Reviews – July 2024

Added Dimensions Time Suck / Hellbent 7″ (Domestic Departure)
Fresh seven-inch EP here from Portland’s Domestic Departure, which of course means more cool homespun post-punk with risographed packaging. I appreciate the misleading title from Added Dimensions, as neither Time Suck nor Hellbent are song titles here. It’s a poetic little way of describing our daily trajectories, and fits these five tracks of scrappy, poppy post-punk in the vein of Tyvek and labelmates such as Collate and Divorcer. If Sweeping Promises aren’t bringing one or all of these bands on tour with them, something is wrong with society! It’s my understanding though that Added Dimensions is more or less the solo project of Richmond’s Sarah Everton (of Blowdryer and Telepathic) with Rob Garcia helping out on the recorded drums, so I’m not sure if this Added Dimensions exists in the realm of live acts or simply the recorded, uh, dimension. Either way, if I heard the catchy bop of “In The System” on a radio show like Don’t Back The Front on WPRB (which certainly seems like a possibility), I’d eager await the break between tunes to find out who it was I had just enjoyed.

Battlebeats Meet Your Maker LP (Sweet Time)
Extremely generic garage-punk coming to you straight from… Bandung, Indonesia! That certainly puts an interesting spin on what is otherwise severely paint-by-numbers “hi-octane rock n’ roll”. It’s truly a global phenomenon, this leather-jacket, black sunglasses, Stooges- / The Damned- / Dead Boys- / Back From The Grave-inspired aesthetic, now claiming Indonesia’s Andresa Nugraha and his one-man-band Battlebeats among its ranks. When performed adequately, there’s really no telling if the group is from Tampere, São Paulo or Sioux Falls, or apparently if it’s even actually a group and not just one person playing all the instruments one track at a time. Meet Your Maker is as satisfying as the previous or next traditional garage-punk record coming down the chute and as distinct as any two Twinkies in their plastic packaging, for better or worse. I can completely see the appeal – this form of music absolutely does rule, and is timelessly cooler than most other popular styles of the last two centuries – but it’s the unabashed tribute-act vibe that leaves me looking for a spark of unique inspiration, or any sort of identifiable characteristic to grasp onto. Of course, here I am in a big stupid American metropolis full of the stuff, not Bandung, a beautiful, volcano-flanked city I wish Battlebeats would’ve told me at least a little something about.

British Murder Boys Active Agents And House Boys 2×12″ (Downwards)
It’s impossible to write the story of British industrial-techno without Surgeon and Regis; among their myriad pivotal releases, the two of whom have collaborated as British Murder Boys since the early aughts. Active Agents And Murder Boys is their first studio full-length, and it confirms that if these guys actually have a prime, they certainly haven’t passed it yet. Previous British Murder Boys records were co-productions between Regis and Surgeon, whereas Regis is credited with vocals here, leaving the beats to Surgeon. Interesting choice, seeing as post-punk vocals are usually a techno rarity, but the combination of Surgeon’s overactive hardware and heavy kicks alongside Regis’s aggro, echoed sneer is a smashing success. Regis tends to chant his lines in synchronicity with the repetitive techno grooves, mantras more akin to the vocal delivery of Whitehouse or Golden Teacher than any sort of verse-chorus industrial music. It’s a sonic combination that can easily succumb to mediocrity in lesser hands, but Surgeon’s production pulses with lucid, visceral activity, clearly the work of a deft master, and Regis’s bark delivers a salty dash of human chaos to the mix. These aren’t the British Pickpocket Boys, after all: they’re here to kill you!

Candy It’s Inside You LP (Relapse)
Damn right it’s inside me! I consume Snickers and Twixes like ER nurses smoke cigarettes and I’m not shy about it. Anyway, the band called Candy have been making a name for themselves in today’s capital-H hardcore scene as brutal coremen with a taste for devious sonic exploration. Alongside Vein, Code Orange and other bands excavating Y2K alt-industrial styles, Candy are playing beatdown hardcore with a pronounced death-metal influence, but they’re clearly into nostalgic bad-kid stuff like Twisted Metal, the Judgment Night soundtrack and Cronenberg (directly referenced on album opener “eXistenZ”) as well. If he wasn’t rightfully cancelled, I’d expect to see a member of Candy sporting a vintage Marilyn Manson shirt in one of their promo pics. It could go either way for me, but this new album was clearly labored over, and I think it paid off. They’re like the “Enhanced CD” version of contemporaries such as Knocked Loose and Pain Of Truth, integrating industrial-rave electronics, breakbeats, synthetic turntable scratching, abrupt digital edits and freaky Trent Reznorisms alongside their heavy-as-lead breakdowns, grinding metallic riffing and half-time mosh-pit slugfests. They got Trapped Under Ice’s Justice Tripp to contribute vocals to a track, though I wish Al Jourgensen was on here to balance it out with his authentic industrial-metal seal of approval. Maybe Candy don’t have enough eyebrow piercings for his taste, or at least not yet.

Carrier In Spectra 12″ (Carrier)
I’m still feeling the aftershocks of Carrier’s impressive Fathom EP, so why not snag a copy of this new self-released, bare-bones twelve-inch EP while my hands are still shaking? Sometimes all you need is a black inner sleeve and a stamped white label; I suppose artist name and track titles would be nice, but Carrier rightfully assumed I had the internet access necessary to piece it all together. As expected, his productions are in the deepest darkest realms of post-dubstep ritualistic minimalism, in line with the most ominous sides from T++ and Shackleton. These three tracks reduce the overall ballistic approach of Fathom but are no less impactful from the tempo reduction. “Coastal” feels like some sort of early Burial / Raime collab, stripped of echo and vocals right down to its skeletal remains. “Wood Over Plastic” is full of bass-blows and crackle, calling to mind Emptyset on an organic macrobiotic diet, or Autechre if they were commissioned to write some WWE entrance music. “Locus” wraps it in similar fashion, rapid-fire face-slaps kept in place by rich, syrupy low-end and more of those pugilistic bass jabs. Reminds me of my favorite ’10s abstract techno cuts, foreboding and oppressive-sounding without any cheesy goth signifiers, given a fresh coat of paint and a couple scoops of creatine for added muscle. I’m sure Carrier was sitting comfortably at his computer making these tracks, yet I’m certain he must’ve been covered in sweat by the time they were completed.

Lyckle de Jong Pof / Patria 7″ (South Of North)
Lyckle de Jong’s Bij Annie Op Bezoek was reviewed in these pages back when it came out in 2020, and it was kind of the perfect record for that year: screwy, homespun synth-wave music that seemed to take umbrage with both synths and waves. Now I’m checking out this new two-song single, and it sounds totally different, and even more screwy! Goddess bless this freaky dutchman. “Pof” is a slippery little guitar-strum thing that appears on its face to be sped-up in some part. Maybe it’s the vocal that gives it that feel, a wordless staccato bop in the vein of Alvin & The Chipmunks that refuses to quit even as the music around it is melted, malformed and discarded. If Swell Maps started in 2024 instead of 1978, I suspect their debut single would sound like “Pof”. “Patria” takes an entirely different route, joining a piano on a slow walk down the esplanade as G.C. Heemskerk provides a spoken vocal with light electronic futzing, not unlike those newish spoken-word Torn Hawk tracks (the main contrast being that I do not understand the language spoken by G.C. Heemskerk). It’s playful and friendly, like a house party that ends up being a funny time even though you realized the one person you actually knew left before you arrived. Each of these tracks is six minutes too, which feels like another terrible idea for a seven-inch, yet they somehow sound great. More proof of the offbeat magic happening here!

Demdike Stare x Dolo Percussion Dolo DS 12″ (DDS)
Here are three dudes with absolutely nothing to prove in the world of electronic music. As Demdike Stare, Sean Canty and Miles Whittaker more or less defined occult techno in the ’10s before restlessly shifting through new styles; Dolo Percussion is one of Andrew Field-Pickering’s monikers, otherwise best known as Max D, lynchpin of DC’s forward-thinking dance scene and head of the Future Times label. Here they come together over three hardcore breakbeat workouts, sparring in a friendly yet aggressive manner across the Atlantic. Had they thrown in some samples of vomit noises or horror-movie screams, “DS Dolo Edit 1” could’ve found there was onto Doormouse’s Addict label in the early ’00s, such is their relentlessly cut-up break style and vitality. Lord knows there are people out there who can dance to this stuff, but I find myself overheating from the barrage of breaks, twisting like waterslides at the behest of these three gents. “Dolo DS 2” offers a chance to catch my breath, reclining into a half-step slink that could properly support some g-funk bars if it wasn’t so panicky and twitchy. Seems more like a fun exercise than a concerted new direction for Demdike and AFP, but that’s cool with me – it’s like watching a pro baller show up at a township playground court to wreck some local amateurs.

Demeters Döttrar Søndag I Spejlet LP (Discreet Music)
Discreet Music isn’t peddling underground sounds, but rather the sounds of the tiny rivulets and streams deep in the dirt below the underground. If you dig it, surely this new trio featuring Charlott Malmenholt of Treasury Of Puppies and Astrid Øster Mortensen (with someone else named Ida Skibsted Cramer) will raise a brow or two. I dug right in, and while I knew I was in for the sound of detritus’s detritus, the scarce and fragile noise of S​ø​ndag I Spejlet is particularly inconsequential. Of course, “consequential” isn’t what I expect or desire from the Gothenburg experimental scene, so much as strange arrays of crude and rustic sounds that haven’t previously existed – certain records by Neutral, Treasury Of Puppies, Arv & Miljö and Leda already feel like they’ll stand the test of time in their own unique ways. Demeters Döttrar push things further into the cracks around regular songs, those tiny, creaky spaces between floorboards where their music softly grows. Dust-covered harmonicas, voices recorded direct from the air, ancient cassette tapes and a guitar with filthy strings all settle together like an old house into its foundation. It sounds like Loren Mazzacane Connors asleep and snoring with his guitar on his lap, or the ghosts of Charalambides haunting an empty mansion. Real distant, barely-there stuff, the sort of music that won’t register as music to ninety-nine percent of the global population but will captivate the remaining one percent that can’t live without it. Don’t ask for cited sources, I’m positive my numbers are accurate.

