (I wouldn’t even consider it a crossover record). You need the speed, and it’s routinely delivered here, but the hefty metallic riffage of, say, “Ignorance” is a welcome headbanger’s delight, a friendly reminder that Power Trip were the biggest band in the hardcore scene for a couple of recent years there. There’s even some frantic, Kerry King soloing to be found sprinkled in here, albeit with a brevity appropriate for hardcore. With nary a false move or wasted opportunity, Deadly Struggle is hardcore for the moment, one where ear-bleeding rarities rule and any American bands not named Poison Idea can be willfully ignored. Who needs ’em when you’re making noise like this?

Richard Ramirez Distant, Fading LP (Tall Texan)
I love when noise arrives with a clever artistic prompt. In the case of veteran American noise artist Richard Ramirez (for the record that’s his legal name, folks), Distant, Fading apparently answers the question of what would happen if Ramirez shaped his aesthetic into something resembling shoegaze. Tik Tok virality, here he comes! Just kidding, of course – while shoegaze has unexpectedly captured the zeitgeist, I can’t imagine these two lengthy cuts soundtracking anything cute, funny or heartwarming… maybe one of those accounts that shows industrial machinery churning in Siberia, or shots of squids deploying their ink at one tenths’ speed? Ramirez opts for some deep, syrupy drones on each side, not harsh so much as all-enveloping and full of low-end churn. Could be some actual guitar in there, but it’s more likely his proficient hardware-electronics setup responsible for the primordial groan of b-side “Knowing When”, as if Kevin Shields replaced his guitar with a violin stringed up by Kevin Drumm. With frequencies generally avoiding the higher end of the spectrum, the mood is satisfyingly muddled and opaque, kind of “easy listening” by Ramirez’s standards, though still utterly petrifying under certain listening conditions. That’s always been my main complaint with shoegaze – it could be way, way scarier!

Shackleton The Scandal Of Time LP (Woe To The Septic Heart!)
Painful admission time: I realized I’ve started to take Shackleton for granted. This intrepid producer makes music only classifiable in relation to himself, and he sure makes a lot of it, releasing all sorts of collaborative efforts, double LPs, one-offs, EPs, a glorious abundance of music that can be easy to gloss over. I’ll admit, a number of his more cerebral, drone-based works didn’t really pull me in the way so much of his mid-period work has (Man On A String Part 1 And 2 / Bastard Spirit is one of the few times you’ll see me use the word “iconic”), but I’m not going to take The Scandal Of Time for granted. It rules! It’s also kind of a return to form for Shackleton, settling back into his mystical rhythms full of uncharted artificial/natural percussive elements without repeating prior material. These songs are languorous, trippy and danked-out, vast and roomy but full of activity. There’s always been an England’s Hidden Reverse aspect to the tradition of what Shackleton is doing, and I almost see a corollary here to Coil’s post-Y2K works, as both artists worked furiously, unbound by any fan expectations – certainly unbound by genre or studio limitations, too. No one else could’ve come close to making The Scandal Of Time, and similar to the Ligne Roset Togo sofa, it becomes increasingly challenging to remove yourself from it the longer you’re in its clutches.

Taku Sugimoto Since 2016 LP (Full Spectrum)
Restless cello/guitar/mandolin/etc. improviser/composer Taku Sugimoto is rarely idle, with a discography full of collaborators from Kevin Drumm to close compatriot Tetuzi Akiyama. I can’t say I’m overly familiar with his previous work – how many stacks of unlistenable improv CDs can one man be expected to keep in his study? – but this new one, the mysteriously titled Since 2016, is as delicate as an orchid from Whole Foods. Accompanied by vocalist Minami Saeki, Sugimoto takes his sweet time between plucks and strums, kind of like the slow-motion, Khanate equivalent of extremely soft acoustic improv. With street sounds filtering in through some of these songs, I can’t help but picture Sugimoto and Saeki at the opposite end of a child’s playground, Sugimoto taking deep breaths between each note as Saeki sings along, almost guessing which note to shoot for. Music doesn’t get much more dainty and sparse than this… I wouldn’t be surprised if Sugimoto was actually strumming the spiderweb on a large green leaf instead of a formal string instrument. If I owned a cute little used bookshop, I’d put this on the stereo to shake things up, though the sound of my own heart beating might eventually interfere with Since 2016‘s sparse and tiny frequencies.

