Archive for 'Reviews'

Reviews – May 2022

Арлекин Извор на главоболките LP (Опачина)
Let’s kick off the month of May the best way I know how: with some steaming hot Macedonian noise-rock! Surely there must be some common link to the disgruntled working men of both America’s metropolitan outskirts and northern Macedonia, as the nauseous, knuckle-dragging thud of Арлекин is perfectly in step with bands like Kilslug, Eyehategod and Cows. These songs carry a veneer of intentional ugliness, but when you peel that away there’s a sincere ugliness at their core as well, from the loping basslines that snub their nose at melody to the varied levels of vocal constipation. Reminds me of the earliest Billy Bao records, those few moments when they were willing to commit to something as simple as a song, or Upsidedown Cross if they worked their day-jobs in a forest instead of a factory. Or, Unsane if they used still images from Impractical Jokers on their record covers instead of crime scene photos. Enjoyable tunes, but my favorite part might actually be the large comic book that acts as the record’s insert, a twisted and wordless tale of some cretinous superhero’s entire lifespan from birth to death and beyond, with lots of meticulously-penciled private-parts and drugs along the way. Worthy of a proper Fantagraphics coffee-table release, I’d say. It’s all illustrated by Bruno of Арлекин, who has a bright future in comics if this whole rock band thing ever fizzles out.

Bunzinelli Atacama 12″ (Neubau)
Always an exciting time when a new Neubau twelve-inch makes its way to my household, and as I had already prepped for Bunzinelli’s arrival by peeping his other 2021 single, I was fully primed for Atacama. I love the Neubau sound, a slowed-down techno lurch that leans in industrial, synth-pop and house directions depending on the particular artist’s predilection, and “Atacama” fits in perfectly. Its slow, black-lit groove uncoils like a snake in a dungeon, and the ritualistic percussion loop lends the vibe a “Knight Rider uncovers a cult sacrifice in progress” angle. “Anxiety Attack” is just as lugubrious and sour, and not like any anxiety attack I’ve ever witnessed – this melange of occult industrial sounds and sampled vocal recitation has me imagining Kerridge recording a track for Galakthorrö. The Montreal producer ends the EP with “Ladakh”, a continuation of the mood established with “Anxiety Attack” retooled with a New Beat acid groove and an actual dance-floor presence, morbid though it may be. No upcoming Neubau releases are being advertised at the moment, but I can’t wait for whatever’s next.

Employee Hold Music Vol. 2 LP (Beatbude)
Tipped off to Employee by a friend after a lively conversation discussing the merits of Gerry Franke’s new album, as Employee bears some (real or imagined?) familial relation to Franke. Whereas Franke’s music dabbles in cheese with precaution, Employee straight-up cannonballs into the nacho dip with Hold Music Vol. 2. These instrumentals were clearly crafted with corporate hold music in mind, and if that’s the assignment given, he gets an A+. I’m reminded of certain Donkey Kong Country themes, the soundtrack to any given Andy Sidaris action-thriller, and in the case of “Romantic Relax”, a beat Too Short would’ve used on his Cocktails album. Probably some debt is owed to James Ferraro’s Far Side Virtual as well, although Ferraro imagines an alternate corporate reality whereas Employee has pieced together a shockingly accurate and loving recreation of the business Muzak of our present time and place. I think we’re all so far beyond irony-poisoned at this point that intentionally groan-inducing corniness such as this doesn’t have any unsettling effects, allowing music like this to be judged on its own merits. This might be why I find Hold Music Vol. 2 to be a soothing and engaging album, especially knowing that listening is my own personal choice, not a situation I’m forced into as I wait for my health insurance company to pick up the line.

Exek Advertise Here LP (Castle Face)
Finally, for their fifth album, Melbourne’s Exek signed with Castle Face and delivered the prog-metal opus we’ve been waiting for. Just kidding! Advertise Here sounds as much like Exek as any of the Exek records that preceded it, a comforting sensation if not a particularly mindblowing one. They found their specific lane early on – softshell indie post-punk drenched in dub properties – and continue to stick with it, refining the songwriting, tuning up the rhythm section, working on improving the little details and expanding ever so slightly while remaining firmly within their standard aesthetic guidelines. I’m certainly a fan, and while I might have a little difficulty placing any given Exek song to its respective album, I’d be able to pick out any given Exek song among dozens of their post-punk peers. Bandleader/vocalist Albert Wolski’s voice is immediately recognizable, somewhere in the tradition of Mark E. Smith and Stephen Malkmus but distinctly Australian and bashful. He often sings as if he’s asking you to dance but afraid to make direct eye contact while doing so, and as his vocals are usually double-tracked, it can feel like a creepy set of twins doing the asking. If you haven’t checked out Exek already, you’re really overdue, but if you are already two or four albums deep, no need to hurry over to Advertise Here – it’ll be ready when you are.