Extortion Threats 7″ (Iron Lung)
Perth’s Extortion, now many years into the game, are still fine-tuning their sound, which leads us to Threats. It’s one of those grind-core records that makes anything less sound redundant and pointless, so precise and savage is this collection of fifteen tracks. You’d think they’re from Japan the way that they deliver such a fine-tuned selection of memorable and raging ‘core, a true commitment to quality over quantity, with any imperfections, dalliances or unnecessary steps sliced off and discarded. The manic delivery, guitar crunch and manner in which technicality does not inhibit brutality reminds me a lot of No Man’s Slave or the Manpig LP. As a listener, it’s overwhelmingly fast and full of unexpected changes, yet the group is tighter than the US’s funding of the arts, without a single shot of feedback or cymbal wash left to float in the atmosphere. Extortion’s world of sound is airtight and explosive, and I’m not sure it’s ever been better capsulated than this very EP. Also cool is the fact that they made a video for “Turn It Off”, which somehow looks totally pro without sacrificing the energy or precious hardcore cred. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Extortion are peerless in the genre (just look at who released the record, for starters), but they’re operating at the highest caliber here, nearly twenty years in the game.

Fen Fen National Threat LP (Sweet Time)
You got a singer laid out flat on the stage, mic cord across the face and a fellow band member’s Vans low-tops stepping on him… can any album with that cover image be bad? I love and respect dirtbag punk bands who fall on each other and fudge their performance in service to wild behavior, and while I haven’t seen Fen Fen live, National Threat certainly sounds like the band I’m seeing in their pics. The album has a very Total Punk energy, though it sounds more like a bad-news ’90s punk band than the more modern strains I’m used to hearing, your blown-out garage, egg-punk or pogo-core variants. Fen Fen slam n’ worm like a more garage-y Quincy Punx, or Oblivians if they covered Feederz (which they very well may have). No slow tunes, no moments of contemplation, just song after song of quick, easy-to-play progressions, adequate drumming and campy punk vocals with a brief sample of some old square worried about Satanism to kick it off. I’m not sure National Threat merits a national audience, but neither did the majority of Mutha’s discography and I love all of that stuff too. A lot of ’90s punk can be defined by its refusal to aspire to greatness, and while Fen Fen are here with us right now, I’m happy that they’re giving me a similar sensation.

K. Freund Trash Can Lamb LP (Soda Gong)
Lots of crews out there making domestic ambient music sourced from synths, horns and field recordings, as ardent readers of these pages certainly know. On one hand, I’m (still) getting a little sick of it, but then on the other I’ll fire up something like this new one from K. Freund and it’ll feel like the most fresh and appealing form of music a modern person could create. 2022’s Hunter On The Wing was a delightful transmission from Freund care of his Last Resort crew over there in Ohio, and Trash Can Lamb is right on par, the same but different, also with contributions from friends like G.S. Schray, Steve Clements and Linda Lejsovka. It feels like he’s tugged at the ends of his music here, making the noises noisier, his keys and brass more sumptuous and soothing, his edits more unexpected and rich in contrast. Check “Aire 4”, a brief piano sketch littered with the buzzing chatter of a Star Wars droid, or opener “A Tarp, Billowing”, which saunters in on some marshmallow-soft Chet Baker-styled horns only for a rising tide of Macronympha-esque tape-noise to incongruously gurgle along. It’s these simple juxtapositions that shouldn’t work but do, the sort of thing that can feel on the surface as though “anyone could do it” but in reality, no, anyone can’t. The playing is exquisite, the noise is anomalous and the tracks always find some sort of flow, not unlike my favorite material from O$VMV$M. Not a cheap record to purchase here in the States but worth every penny.

Goldblum Tears In Limbo 12″ (Bergpolder)
Fresh vinyl issue of some Goldblum material from the reliably-strange Bergpolder label over in the Netherlands. Goldblum’s Of Feathers And Bones was one of my favorite releases from 2021, a novel collage of loops molded into attention-grabbing songs; very The Quietus-friendly music if that means anything to you. Tears In Limbo collects three digital tracks from 2020 alongside three new ones, and it behaves in a similarly unruly manner. Part of the fun is not knowing if these loops are found elsewhere (probably?) or Goldblum’s own original doing (maybe?), though the final product consistently transcends its parts. Proceed directly to “Strings Attached”, which takes a pitched-down rhythm-n-blues measure through a haunted house of harmonicas, feedback and other punishing sound effects. It’s kinda like if Seymour Glass decided he wanted to fabricate a rock band through his samples, though I’d say that Goldblum’s music is very much song-based as opposed to open-ended – vocals even appear in conjunction with the songs on occasion, though those are probably samples too? It’s like if The Avalanches were a secret side-project of The 49 Americans, if you’d be willing to imagine such a thing; the music of Goldblum has clearly given me plenty to imagine.

Brezel Göring / Anton Garber Brezel Und Anton Spielen Pisse 7″ (Phantom)
Sometimes I forget just how zany some early NDW post-punk records are, your Die Tödliche Dorises and Aus Lauter Liebes, but a single like this wacky split from “Brezel und Anton” reminds me that German punks are, at their core, a deeply eccentric people. Herr Göring offers us “Fahrradsattel”, a sample-laden Casio-punk fiesta that plays with the idea of country-western motifs (complete with sampled whip-snaps). Alongside sampled screams, laser-beams and disco-punk bass/drums, it’s either Göring or guest associate Lilith Stangenberg responsible for the irritating lead vocal. Let’s flip it over for Anton Garber, who reimagines Blixa Bargeld as some sort of Austin Powers character with the loungey synth number titled “Marlboromann”. It’s a tongue-in-cheek electro-croon, the sort of track that were I to go through the full list of contacts in my phone, I could probably count on no more than two people that would allow me to play the whole thing for them from start to finish. Perpetual jokers, Göring and Garber seem to be having more fun being ridiculous musicians than the rest of the world would ever allow, wearing silly matching jackets as if they were the first to ever come up with the idea. They’re like the diametric opposite of the super-attractive personal wellness influencers out there who wake up every morning passionately hating themselves, so I say we need more Brezels among us, and maybe more Antons too.

Invertebrates Sick To Survive LP (Beach Impediment)
Who better to release the vinyl debut of Richmond hardcore unit Invertebrates than Richmond hardcore lynchpin Beach Impediment Records? Invertebrates feature at least two members of Public Acid, and they leave PA’s metallic European influences behind, crafting a front-to-back rager in Sick To Survive. Early Poison Idea is either a significant influence or a massive coincidence in sound, and there’s certainly no shame in taking notes from Pick Your King. No mosh breakdowns, no melodic harmonies or flanger effects, just full-throttle hardcore-punk with a bottle of Jameson in one hand and a Koro seven-inch in the other, like a souped-up version of how Career Suicide used to do it. Reminds me a bit of Pittsburgh’s recent-ish crop of unrelenting, snarky hardcore-punk in the way that Sick To Survive is impenetrable and devoid of extemporaneous parts. I feel like Richmond and Pittsburgh’s scenes cooperate rather than compete with each other, a couple cities where you can still stick out a little for being a spike-belted weirdo loading your gear into the back door of a working-class pub. “Bated Breath” might be my favorite cut, what with its brief Dead Kennedys-ish interlude and manic thrash akin to the last Code 13 EP, but there’s no wrong place to drop the needle on this one.

Kirkwood Uruk-Hai LP (Out Of Season / Hosianna Mantra)
Out Of Season and Hosianna Mantra set the record straight, simultaneously reissuing three full-lengths from none other than “Kirkwood”. No, he’s not a lost Meat Puppet, Jim Kirkwood was out there in the early ’90s releasing cassettes of fantasy/occult-styled synth music, what could be described as dungeon-synth decades before the term existed. I assume the loose mail-based networks were in place to form some semblance of a scene back then, but Kirkwood’s sound and aesthetic were clearly ahead of their time as far as any sort of significant underground popularity is concerned. Alongside handsome vinyl reissues of Where Shadows Lie and King Of The Golden Hall, Uruk-Hai is probably my favorite, though the quality remains impressively high throughout all three. Each full-length is packed with mist-shrouded dirges, Middle Earth synth-pop and imaginary Legend Of Zelda soundtracks as composed by John Carpenter. The full-lengths swirl with melodic and textural variation, even if the Dungeons & Dragons themes remain constant. I’m tipping my hat to Uruk-Hai for the incredible eight-minutes of “Nirnaeth Arnoediad”, a chugging epic that shifts seamlessly from harsh terrain to lush jungles. Countless music directors of VHS sleaze could’ve benefitted from one call to Mr. Kirkwood, no doubt. Maybe they did? I’m only learning about this guy now, and relieved to learn that not only does he look like The Undertaker, he’s still putting out new music, a discography as ominously deep as the Eye Of Sauron. New jacks, pay respect!

L Marilyn Monroe – All Of Us LP (Radical Documents)
Radical Documents is out here getting more and more radical by the moment, most recently having released this consistently outrageous album by Glasgow’s L. It’s like they took great care to make sure every detail is loony, unapproachable and over the top, from the barely-existent name of their group to the album title and, most certainly, the music within. Much of the material here operates closer to experimental theater than a band, with characters reciting dialogue and the music responding in manners redolent of Frank Zappa, Prehensile Monkey-Tailed Skink and The Muppet Show. Somewhere within these wacky, Shel Silverstein-esque pieces, L manages to fit in chaotic noise-punk, either as part of the show or as unrelated interludes. It leads to an intentionally jarring experience… a segment of fall-on-the-floor screamo is as likely as a pitch-altered voice talking about a visit to the dentist. While the realm of the unlistenable is generally a place I like to inhabit, L go to great lengths to test their listeners’ mettle, particularly with the constant barrage of exuberant theater-kid energy. I suppose I thought I was a freak, but I’m realizing that there are people out there who can comfortably listen to Marilyn Monroe – All Of Us end to end in a single sitting, whereas after a few minutes of this myself, I need a shot of some Sex Pistols or AC/DC to keep my eyes from fully dilating.