Tractorman Tractorman 12″ (Kitschy Spirit)
It’s always fun to discover the secret dirtbag-punk pasts of esteemed underground artists. Tractorman is a good example, as it features the frantic and gloriously messy drumming of Indra Dunis (later of Numbers and then Peaking Lights), resurrected from a 1996 cassette release and splayed out on one side of twelve-inch vinyl. They were apparently a Madison, WI band back in their day, and man they must’ve had the Boris The Sprinkler fans running for the hills with their rambunctious, youthful punk. Dunis’s drumming is really key here, as she never stays on any beat for too long. Pogo-punk parts will quickly erupt into full-scale flailing, like some unholy mix of The Yah Mos, Quincy Punx and Fat Day. I pity the high school teachers responsible for keeping them well behaved! It’s wild, unhindered stuff, really in your face and playfully nasty in the way that only young people can pull off. It’s also very much a historical artifact – if I can’t have Tractorman jump all over me in a VFW hall, it’s not the full experience – but I’m still feeling pretty revved up listening to this collection of ten songs that feel more like thirty, tumbling out of my speakers like hot coals from a toppled grill.

Women’s Hour Women’s Hour LP (L.I.E.S.)
L.I.E.S. continues to put in the work, long after the hype-wave of “lo-fi techno” came and went. The label is kind of wilder than ever, and the loss is entirely yours if you’ve moved on to whatever other techno thing is taking up the headlines in our rapidly-diminishing underground music media. I love the infrequent moments when L.I.E.S. drifts away from dance music entirely, and this debut from Glasgow’s Women’s Hour absolutely rules; it’s menacing, claustrophobic post-punk that clatters and stalks. There’s bass guitar, drum machines and/or loops, scattered effects, synths and multi-gendered Scottish vocals that veer from apathetic to incensed. Women’s Hour take these elements and deftly derive songs from them. “Deliberate Insult” is like Leslie Winer forced into the cauldron of Avon Terror Corps; “Blindly” is disarmingly soft and pulsating, dwelling in some crevice on the path from Lemon Kittens to The Cure; “Born In The North” recalls Asda’s blown-out-drum-machine spoken-word. For what could be considered a crude sonic approach, Women’s Hour pull out each of these twelve tracks in unique directions, not simply unhindered by their limited means but thriving in the grimy little cavities where music isn’t meant to grow. Recommended!

Wrecked Lightship Antiposition LP (Peak Oil)
For those curious what Appleblim has been up to recently, he’s got this new duo going with Adam Winchester. The project’s name sounds like it should be a popular manga series, and the music (and cover image) kind of fits that bill too, these tracks bursting with moments well suited to a cinematic hacker montage, our hero transferring all the data to a memory chip right before the villain’s thugs burst through the door. Wrecked Lightship’s sound is not on the cutting edge, and I appreciate that they’re following their hearts rather than up-to-the-minute trends. Antiposition is certainly in line with Appleblim’s solo material (as well as choice cuts from his Apple Pips label), utilizing stuttering drum n’ bass loops, a rich sense of murky, dubby ambient atmosphere, and cone-popping bass, often ping-ponging away from the percussive elements. It’s post-dubstep in that way, not particularly gritty or earthbound so much as intergalactic and fantastical. Retro-futurist in a manner befitting 2010’s techno tastemakers, but free-thinking and energized – I’m particularly drawn to “Diminished Ark”, with its cyber-didgeridoo loop, hop-skip rhythm, plunging bass pulls and wave-form distortion delivered as if it were a record scratch. Recommended if you like reading Ursula Le Guin in a flotation tank under a canopy of flashing LED lights.