The False Berries The False Berries 12″ (Sloth Mate)
The False… Berries? You know what, screw it, any band wants to call themselves The False Berries, more power to ’em. Definitely the mark of a band on their entirely own trip, which I’ve confirmed to be the case after spinning this debut EP. I’m guessing there is some sort of connection with Violent Change (the only other artist to be released by Sloth Mate), and there’s an adventurousness to the music here that Violent Change share, a direct upending of reasonable conventions while still kind of playing somewhat conventional music. In the case of The False Berries, they split the material here between homespun ambient techno and softhearted indie-pop. This means that cloud-parting pop-ambient sounds reminiscent of DJ Healer are nuzzled up against subtle guitar songs befitting Howard Hello or Heatmiser. Weird combo, but perhaps not weird, since the emotional tone of the record is fairly constant, one of melancholic anticipation, the sort of thing they should pump into hospital waiting rooms to temper the excitement of newborns and ease the pain of loss. Some of these tracks fall closer to sketches than songs, but that’s kind of what makes The False Berries so appealing – they seem to follow their hearts, even if it means allowing synth chords to ripple over and over without any sense of destination (see “The False Berries”). Like the name implies, they appear juicy and ripe even if they’re made of plastic.

Gerry Franke Found Myself Or Just I’m Dead LP (Tax Free)
Tax Free is officially on my radar, following a couple of hot ones from Jürgen Ratan and Iris, so I saw no reason not to check out Gerry Franke’s new album. He’s got a couple of prior full-lengths on the Tax Free label, but the strikingly titled Found Myself Or Just I’m Dead is my first encounter. I’m not sure what I was expecting – something closer to noise or techno, perhaps – but while these songs are not what I had in mind, they’re as exceptional as I had hoped. Franke seems to be armed with a variety of guitars and basses and synths, and at least one trusty sampler through which he layers and loops various little snippets of live instrumentation. I’m immediately reminded of the freaky Wah Wah Wino crew in the way that adventurous krautrock experimentation is applied to today’s accessible recording technologies, resulting in a humble, dubby and dare-I-say visionary work. Anyone can throw a couple of lopsided loops together (and there’s a solid chance I’ll at least somewhat enjoy it if they do), but Franke is clearly displaying a level of excellence with the form here. From the intricate and peculiar melodic lines (check the weird strings of “Al Hamra” and “Cada Dia”) to the constantly dazzling and obscure percussion throughout, this might be my favorite Tax Free release yet!

Green/Blue Offering LP (HoZac)
Jim Blaha played in The Blind Shake with his brother Mike Blaha. Mike called his solo project Blaha, because that’s just one of those weirdly inexplicable last names that only a lucky few will ever have, so Jim had to call his new band Green/Blue (what kinda person names their thing after a few random basic colors??). This is Green/Blue’s second album (and the second to pass through these digital pages), and it’s an efficient and pleasant entry into the crowded punky fuzz-pop field. I can’t tell if enough time has passed since the first inescapable wave of this stuff took over fifteen years ago or if Green/Blue are particularly adept at it. A lot of records that sounded like this one came out on HoZac or Captured Tracks back in 2007 and I found the majority of them to be fairly unappealing, but here I am now, tapping my foot to the Matthew Sweet-ish strum of “Same Waste Of Time”. Blaha coos and sighs his vocals tunefully, the band stomps and shuffles as if Flying Nun just offered them a record deal, and everyone involved is pleasantly satiated. Peaceful yet not without urgency, Offering is a sweet little trip indeed, Blahahaha Blohohoho Blehehehe…

Honey Radar / Violent Change split 7″ (Chunklet Industries)
Is it finally time to swap out my crusty contact lenses for new ones, or is this a new split seven-inch release?? I realize that our digital era has relegated actual vinyl records to mostly token souvenirs, but I was raised on the excitement and promise of split EPs, and appreciate that these two fine American indie groups came together to remind me of the slower, more peaceful world that used to exist. Philadelphia’s Honey Radar have a seemingly endless supply of songs, contributing three to their side of this EP. It’s a particularly lo-fi affair this time around, moving from the bedroom for “Consult The Napkin” to the front porch for “Dawn Chew” to the basement for “Big Justice”. Naturally, they all move quick, and it helps to take them in a single dose, Honey Radar happily embodying a nervous DIY energy captured in a limited fidelity recording. San Francisco’s Violent Change are kind of the kings of limited fidelity indie-pop, almost turning the genre on its head through their bold “studio” techniques, but “Garden Of Luxury” and “What Have They Done” are about as intelligible as I know them to get, relatively speaking. “Garden Of Luxury” reminds me of those unruly Julian Casablancas & The Voidz albums; “What Have They Done” hits like the one good song on some beat-up private-press soft-rock LP you discovered at a local thrift. A cool pair of songs for Violent Change, and an even cooler pair of bands for Chunklet!