Okkyung Lee & Bill Orcutt Play Paris And Glasgow LP (Palilalia)
Bill Orcutt has been a record-releasing fiend over the last decade or so, mostly his own music but plenty of friends and co-conspirators, and I couldn’t be happier. This is a guy worth hearing, and in a delightfully unusual move, he recently released five new LPs for ten bucks a pop (plus shipping). If he lost his mind, I hope he never finds it! I couldn’t resist grabbing this new one featuring live sets from frequent collaborator Okkyung Lee and himself, whose cello improvisations are well suited to Orcutt’s unholy twang. I’m gonna guess the first side is Paris, and they take a full tour of their respective instruments, from piercing tone-float to mournful elegies and free-handed blowouts. There’s one point where Lee slowly descends in pitch as Orcutt picks at chord-clusters like scabs and if anyone in the crowd passed out, the recording sadly didn’t pick it up. The second side opens softly, Lee settling into some seasick tones over Orcutt’s brittle string-work, like a lone rusted pinwheel picking up wind in a dusty canyon. Of course, they never stay in one place too long; the duo are constantly in communication no matter the volume, the constant threat of harsh-noise freak-outs and full-blast drones a guaranteed yet jarring event. Two killer sets by these vets on one LP – an archival release, for sure, but these are precisely the people who need to be getting archived! Praise to Bill Orcutt for doing it himself. Kinda wishing I went wild and grabbed the other four…

Mattin Expanding Concert (Lisboa 2019 – 2023) 2xLP (Galerias Municipais / EGEAC)
The ever-restless Mattin is full of ideas, one of which being his “Expanding Concert” series of events, taking place over multiple years with various collaborators and audiences. It’s highly conceptual, of course, the sort of art event that is more about its own conception and execution than the resulting product (in this case, audio and video footage). The hefty accompanying booklet does a masterful job of explaining the concept, one that I will dumbly summarize as an extended series of interactions between Mattin, other artists and his audience, building and shifting throughout its full duration. The two LPs in this well-designed package are almost secondary, as the erratic sounds of warbling drones, footsteps, quiet conversation, electronic loops, synths and noise are not particularly compelling on their own. The point seems to be the full package, however, more in the spirit of vinyl records by Joseph Beuys and Henning Christiansen, artists for whom sound was merely one of many mediums worth engaging. At this point, can we just get an exhaustive Mattin book instead? I know I’m a record guy, but this deep into his career I’d rather have a bespoke collection of texts and images regarding his work, at least until Billy Bao puts out another punk rock record.

Military Shadow / Kuebiko split 7″ (Gonzosonic / Believe In Punk)
Tokyo’s Military Shadow meets Weymouth, MA’s Kuebiko in a metallic hardcore duel. It’s amusing to me that the one label’s name is Believe In Punk, because who is gonna buy this record that isn’t already a firm believer? You’re preaching to the choir! Anyway, I had zero familiarity with either group, though the artwork of evil army-helmeted zombies provided some reasonable context clues. Military Shadow charge forward with metallic riffing delivered in a mid-paced hardcore style, not unlike The Clay and Mobs if we’re keeping comparisons domestic. Kuebiko brings twice as many tracks to their side (four), with respectfully traditional d-beat music and vocals that take the whole “noise-not-music” thing to a whole new level. It sounds like they’re distorted, then echoed, then distorted again, coming across more like a sound-effect than actual vocalizing, which is a cool thing to do. No one can understand the words anyway, so why not blow the whole thing to smithereens? For my money, Kuebiko come out on top here, but the combination offers strong evidence that split EPs can still be an energizing force in the hardcore-punk underworld. When Bandcamp inevitably goes down for good someday, records like this will remain!

Montel Palmer Love Getaway LP (South Of North)
Killer new full-length outing from unique German quartet Montel Palmer. Their ranks are a confusing mystery – you’re telling me “TBZ”, “Tulips” and “Peter Graf York” are current members? – but this is a mystery I have no desire to unravel. Their music, a downtempo blend of post-punk, digital-debris, lo-fi house and whatever the Wah Wah Wino crew could be described as, is ripe for a lack of firm understanding or clarification. These beat-driven tracks are as active as an over-night security guard, contentedly wasting time as analog-sourced electronics provide bass, treble, kicks and effects. More often than not, someone sings, though certainly through a chain of modifications, pitching them up, down or sideways, layered or distorted. I feel like if Can got started in a Berlin loft in 2020, they might’ve produced a similar result, full of weird little ditties and warped experiments. “Talk To Me” feels like Beau Wanzer under the tutelage of Ween; “Can’t Walk Straight” is like if Jandek did an album for L.I.E.S.; “Mermaid Wolf Whistle” is Mike Cooper washing up on Blues Control’s shore. It’s unserious, sometimes funny music, but Montel Palmer’s unique style and peculiar perspective reveals a group that’s serious about their craft, unwilling to slap together anything typical, obvious or heard-before. An exceptionally strong month for the freaks at South Of North!

Multiples Two Hours Or Something 2xLP (Stoor)
Love a good techno-veteran collab – chances are, they’ve got nothing to prove, only fun to be had. Multiples is a studio pairing of Surgeon and Speedy J, two names that have been looking towards the future since the ’90s, and they struck gold here on Two Hours Or Something. This collection of unedited single-takes is adventurous and lively, flipping through various modes, from raw techno trax to pasteurized experimentalism. Usually, every cut has a little bit of both, as it seems that Surgeon and Speedy J brought out some new and unexpected sound-banks and effects for the session, trying to impress each other as much as us, the fortunate listeners. It’s too colorful to quality as industrial music, but also too fried and hostile to conform to standard techno regulations… if anything, it feels like a late ’80s Esplendor Geometrico album rendered with today’s state-of-the-art gear, though of course multiple tracks (or moments of tracks) immediately contradict that description. How does one describe “Coffee Nerd”… ants playing paintball? Is “Spirit” the sound of Regis kidnapping Kyle Hall as Gene Hunt pens the ransom note? All I know is Two Hours Or Something is one of the most engaging techno full-lengths I’ve heard this year.

Petrified Max The Cup’s Run Over / She Draws Eyes 7″ (Spacecase)
Weren’t expecting any Trotsky Icepick content this month, were you? Surprise! Petrified Max doesn’t contain any guys actually named Max, but it does contain Vitus Mataré and John Rosewall, both formerly of Trotsky Icepick (as well as late ’70s LA power-poppers The Last) and Danny Frankel of Urban Verbs. It’s a veritable summit of guys who get mentioned in passing in regional first-wave punk oral histories, and as you may have expected, they’ve calmed down quite a bit in their advanced ages. “The Cup’s Run Over” is a dandy pop-rock number, the sort of song that would sound like Death Cab For Cutie if Ben Gibbard played it, but instead sounds like Dire Straits or Traveling Wilburys, complete with Bud Light-sounding electric guitar leads, keys and touches of what their generation considers to be psych-flavored garage. “She Draws Eyes” is AARP power-pop, played by lifelong professionals who aren’t afraid to get a little bit funky over at Buffalo Wild Wings. It’s like a paisley-pop take on G.E. Smith’s SNL band, the sort of thing that your neighbors wouldn’t yell at you to turn down even if cranked, so pleasantly innocuous is its disposition. I’m not sure what any of this means except that playing in bands can be a magnificent lifelong pursuit, and Petrified Max is most certainly a band.

Bruno Pronsato Rare Normal LP (Foom)
Having come up in the style and indirect authority of Luciano and Ricardo Villalobos, American-born, Berlin-stationed minimal-techno producer Bruno Pronsato stays the course on his newest full-length, Rare Normal. For such a singles-based genre, I’ve generally really enjoyed Pronsato’s full-lengths, and as he continues to work within a style of music that is far from today’s techno tastemaker spotlight, his music has only grown more appealing. This new one is in line with what we’ve come to expect from Pronsato – skittering percussion sketching out elastic grooves in the open air – but he’s slower and sleepier than ever here, and I love it. Whereas you could usually dance to his music, Rare Normal sounds like the best part of late ’00s Villalobos cut at half-speed, slinking around the house late at night and avoiding human contact. His productions still bear the bones of Perlon-styled minimal tech-house, but they’re deployed in subtle and understated ways, barely reaching the pace of a casual strut and trading in low-end or 4/4 kicks for tiny ASMR-ish clicks and buzzes. If you’re looking for the hot new techno trend, this ain’t it, but I applaud Bruno Pronsato for following his muse regardless of marketability. Once slow-core minimalist IDM takes hold, I hope that Pronsato is rightly given his roses for Rare Normal.

Quid Quo Circle Walks In Circles LP (Glass Key Productions)
Quid Quo are a trio of Arkansas natives who relocated to Seattle, and I hate to inform them that they’re about thirty years late if they were hoping to get discovered by a major label scooping up all the grunge-adjacent rockers of the day. Circle Walk In Circles is their debut, and it’s a jumpy, chunky strain of indie-rock that would’ve been considered discordant and maybe even weird decades ago but now just sounds comforting and familiar. In a good way! Their songs move quickly; no riff outstays its welcome, though there are some particularly cool parts here and there that I wish lasted longer, which is the way to do it. Quid Quo actually sound more Chicago than Seattle to me, the sort of scrappy-yet-tight sound with feet in both post-hardcore and garage-punk that I’d associate with Touch & Go a smidge more than Sub Pop. Anyway, that era is a bittersweet memory, but Quid Quo’s spin on things feels very much alive and thriving, what with both guitarist and bassist singing their guts out over twisty, tumbling riffs. Seattle should send one of their bands to live in Arkansas, just to keep it fair – hey The Briefs, pack your bags!

The Sheaves A Salve For Institution LP (Dot Dash Sounds / SDZ)
Much like the yearly median temperature, each Sheaves album is hotter than the last! This Phoenix post-punk group came to my attention care of a fine Minimum Table Stacks vinyl release, and I’m glad to see that they’re working hard over there, offering up A Salve For Institution, their second full-length vinyl record. The quintet’s general formula remains the same: informal guitar scrum that falls in and out of traditional song-form with a Mark E. Smith-indebted vocalist who doesn’t shut up for one second. His vocals are often double (and triple?) tracked, as if the singer and his clones have cornered you in a bathroom stall, unwilling to let you pass until they say what they need to say. If it was me in there, I’d be happy to wait, as The Sheaves have a great thing going, this brittle jangle redolent of the group’s arid homeland and a vocalist with a freaky rasp. It’s desert-rock but not in the Kyuss sense of the term, which seems to glorify the sun’s scorch. The Sheaves are more like the lizards that hide under rocks until the sun goes down, and it’s in their presentation, too – the singer sounds like his face is covered in scales, evolutionarily angled so that every last drop of moisture rolls into his mouth, while the rest of the band plays as if they had already baked in the heat all day, exhausted in the evening shade. If a record could give me painful tan-lines, this might be the one.

Shop Regulars Shop Regulars LP (Merrie Melodies)
Absolutely stellar debut vinyl outing for Portland, OR’s Shop Regulars. I hadn’t heard any of their cassettes prior to this record, and now I feel it’s my duty to make sure that some (if not all!) of you loyal readers go and check out this long-player, because it absolutely rules. They basically take the extended interlocking groove formula of Natural Information Society or 75 Dollar Bill and apply it to roughed-up K Records-ish indie-pop, full of repetitive, hypnotic patterns and enough space within to fully jam out. It’s like if you took the full ten minutes of “Marquee Moon”, sent it to Columbus Discount Records for a proper lo-fi rinsing, installed a couple of oddball Beefheartian riffs and let it rip on down the road, merrily melodizing all the way. The guitar-bass-drums interplay reminds me of some of my favorite Deerhoof moments (think all of Reveille), this joyous wild bashing that is also fully under control somehow and extremely pleasant to listen to. The vocals are unusual too, the singer’s syllables extended in slow-motion over the hectic riffing, resulting in one of the most interesting and exciting new rock bands I’ve heard in a while. If it wasn’t already clear: highly recommended!

Stacks Want LP (Knekelhuis)
Knekelhuis has yet to do me wrong, so why not peep their newest, another album from Antwerp’s Stacks. They’re a duo with some cool matching names, Jan Matthé and Sis Matthé, and I’m not sure if they’re brothers or married or what but it sets the stage nicely for their subdued electronica. Immediately the sound and style of M83 come to mind, a bedroom fantasy of fleece-soft Depeche Mode synths and tear-stained notebooks, and that sense remains in place throughout the extent of Want. By coincidence or on purpose, I can’t shake the thought of M83, but Stacks kind of condenses what I enjoy most about M83 into their songs: wistful emotions, overly processed vocals, nostalgic synths that glow like frosted pastel bulbs, richly dramatic melodies that make mountains out of molehills… all of that’s in these songs. If the two Matthés didn’t hold each other’s hands for at least some portion of the writing and recording process, these songs could’ve fooled me. When they eventually remake Stranger Things into a Gen Z rom-com, Want will be an appropriate soundtrack, though it works nicely for me now, singing along to “Run Away” in my bedroom with the blinds shut in the middle of the day, A/C window unit pushed far beyond its limits.

Still House Plants If I Don’t Make It, I Love U LP (Bison)
Pass the experimental spotlight to London’s Still House Plants, their new album receiving plenty of the most precious of resources: being talked-about. Wire isn’t putting just anybody on their cover, and If I Don’t Make It, I Love U feels perfectly ripe for this moment, whatever this moment may be. The guitar/vocals/drums trio nudge Chicago-style jazzy post-rock into a modern post-R&B direction, resulting in a truly unique sound. It’s a firm handshake for Kelela and Black Midi fans, Still House Plants’ Londonized combination of stylish experimental musics into a fairly novel sound. Guitarist Finlay Clark and drummer David Kennedy are as locked-in as Orthrelm, though they sound more like Jeff Parker and Valentina Magaletti, working in odd timings, or odd transitions, or at least some element skewed from typical 4/4 behavior at all times. Vocalist Jess Hickie-Kallenbach almost seems to ignore her bandmates entirely, singing repeated phrases with a deep and earthy voice, somewhere between Sade and Mary Jane Dunphe. I read that she patterned her delivery after a sampler, and it makes sense, given the atypical way she clips and duplicates her lines. The combination of vocals and music can clash so drastically that it’s bound to upset the ears of people who seek the comfort of familiarity, but Still House Plants are so clearly dedicated to working out their own unique sound that, if it’s for you, you’ll wonder how you ever did without it.

Swan Wash Shadow Shadow LP (Sister Cylinder)
Finally, it’s here: the debut collaboration between Michael Gira and power-rock duo Pink Wash! Just kidding, Swan Wash are a death-rock group from Bloomington, but wouldn’t that be something? Shadow Shadow/ is Swan Wash’s first proper album following a few EPs, and as far as Midwestern goth goes, I find it perfectly palatable. Swan Wash’s songs are forceful and even downright energetic, but they don’t seem beholden to any musical sense of punk rock, which works to their advantage. They plunge deep into flashy, dramatic goth-rock with full commitment – guitars flailing, clear-and-present bass-guitar and a singer who drips eyeliner and cursed libido. Reminds me a whole lot of Balaclavas, if anyone remembers them, that great Texas goth unit who shaped the manic energy of At The Drive-In and the relentless churn of Public Image Ltd. into their own pained visage. The same goes for Swan Wash to a degree, though they’re a little more lace and a little less leather, if you catch my drift. Either way, Swan Wash is a formidable new entity on the scene, ripe for one of those Los Angeles fests called “Dark Tremors” or “Blue Monday Evenings” if those bookers ever decide to acknowledge the existence of what’s happening in the fly-over states.

Tramuntanas Tramuntanas LP (no label)
Lungfish is one of those bands with an extremely dedicated sect of fans, and rightfully so. We’re not talking about people who simply own all the albums, we’re talking those who follow all the side projects, interpret lyrics, gather up all the related books and writings, get prints (and tattoos!) of Dan Higgs’ art… Lungfish have inspired a decades-long devotion, the opposite of flavor-of-the-month trends. Thusly, I’m hoping that any Lungfish super-fans reading this check out Asa Osborne’s new duo with Shan Collis, Tramuntanas, who self-released their first LP. Don’t expect any immediate sonic similarities – Tramuntanas are an instrumental synth duo, for starters – but that same silver thread of devotional mysticism is evident throughout their debut. These songs are patient, cyclical and space-aged, sounding like Dopplereffekt’s electro at less than half-speed. The lightweight boom-tsch of a drum machine sputters prudently while heavenly synths layer chords and patterns over top, as if Jason Pierce reconfigured Kraftwerk’s Computer World for acid-trip meditations. At first, these songs can feel overly simplistic, but settle into them and their beauty starts to reveal itself, even as they maintain the air of passive electronic vignettes.

UF Unknown Fate LP (Kick To Kill)
Really been loving it as many of the UK’s heavyweight industrial-techno merchants start integrating the heaviness, approach and feel of hardcore, metal and doom into their productions. UF is the duo of Kerridge and Oake, two Downwards label alumni who look cool as hell shirtless, tattooed and distraught on the cover of Unknown Fate, their debut. It’s definitely not metal – I can’t rightly spot a single guitar, for starters – but I’ll be damned if it isn’t the most brutal digital music I’ve heard since that Persher record from earlier this year. Utilizing their rich pool of production knowledge, UF push their riotous grayscale techno into darker, harsher realms where the ghosts of industrial post-punk and blackened metal growl and howl. It’s similar to Ben Frost, Vessel and Emptyset (as well as their respective solo works), but the way in which they combine chest-vibrating bass, unhinged vocals, oppressive percussion and mechanical clangor feels like something exciting and fresh if not entirely without precedent. I love that they both provide vocals and seem willing to take risks – Unknown Fate really feels like a record that pushed its creators to the brink. “Dalston Bubble” is eight active minutes of pain and torture, for example, and I can imagine Prurient pinching his nose and tweaking his ears like Rumpelstiltskin while hearing it, furious that Hospital Productions didn’t get to release it.

Writhing Squares Mythology LP (Trouble In Mind)
Writing Squares have been doing their part to keep Philly weird for nearly a decade now, Mythology being their fourth full-length (and third with Trouble In Mind). Their budget space-rock has always been a good time, though I feel like I haven’t checked in recently – let’s blame Covid – so it’s nice to see where they’re currently at. To my surprise, Mythology is less of a tweaked procession into the stratosphere than I am used to from the duo, probably because they’re no longer a duo here, now with full-time drummer John Schoemaker in their ranks. It results in somewhat of a more traditional rock affair on many of these tracks, a vibe not unlike Hawkwind covering “TV Eye”. Whereas I enjoyed them untethered from human percussion in the past, I’ve already come to appreciate what they sound like in this more traditional rock trio assemblage, chooglin’ through one of Blue Öyster Cult’s geometric shapes and popping out the other end upside-down. The neon digital-clock font has me thinking of late ’80s sci-fi thrillers, even if the sounds of Mythology veer towards early ’80s dirtbag fantasy rock, songs that sound like they should be performed by the band in Stunt Rock. There are still some outsider moves, tracks that eschew rocking for freaky delay-pedal horn explorations, and while I probably prefer Writhing Squares at their weirdest, I’d say “Chromatophage” is the best of both worlds – imagine Laddio Bolocko with Bootsy Collins.

Reviews – June 2024

Agencement Binomial Cascades LP (Pico)
Agencement’s second self-titled full-length (released in 1989) is somewhat of a personal epiphany record for me. Purchased at random in a used collection that came into my favorite local shop like twenty years ago, it was my first encounter with noise that wasn’t harsh or brutal, but quietly, violently abstract; if you haven’t heard it, it’s basically a continuous, extended flow of microscopic plucks and scrapes of the violin. It was so utterly alien and incomprehensible to me at the time that it left a permanent impression on my impressionable self, all before you could simply look up anything on the internet and find out what it was. Anyway, Agencement was and is the work of improviser Hideaki Shimada, and Binomial Cascades is his first full-length in seven years (and his sixth across thirty-eight years!). Unlike the album that dazzled me, Binomial Cascades is spacious and kind of solemn. Across two side-long pieces, Shimada takes his time between scrapes, plucks and rubs, wielding his instrument like punctuation between expanses of silence or subtly-modified room-noise. As my familiarity with improvised music has grown, this feels more typical for what I’ve come expect from solo violin: various textural approaches with minimal processing, slipping in between overlapping realities. I’m enjoying Binomial Cascades, but primarily as a means of checking back in with Shimada, his Agencement moniker a pleasant reminder of how fun it is to have some unknown record immediately blow your mind.

Alien Nosejob The Executioner / West Side Story 7″ (Anti Fade)
The chameleonic Alien Nosejob beams down two more cuts on this tidy seven-inch EP. There are some Alien Nosejob records I absolutely adore and others I can happily live without, and while I have trouble meeting anybody these days who would consider a seven-inch release to be an essential purchase, this new one should cause any sane punk to open their wallet. “The Executioner” enters with a jagged electronic-drum fill before kicking into a cool and unusual riff, one that might feel heavy if played by someone else but comes across appealingly scrawny here. There’s a cool shout-along chorus that will stick in your head after a single listen, though if you own the single you can listen to your heart’s content! “West Side Story”, on the other hand, sounds like it should exist in that axis of The Chisel and Chubby & The Gang, a beer-soaked stomper that’s as close to a No Future-sounding tune as we’ll ever get from any of these bedroom-punk solo-projects. I’ve barely laced up my Docs before the song starts fading out, the rare punk tune that I wish was longer, not shorter. Best ‘Nosejob in a minute!

Bato Human Cancer LP (Not For The Weak)
Virginia Beach hardcore unit Bato diagnose us with the worst form of cancer on their full-length debut: human! They should sell records like these at Home Depot between the all-weather screws and sledgehammers, so rugged and indispensable is this form of unmistakably American hardcore. Bearing no discernible allegiance to moshy-beatdown, grimy-pogo or thrashy-metallic forms of hardcore, Bato rip and roar in line with the crudest hardcore-punk the very early ’80s had to offer, sharing the spirit of Necros, Corrosion Of Conformity and Die Kreuzen. It’s not entirely beholden to 1982 Touch & Go, however – I’m also picking up similarities to some of the less-transgressive Youth Attack acts, like The Repos and Salvation in the way the songs are constructed (more dimensional than “I Hate My School”, let’s say). Bato might not have their own unmistakable set of traits that immediately stick out (or even stick out upon numerous listens), but I happen to love the style of music they play, and they play it with all the enthusiasm and urgency that it demands, the abrasive guitar mixed loudly throughout these unrelenting songs. If I had any remote shred of American pride (which I do not), it’d be due to Bato and bands like them.

Bib Biblical 7″ (Quality Control HC)
Omaha’s Bib continue to stick it out in the hardcore trenches, coming up on ten years of friendly pit warfare. I haven’t checked in with them since 2016, and while I found their brand of echo-vocal / Bone Awl-drumming hardcore to be derivative back then, there’s something about the fact that they stuck with it (and more or less maintained the same sound) that I can’t help but appreciate. This new five-song EP still sounds a lot like Gag and Gel – more an energetic collection of fast parts and half-time breakdowns than distinguishable songs – but they’re probably one of that particular sub-genre’s scene elders at this point, and they get the job done. The vocals remain short staccato syllables enhanced with echo, usually opening every mosh with a single throat-shredding ewwww, of which there are plenty. I’ll give it to them that “Bitter Mind” sticks out, not for any deviation of form but because there’s some sort of strange vocoder-enhanced vocal line in there, satisfyingly out of place, though even that quickly fades back into their hardcore maelstrom. It’s crazy how big hardcore has gotten now, crazy in a good way (I think), and Bib is starting to feel like the new meat-and-potatoes, for better or worse. The modern version would be what, plant-based meat and potatoes? I’d make fun of it, but I honestly eat that multiple times a week and love where food technology has taken us. Maybe I can learn to love Bib, too.

Bronson Arm Bronson Arm LP (Learning Curve)
The duo Bronson Arm do a good job of concealing their sparse ranks – it took me a minute before realizing that there’s no bassist providing the low-end. It’s Blake Bickel on baritone guitar, an instrument that probably appeals to skilled musicians and Guitar Center employees, two groups of people I can’t consider myself a part of, and it sounds pretty solid on Bronson Arm’s debut. They’re clearly students in the Shellac school of noise-rock, with big-huge drums full of precisely-mapped fills and breaks, steel-bolted riffs that refuse to state their intentions (a celebration, or a lampooning, of classic rock riffing?), and unamused male vocals that only shout some of the time. There’s plenty of room between the instruments, but they keep it tight anyway, probably because they’re such talented players in this rigorous form of music that they don’t know any other way to be. Like basic training, it gets the job done with a time-tested, regimented formula, and while Bronson Arm surely accomplish their goals here, I can’t help but wonder what it’d be like if they threw a wrench in their own works. I dare you to invite that guy lurking in the alley behind the studio to sing a song, or cover Melt Banana, or throw an AI-generated Bootsy Collins bass-line over one of these tunes! What’s the worst that could happen?

The Celebrities Redd Karpet 12″ (Total Punk)
The Celebrities are a long-distance collaboration between Joe Sussman (of, uh, The Muff Divers) and Kel Mason (of Gee Tee), an American/Australian summit of wacky mustaches, outrageous mullets and cheap sunglasses in service of the almighty egg-punk. These bands spawn like bathtub mold, and while The Celebrities are presumably not a functioning band as we generally understand the term (though who knows these days!), they’ve secured a nice deal with Total Punk for a debut EP of Redd Kross worship as filtered through the modern post-Coneheads lens. The vocals are delivered in typical robo-squawk fashion, whereas the songs bop and shake in a very Teen Babes From Monsanto way – clearly speedy, jumpy punk, but lampooning KISS and Cheap Trick riffs where the line between sincere adoration and tongue-in-cheek teasing is blurred. If you need more lo-fi egg-punk that wears its influences proudly on its sleeve, I don’t think you can go wrong with Redd Karpet, but I can’t help but assume that everyone else’s personal quotas for transitory recording-project punk in the style of Coneheads are nearing their limits. It seems like something to do for a laff, which is cool, but I suppose I’m more interested in seeing where the Total Punk sounds of tomorrow are headed. I’ll put it in terms easily understood by your average egg-punk: it’s like pizza that arrives a little colder each time I get a new one delivered.

Arianne Churchman & Benedict Drew MAY 2xLP (Love’s Devotee)
Ridiculous second release from the Love’s Devotee label, a stunning sequel up there with Terminator 2: Judgment Day and The Empire Strikes Back. MAY is a dense and extravagant nine-track double-LP from two names I was previously unfamiliar with (and will be following closely going forward). Arianne Churchman has a lovely voice in the British folk tradition, one that is appropriately accompanied by acoustic strum and synthesizer warble, and Benedict Drew explodes it wide open with a variety of processing, looping and compositional techniques. The result is something like the bucolic folksy corner of ’70s kraut-rock reconfigured in the form of extended-duration praise music – imagine Broadcast lovingly remixed by Charlemagne Palestine into something completely fresh and reverberant. These lengthy tracks often start at a simplistic point, little more than a single leaf of dew-dropped vetiver. The camera slowly pans out to reveal massive and thriving ecosystems with countless forms of lush flora, then flips it into a kaleidoscopic light-show. It’s incredible from start to finish! There’s a sense of studied electronic mastery ala The BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop, but with streams flowing through and rainbows jutting out of clouds. If you told me MAY was a lost masterpiece rendered by Popol Vuh and Shirley Collins, I’d be scouring the internet for a copy, but it’s new music easily available from Love’s Devotee, though if other people catch on to its glory, I can’t imagine for very long.

Climax Landers Zenith No Effects LP (Gentle Reminder / Home Late / Intellectual Bird)
Anyone with a band named Climax Landers has to be some level of nutty, preferably the sweet spot between offputtingly dry and try-hard wacky. I’d say that Climax Landers fall within those danger zones, utilizing a proficient, jazzy sort of twee-pop as the vehicle for bandleader Will Moloney’s untrained voice and entertaining lyrics. He riffs on the societal disgust anyone with half a brain is feeling right now, but it goes down easy with his unusual turns of phrase, funny rhymes and clever gags. While the rest of the group sounds like a band that plays in a park for onlookers, he casually hits you with a line like “stronger than my love forlorn / consuming porn with the X-Man Storm”. The ending of “Ad Hominem” is worth printing, too: “Blessed by health and love and weed / Find the truth dialectically / No Ad Hominem attacks / What do you take me for? / An ass?” I’m not always a lyrics guy but I like when they do something different than all the other lyrics out there, and Climax Landers keep it fun, fresh and unpredictable. As for the music, it’s not really my thing – an ill-fated combo of nice, traditional and kinda boring – but as a delivery system for Moloney’s entertaining verse, it goes down without incident, a pleasant contrast to be sure. I chuckled at the genre tag of “non lucrative rock” on their Bandcamp page, but it got me thinking – who actually plays lucrative-rock these days, anyone at all?

DAR A Slightly Larger Head LP (Sophomore Lounge)
A slightly larger head and a slightly different configuration from the various players that provide the foundation for Sophomore Lounge, one they’re calling DAR. It’s led by Aaron Osbourne (of State Champion and Plows) and flanked by Jim Marlowe and Ryan Davis, both of whom play together in Equipment Pointed Ankh (and of course Davis played in State Champion too, not to mention his recent solo outings with The Roadhouse Band, also lovingly released by Sophomore Lounge…). Must be nice, just hanging out, making up new bands all day! Anyway, DAR takes a classically ’90s approach to indie-rock: kinda slacker-ish in demeanor and execution, reliant on oblong melodic twists rather than typical pop progressions, tuneful and ragged in a way that could trace back to Pavement / Guided By Voices / Built To Spill and so on. Unlike a lot of so-called indie-rock, DAR explicitly rocks a lot of the time, almost sounding like a cleanly-recorded, fully-expanded version of Times New Viking on a track like “Will 2 Luv”. I’m not sure where they all found the time, but these songs were clearly labored over, written and re-written until the right balance of cohesion and nonchalance is achieved. You know, a sophistication that comes off easy and casual, just like all the bands these folks do, someway somehow.

DJ Rat Nocturne 12″ (Crude)
Can you feel blissful and caffeinated? I feel like all those expensive skinny-can energy drinks at Whole Foods purport to provide such a sensation, but I’m gonna skip all that when I can just reach for my copy of Nocturne by DJ Rat. Not sure what DJ Rat’s deal is, except that they’re from the Pacific Northwest and managed to link up with German label Crude. I’m mighty glad they did, as this is some of the most attention-grabbing neo-trance EDM I’ve heard in a minute. The BPM is fast, maybe a little too fast, and it runs out across minimal beats and tightly-gated arpeggios. I guess that doesn’t sound so unique, but DJ Rat bridges the various gaps between Drexciya and modern progressive trance, offering dance manna to the masses with the sophisticated aesthetic of an NTS radio show. These tracks are as exquisitely simple as Black Merlin’s with the peppy electro skip of Jensen Interceptor, invoking some sort of crystalline hallway that provides a path to shimmering new dimensions. It’s like if gabber and dub-techno had a precocious child who wanted to find a voice of their own, one that is explored through these four similar-but-different cuts. By the time “Corridor” is fired up I’m already levitating, and once the dreamy acid of “Telepathic Climax” (sick title!) is complete, I’m firing proton energy blasts from my hands like I’m an X-Man. How long until Kalahari Oyster Cult pins down DJ Rat to put the finishing touches on the intergalactic rave portal they’ve been constructing?

Egg Idiot Best Of LOL LP (Phantom)
There should be a rule that the next time someone decides they want to start an egg-punk band, they have to listen to Egg Idiot’s Best Of LOL. Like, are you sure you wanna do this? Leipzig’s Egg Idiot takes the formula and dumbs it up even further, though we must admit, he warned us with the name. Sped-up, DEVO- and Coneheads-inspired songs buzz and jolt in the manner we’ve all become accustomed to, with rapid-fire muted picking, electronic drums and messy, childish vocals. Egg Idiot treats some of these songs like skits, replete with a variety of digitally-altered vocals interacting with each other – it can be reminiscent of rudimentary Adult Swim animations. Taken without context, it’s a silly, occasionally endearing listen, but I find the way in which Egg Idiot brazenly checkmarks every typical egg-punk move to be a real turn-off, right down to the project’s name. He certainly has his own ideas (I suppose no one else has written a song called “Pills In My Butt” before), but Egg Idiot comes across like a proud imitator, doing what everyone else has done or is doing and not thinking for a second that there’s anything uncouth about it. It reminds me of Cereal Killer in that I needed to take a break from listening to Lumpy & The Dumpers when that band came out, and now I’m feeling like it’s time to put some distance between me and my Snooper and Erik Nervous records for a little while, just to be safe.

First Boy On The Moon Cybergirl LP (Manic)
Sweden’s First Boy On The Moon come through with a disarmingly corny set of alt-indie pop-rock. Their sound is about as off-trend as it gets these days: ’90s-inspired, but not in a shoegaze/grunge/goth/slowcore way… it’s far closer to the semi-goofy alt-pop of groups like Fastball and Everclear. Vocalist David Pedroza (who I believe is an American living in Sweden) kinda sounds like Julian Casablancas trying to imitate Morrissey if they were both from the Midwest, and he sings songs called “Generation Suicide” and the title track as though they were the freshest, coolest things a guy could possibly sing and not, you know, a song called “Cybergirl”. I feel like they’re the band least likely to succeed in today’s trend-loyal underground, and I have to say, their complete out-of-stepness with what’s cool in 2024 is a good part of why I appreciate them. These songs really do sound like they could’ve been alt-radio hits back in 1997, and come on, does anyone else have the guts to sing a song called “Taste The Rainbow” (wherein the title is repeated throughout), acting like Skittles didn’t already come up with it? More and more, I feel like young rock bands are hyperaware of what is perceived as cool and what isn’t, treating their social-media feeds like focus groups ready to provide any and all fan service, and here’s The First Boy On The Moon over in Sweden, putting out these endearing pop records outside of the typical indie machinations without a care in the world. Their website is a Facebook page, for cryin’ out loud, and I love them for it.

Morgan Garrett Purity LP (Orange Milk)
It’s evident that our younger generations not only have less to look forward to than those that came before, but they’re also acutely aware of the fact. It’s awful of course, but it’s interesting to see how this sort of well-founded nihilism is finding its way into underground music. In the case of Morgan Garrett’s first vinyl full-length, Purity, it’s a striking, thrilling jolt of uncomfortable emotion, paranoia diving headfirst into frustration and despair. And it doesn’t sound like much else out there! Imagine, if you will, if Xiu Xiu went nu-metal, or Sightings mockingly imitating Slint. The songs here are wildly unquantized and unpredictable, with the typical tendons of underground-rock torn and sewn back up or discarded entirely. Shards of down-tuned sludge-metal flash in the moonlight, acoustic guitars appear to be waterboarded, and Garrett moans, whimpers and snorts throughout, as if he’s writing a suicide note but it turns out the note is actually for you, not him. There seems to be an awareness of hyper-pop and that whole post-100 Gecs scene happening somewhere in here too, or at least a working knowledge of the ways in which digital editing can be used to humiliate the original sound source, though Purity is often as stark and bewildering as Keiji Haino. It all makes for a captivating album that avoids easy categorization, and alongside Ecology: Homestones, makes a case for Philadelphia as a quality source for art-noise that’s sure to leave a dark ring in your tub.

General Labor Illuminator / Tastes Metallic 7″ (Spacecase)
We’re in decade number five of people naming their synth-based music project after dreary corporate/industry terminology with no signs of stoppage. General Labor is the work of Memphis’s Corbin Linebarier, a name that is so damn interesting, he’s the rare case where someone should just use the name on their driver’s license for their electro-punk rather than come up with something new. General Labor has the feel of that scene of garage-y, Goner Records-y punks who shifted to synths, taking “TV OD”, early Soft Cell and Cabaret Voltaire (and, perhaps less intentionally, Blank Dogs) as inspiration for an unsophisticated, street-level take on the genre. Very similar to label-mates Optic Sink, for example, though I find Optic Sink’s songs to be a bit more fleshed out, or at least more pronounced. “Illuminator” has that 8-bit haunted-house feel with murky synths and distorto-vocals, and “Tastes Metallic” follows suit, with a pulsing synth arpeggio pushing its way to the front of the mix; there’s even some distorted rock guitar when the time is right. It’s not unlike an early side from The Pink Noise, with the sense of punks migrating from Fenders to Korgs and dipping their toes into a whole new world of sonic opportunity in the transition. I personally will not recall the existence of this single a year from now, but who’s to say our future will last that long anyway?

Guerra, de Paiva, Hornsby, Konradsen Contrahouse LP (ULYSSA)
That’s Gabriel Guerra, Lucas de Paiva, Bruce Hornsby (yes, that Bruce Hornsby) and Jenny Konradsen together on a wild intercontinental collaboration called Contrahouse. Guerra and de Paiva are house/jazz/funk students down in Brazil, Bruce Hornsby toured with The Grateful Dead, and vocalist Jenny Konradsen is over in Norway. The three guys lay down some cruise-control jams similar in effect to Pender Street Steppers, Jan Hammer, Sam Gendel and Weather Report, that pastel-sunset intersection of ’80s ECM jazz and contemporary ambient-house that really can’t be beat. Konradsen’s voice is pitched and morphed to sound a whole lot like Arthur Russell, bits of words and phrases dropped in and out over the glossy keys, drums and synths. It feels like music that would’ve been popular in 1988 if Arthur Russell was as commercially successful as Phil Collins, an alternate reality that I like to believe exists. It’s wild that Hornsby was down to work with these two young and energetic Brazilians… I suppose the only connection between all the players is a mutual love of airbrushed pop-rock, silky-smooth melodies and body-soothing rhythms, which is more than enough. Only four tracks, but they’re long ones, perfect for all-white suits out by the infinity pool and a living room with more marble columns than places to sit.

Itchy & The Nits The Worst Of LP (Total Punk)
At first glance, I found myself confusing Itchy & The Nits with Sniffany & The Nits. Rest assured, The Nits didn’t swap bandleaders – Sniffany’s London-based gang is all boys, whereas this is a female trio from Sydney (and Itchy doesn’t actually exist, if the declaration on the back cover is to be believed). Now you can say you learned something today! Anyway, the stamp of Total Punk approval is key, and understandable once you hear the gleefully simplistic party-punk that comprises The Worst Of. These songs canoodle with with Redd Kross, The Donnas and Loli & The Chones, the perfect intersection of dumb/happy/silly punk rock. There isn’t a chord or chord progression that hasn’t been used by dozens of other bands before, and the drums gleefully eschew fills (or crash cymbals, or rack toms…), yet Itchy & The Nits make it quite clear that sonic originality is a game for narcissist jocks and insecure nerds, not actual punk rockers who have wild fun in public on a routine basis. If Itchy & The Nits continue to play music in a band together, the possible pitfalls of “prowess” and “sophistication” will inevitably rear their ugly heads, beckoning the band to write more complicated and nuanced songs. Let’s hope they kick sand in the face of those impulses and drink beers at a children’s playground ’til some hapless old security guard chases them off.

Jan Jelinek Social Engineering LP (Faitische)
Jan Jelinek is a well-trusted German producer of ambient and techno, but there’s a not insignificant number of gimmick records in his sizable discography too. Don’t equate “gimmick” with “throwaway”, though – who doesn’t love the spacey crackle of Loop Finding Jazz Records, for example? Here’s the trick behind this new album released on his own Faitische label: Jelinek uses synthetic speech programs to read email phishing attempts aloud (in a variety of languages) over queasy soundscapes. If it sounds like a cute little idea that doesn’t need to be heard to be appreciated, that’d probably be true for a producer of lesser renown, but I have to say, Jelinek clearly relishes the assignment and went above and beyond with it. Voices fade and malfunction while searing buzzes, overheating drones and synthetic interference commingle to create a rich digital environment. It almost feels like you’re caught in a cyber-cubicle as these replicant bots ask you to sell your kidneys, or my favorite scam, threaten blackmail from the video footage they secretly took of you jerking off in front of your computer. Internet scams have only gotten more darkly peculiar, and their placement within this abstract electronica is fitting. Jelinek is all too happy to spring all sorts of sonic traps on us listeners, ensuring we stumble face first into the black mirror.

Ryosuke Kiyasu Bereft 12″ (Ultra Eczema)
Damn has it been tough getting Ultra Eczema releases in the US lately. I feel like label-owner Dennis Tyfus has more or less given up trying to get them to the US, and to be honest I don’t blame him – international shipping is practically on par with a Spirit Airlines flight these days. Anyway, sometimes you simply have to make the sacrifice for a cool record, and at the very least it’s making me appreciate this one-sided picture-disc 12″ from Japanese percussionist Ryosuke Kiyasu. He’s apparently gone what the kids are calling “viral” lately, thanks to his incredible live videos. He’s kind of like the Masonna of the snare drum: one man with a thick head of long black hair going absolutely ballistic, risking life and limb in a full-body noise performance. In Kiyasu’s case, you really just need to pull up a vid if you haven’t already, as he mashes his face Justice Yeldham-style into a snare drum, throwing around a microphone (or any objects within reaching distance) and the noise folding-table itself, just a masterful series of improvised explosions as brief as they are impactful. Bereft is of course a live recording, and while it lacks the thrill that comes with the visual, I could listen to this stuff all day, violent snare-drum clatter with deep noise rumbles and errant screams. Pretty much perfect for the unhinged art styles of Ultra Eczema, and perfect for me, too.

Linekraft & Prurient Government Controlled Shrines 2×7″ & 5″ (Hospital Productions)
Hot damn, a double seven-inch and five-inch EP… available in both picture-disc and black vinyl versions! You don’t see this sort of unnecessarily over-the-top vinyl release these days unless it’s some godawful Record Store Day pap. Hospital Productions has been releasing outrageous stuff consistently for decades, of course, and when it comes to misanthropic noise, it’s served best on formats designed to agitate and turn-off the easy-going masses, by labels that refuse to stray from their mission. As is the case with probably 75% of all Hospital releases, Prurient is featured on this one, teaming up with the strict Japanese noise soldier Linekraft. And while they could’ve easily phoned it in, knowing only a couple hundred people at best would ever hear it (many of whom are surely dedicated, uncritical fans), these tracks are engaging and animated… it’s the good stuff. There are plenty of harsh tones but they don’t dominate here – spools of grey static interact with various metallic sounds (the sharpening of knives, the slamming of oil drums, etc.), ominous distorted voices, even an errant rhythm or two. The final side “Arson At Shrine” calls to mind early Broken Flag industrial. As with all Prurient, the thematic elements are front and center and ambiguous in intent, giving the mind’s eye something to chew on while bursts of white-noise, sirens and digital feedback dance like devils around a fire. I don’t want to get all gatekeepery, but it’s almost a shame this music is available for free on Bandcamp – these tracks are best enjoyed through this glorious (ridiculous) vinyl presentation.

Marcel Wave Something Looming LP (Feel It / Upset The Rhythm)
I’ve wondered if we’d hear from Sauna Youth again, and though I’m still wondering, at least I’ve learned that Lindsay Corstorphine and Christopher Murphy of the group have since joined vocalist Maike Hale-Jones and brothers Oliver and Patrick Fisher (of Cold Pumas) to form Marcel Wave. It certainly has the touch of a seasoned group of indie-punk players, knowing when to be tender and vulnerable and when to throw it all in the air in a fit of ridiculous amusement. With the constant glowing buzz of a keyboard, Marcel Wave’s songs are active and limber, a punk-centered form of indie post-punk that frequently sounds good when the British have a go at it. There’s some of Sauna Youth’s freewheeling pop without their noisy haze, a rambunctiousness similar to Vintage Crop and Tactics, and a dry humor (excuse me, humour) that has me picturing The Cool Greenhouse collaborating with Dry Cleaning. It would still be cool if the songs sounded tossed off, but Marcel Wave clearly put some work into the writing, from the layered melodic devices (there’s even an “aleatoric piano” credited on the track “Mudlarks”) to Hale-Jones’s standout lyrics. The title track keeps it simple and bleak, whereas Hale-Jones asks “can you imagine living inside a crater?” in the harrowing “Where There’s Muck There’s Brass”. What could be more tragic than knowing that there are humans on this planet right now who know precisely what it’s like?

Max Nordile Hanging By A Fan Over Wet Cement LP (Gilgongo)
Olympia’s Max Nordile must’ve got himself a nice fat Gilgongo budget (fifty bucks?), and he runs with it here on this new full-length, his third for the label. Across many scattered releases, Nordile has firmly established his aesthetic, one where the dusty detritus and cast-off errors of regular music receive his full spotlight and a thorough investigation. Most rock groups would try to edit out that little brush of speaker feedback, errant cough or interfering frequency; Nordile will capture them and mash them into an extended piece. He plays some horns here as well, but mostly it sounds like cardboard boxes hastily wrapped in duct tape, squalls of rain on windowsills, muddy boots stomping up wooden stairs and the wind that pours into open car windows – all aspects of daily living that rarely receive the focused attention of anyone’s ears. Reminds me of a one-man Marginal Consort restricted to items found in the garage or basement, strong-willed enough to turn any piece of metal into a cymbal and scrap of carpet into drums. Who will break first: will Nordile eventually succumb to the weight of all this deliberate nonsense and quit the biz before Gilgongo stops willingly releasing it?

Norms 100% Hazaarulas LP (11 PM)
Not a lot of Hungarian hardcore comes through these pages, but when it does it’s often from Norms and affiliated projects, which absolutely rules. Cool to see an American label giving Norms a go with this new fourteen-minute LP, as fitting as any place for your personal relationship with Norms to begin. They certainly don’t need any sort of handicap grading for coming from an overtly repressive country, as their music is as frenzied, alive and bombastic as the best the rest of the world has to offer. They’re on par with the first Sex/Vid EP and Cold Sweat’s Blinded, completely crazy hardcore-punk that clearly worships Void and Neos (who doesn’t?) but surely has a working understanding of Harry Pussy and free-jazz as well. Once you realize you can blow up the style of music you’re operating within, it’s a glorious sensation, and Norms clearly push every aspect of their songs to the limit, moving as fast as E-150 with the outrageous discombobulation of the debut singles by Meat Puppets and Half Japanese. There’s even a lot of cowbell happening here, which the fantastically skilled drummer treats as naturally as a China crash in beatdown hardcore. Sitting here listening to “Valóság 9.0” right now, I just noticed I was unconsciously holding my breath during that insane fast part, an involuntary bodily response to such dazzling brutality. If you’re a fan of true undiluted hardcore, I’m not sure you could walk away from 100% Hazaarulas unscathed.

Personal Damage Violent Ritual 7″ (Sorry State)
From self-released tape to Sorry State seven-inch, Los Angeles’s Personal Damage offer a first-wave Cali hardcore sound so authentic you’ll swear the chili-dogs at Oki Dog are still thirty-five cents a piece. A lotta hardcore mad-libs going on here with both band name and title, familiar signifiers that are almost comforting in their hardcore ubiquity/genericness, but the music of Personal Damage stands out, even to these weathered ears. They simply nail that early Mystic/Frontier Records sound, clearly indebted to Circle Jerks and Adolescents while managing to feel vibrant and novel. The vocals are super snotty and constantly flanked by tuneful backups, a cool trick you don’t see too often these days, and one that provides the tunes with more memorability than your average 1-2-3-4 fast-core act. The title track calls to mind Career Suicide at their snarky best, and “Program Agent” sounds like it could’ve come from NOFX’s Fuck The Kids EP, which I have no shame in loving and hope you don’t either. I can understand why so many modern punks avoid catchy melodies, especially now in the age of obscuro blown-out d-beat worship, but Personal Damage remind us how great (and punk) it can be for the vocals to be more than an afterthought. Personal Damage’s talent culminates in “Banned From Society”, a chant-laden blowout that should have every tuneless hardcore band second-guessing their approach.

R.J.F. Strange Going LP (Industry Standards)
You might be familiar with Ross Farrar as a hardcore vocalist, most notably of Ceremony as well as Crisis Man and Spice (and surely other bands I’m forgetting or never knew of in the first place). He’d like you to know that there’s more to his art than ripped-shirt howling and sweaty pile-ons, however: he’s a published poet, and now has two LPs of restrained, downright narcoleptic post-punk dub under his belt. No one’s ever accused him of being a musician, so I was excited to check out what a solo album from Farrar would sound like, far more than if he was a musician. The second of the two, Strange Going, is more or less a direct sequel (both aesthetically and sonically) to the first, so if hushed sung vocals over clean, simplistic and repetitive bass-lines is what you’re after, there’s plenty of R.J.F. awaiting you. I’m reminded quite a bit of Carla dal Forno’s music, in the way that the songs are skeletal and quiet, usually consisting of little more than the repeated melody of a bass-guitar or piano, the soft tick of a drum machine and synth effects both fuzzy and dubby. As far as coolness goes, the aesthetic is on point, coming across like a mysterious side-project from someone in Wire or Section 25 circa 1984. These songs, however, can grow long and static in mood. Seeing as they’re all more or less softly-spoken vocals over a repeated four-bar melody with little deviation, the effect can be wearying and samey, even if the basic aesthetic is appealing. I find myself painfully admitting that maybe a little musical expertise can actually come in handy in certain post-punk situations, or if not musical skill, judicious editing – distilled to an EP of highlights, I’d probably love Strange Going.

R.E. Seraphin Fool’s Mate LP (Take A Turn / Safe Suburban Home)
The Bay Area rock renaissance continues, now with R.E. Seraphin adding a new vinyl full-length to his credits. He played in Razz and Apache, seemingly closer to the Burger Records scene than Sloth Mate’s, though there’s naturally some overlap among the wide variety of Bay Area garage-rockers. There’s a full band playing on here, though I can see why Seraphin would put it out under his name, as it’s very much in the tradition of singer-songwriters like Elvis Costello, Elliott Smith, Tom Petty and other guys who flirted with subterranean sounds while writing firmly pop-oriented music. Seraphin’s songs are indebted to a similar era, sounding like a missing piece of the Sire Records puzzle in 1982, the cooler underground cousin of Cheap Trick or Rick Springfield. The biggest difference in Seraphin’s approach is his singing voice, which never raises above a hushed murmur, sounding more like the introvert in the back of the room than a swaggering rock n’ roller poised at center stage. His delivery makes Alex G sound like Mariah Carey by comparison, though it’s ultimately an appealing contrast with the upbeat pop-rock he’s got backing him up, even if it could be argued that certain songs might benefit from moments of more impassioned singing or some sort of change of pace. No need though, let’s let the other indie-rockers break a sweat – this guy puts the R.E. in relaxed.

The Spatulas Beehive Mind LP (Post Present Medium)
With a name like Miranda Soileau-Pratt, what are you gonna do, not write and record twee indie-pop music?? It only makes sense that she started The Spatulas, following contributions to Portland-area groups like The Blimp and Lavender Flu. At the helm, Soileau-Pratt imbues her songs with whimsy and charm, softly strumming typical major-key melodies over Moe Tucker drums, bass and lead guitar. There’s a lot of this stuff going around these days, groups of articulate and underpaid thirty-somethings who are relaxing into New Zealand- and Velvet-inspired indie-strum following messier punk rock upbringings, and for a listener like me who is only really interested in the very best the style has to offer, many of these records are fleeting pleasures. Beehive Mind is probably one of them, as while it doesn’t make any wrong moves, it doesn’t manage to distinguish itself from the pack either, at least by the estimation of my ears (which admittedly aren’t expertly tuned to discern such differences). Those of you with PhDs in guitar jangle, however, may find a wealth of subtleties this corn-fed writer will never have the pleasure of ascertaining.

Teini-Pää Mietin Minne Meet 7″ (Vague Absolutes)
It’s funny how it sucks to get tricked by people, but being tricked by music is a pleasure I’ll enjoy ’til I die. The tattoo-flash artwork and relation to no-joke hardcore label Warthog Speak had me expecting a band that sounded like Blazing Eye meets Negazione, but Finland’s Teini-pää aren’t even hardcore by association. No, they’re a charmingly dulcet indie band, presumably influenced by perennial hot-topic The Cure and similar to other modern groups with chiming guitar leads, poppy energy and sweet vocals. (I die a little bit each time I write the band-name “Alvvays”, so I’m only going to type it here once.) It’s punk in the sense that punks are responsible for the record, but the music is undistorted and pure, driving with a tunefulness akin to Shop Assistants and a shimmery chime that’s way more “Pitchfork Fest” than “Sorry State Weekend”. I don’t comprehend a lick of Finnish, and yet the tender dual-vocals of “Kerron Salaisuuden” have my eyes tearing up, a vast difference from the last time a Finnish group made me cry (Räjäyttäjät in 2012 when a speaker fell on my face).

Trendees Barmaid 7″ (What Lies Beneath)
I had thought Trendees were finished, having somewhat morphed into The Cuticles, but you really can’t kill a New Zealand band, can you? They might not be actively functioning at this time – this seven-inch is a reissue of a two-song cassette originally released in 2017 – but zine and label What Lies Beneath haven given Barmaid a second life. I do miss Trendees and their sloptastic take on punk, so it was a welcome surprise regardless. “Barmaid” sounds like it was practiced zero times, only loosely discussed before being laid to tape, and I love the exuberance and shifting guitar bits, seemingly changing without coordination between performers. This seven-inch version of the EP adds the track “Masterpieces”, which rips particularly hard, as if the first wave of UKDIY bands also had a copy of Nirvana’s Bleach from which to draw inspiration. It’s over in a minute or less before the sleepy, inept psych of “Flat Tac On A Moony Night” offers further evidence of Trendees’s sonic range. They sure were having a lot of fun over there in 2017, perfectly imprecise with the rest of the Albert’s Basement gang. I’m certainly keen to hear more from The Cuticles going forward, but Trendees will always have a place in my heart, no matter how many two-song tapes they may or may not have released.

Vacation Rare Earth LP (Feel It)
Feel It is now fully intertwined in the Cincinnati scene (complete with brick-and-mortar record shop!), and having already given us records by groups like Crime Of Passing, Beef and The Drin, here’s the latest full-length from Vacation, who share members with all three of those groups (among others). Vacation are surely the most easily digestible of the aforementioned bunch, swinging for the fences with big rock moves delivered in a lovably underdog fashion. They’re jumping and shouting like The Replacements on a particularly hot night at Maxwell’s, windmilling their picking hands and striking power-chords like Alice Cooper, and doing it all with the understated humor and earworm hooks of M.O.T.O. I don’t know what they’re on about in “Big Hat World”, but I’ll be damned if my fist isn’t in the air singing along to the titular chorus before it’s over! It’s all wholesome, uncynical fun, but the existence of the video for the song “Kink” reveals a more complicated side to Vacation’s boy-next-door image, a far more sincere display of latex fetishism than all the surface-level goth-wave bands who are wearing it because their stylists told them to. There’s enthusiastic rock mastery on proud display here, and it’s the work of weird-ass punks; while that opposite set of charges could cancel itself out in certain situations, it’s a good part of Rare Earth‘s success.

Wax No. 90009 12″ (Wax)
Would be cool if MTV buzz-bin legends Wax returned to the scene, but this Wax is one of the many aliases of German techno legend René Pawlowitz (best known as Shed) and it’s probably even cooler. He’s been a pretty constant source of formal techno expertise since the turn of the millennium, including once or twice a year under his Wax moniker. This new one, hand-stamped by Pawlowitz (and his children, according to his recent Tone Glow interview) is typically excellent. Pawlowitz’s productions often are measured experiments in contrast, and the A-side here is no exception, as he pairs a pugilistic beat with a lustrous, melancholic melody. I don’t know if I want to train for my next Muay Thai fight or release doves into the sky with tears bursting from my eyes as it spins – perhaps both simultaneously? The b-side, which offers the cool trick of playing from the inside out, ups the BPM a few notches, calling to mind the rugged shuffle of Anthony “Shake” Shakir or Prince Of Denmark, though once again the majestic, weightless synth chords are pointed towards the heavens, not the sticky tile floor of a basement club. It’s trance without the melodrama or sentimentality, as timeless, humble and effective as the black ink stamped on the plain white center labels.

Winged Wheel Big Hotel LP (12XU)
Winged Wheel follow their 2022 debut with Big Hotel, also issued care of the estimable 12XU label. As I understand it, the group’s debut came about from long-distance collaboration, but the credits for Big Hotel note a recording session in Kingston, NY, the up-and-coming playground destination for indie rocker elders. It certainly sounds like a hefty band jamming out some lightly-structured psych-rock, with the drummer and bassist obligated to steady the course while everyone else finds ways to add melody, ambiance and complexion to these open-ended tunes. Some vocals and keys occasionally spring up as well, adding to the communal, open-ended feel of these songs. It all calls to mind the democratic workings of Bardo Pond, the angelic glisten of Spiritualized and the free-flowing guitars of Harmonia, all handled with the gentle touch of our modern underground indie-hippies, as familiar with the works of Michael Hurley and Grateful Dead as Throbbing Gristle and Les Rallizes Denudes. It’s like a cleaned-up take on today’s psych underground, easily compatible with bar-dwellers like Major Stars and Headroom, though opening a stadium gig for The War On Drugs isn’t outside the realm of possibility, either. Seems like a pretty nice place to be.