Isotope Soap In Need Of Systematic Energy LP (Push My Buttons)
On previous records, Isotope Soap was a synth-punk band that still seemed to be driven by the sound and style of punk, but on In Need Of Systematic Energy, it feels like this Swedish project has passed the point of no return. It reminds me of horror sci-fi movies where the main character has finally been entirely consumed by the evil computer virus or demon spirit that started slowly infecting them at the start of the film. Isotope Soap is more machine than man this time around, with vocals pushed to the brink of reasonable taste, sometimes sounding more like a Minion than a human, or that one baritone-voiced Gremlin who wears sunglasses. The music jumps around considerably as well, song-based in nature but recalling Factrix, Red Asphalt, The Residents, Screamers and such… the first-wave art-school post-punk pranksters who liked to reflect society’s ugliest features through rudimentary synthetic means. It’s weird and aggressive and imposing, but unlike say FNU Clone or Timmy’s Organism, Isotope Soap rarely utilize noise or feedback to shape the outlines of their techno hellscape. Definitely the type of group I’d expect to write a concept album about planet-destroying digital black-market currency, if that wasn’t already a real and popular thing that sports stadiums are being named after!

Lime Crush Timewaster 7″ (Fettkakao)
Vienna’s Lime Crush showed up unannounced with a gloriously primitive post-punk 7″ back in 2015, and I had more or less forgotten about them until just now, thanks to the relentless Bandcamp promotional emails that stuff all our inboxes. Glad to see they’re still causally out there being a cool band, and while not as immediately affecting of an experience as listening to the first Lime Crush 7″, this one is charming nonetheless. “Timewaster” sounds like an alternate-reality Kids In The Hall intro theme with a little bit of Art Brut (remember them?) and a little bit of Dolly Mixture. “Téléphone” sounds like The Make Up fronted by Kim Gordon, were she a French-speaking twenty-something. “Park” is last and probably my favorite track here, care of the endearing spoken intro (wherein the vocalist refers to the bedroom as “the sleeping room” – is that a Swiss thing?) and the song’s punkier instincts, what with the drums bashing around and the non-distorted guitar strummed with pizazz. Much like their debut EP, this one is over and out in a fizzy blip, a choice that’s rarely wrong in the realm of post-punk.

The Monsters Du Hesch Cläss, Ig Bi Träsch LP (Slovenly / Mondo Mongo)
Even if all I did was listen to in-the-red garage-punk all day long, I’d still never run out of new material to discover. There’s a staggering amount of bands who’ve played this sort of thing over the past half a century (yikes), with seemingly new ones entering the fray every day. This is part of the reason why I can’t help but applaud The Monsters, out of Bern, Switzerland, for being so boldly, wildly generic that their sheer simplicity, and their clear devotion to it, propels them ever forward. They don’t write songs so much as communicate the majesty of amps-to-eleven blues riffs, caveman drumming and shouted/screamed lyrics, often little more than a repeated phrase. They truly wail away at it with such compassion for the sound that the lack of noteworthy songs or hooks is a minor issue; if you want the sound of wild rock n’ roll, you simply can’t go wrong here. (Unless of course you need a dramatic reinvention of the garage-rock wheel, in which case, I send you my thoughts and prayers.) This is the music that surely plays inside Jack White’s head when he sees that his Amazon packages were delivered, and it’s fixing to be the same for me, too.

M//R Anxious Meditation 12″ (Enmossed)
This new EP from Philadelphia’s M//R comes with a dilemma: a center label that reads “33 or 45 RPM”. It’s a brutal withholding of musical information if you ask me, the sort of thing you shouldn’t be legally allowed to do unless you’re Vomir or Government Alpha or some other harsh noise project where it might truly not make a sonic difference. Luckily I bugged M//R for the truth, which is that Anxious Meditation was mastered at 45 but “better at 33”, and well, maybe I just need to follow the artist’s lead and stop caring about the time-space continuum and let the heady spacial vibes of his music take over. These tracks are deep lurches into space, in line with producers like Pearson Sound, Mala and the Deep Medi Musik label, just without the dubstep beats and the conceptual stank that comes with it. The rhythms are paced for contemplation as opposed to dancing – certainly more meditative than anxious – in line with Earthen Sea’s unconventional rhythmic approach though differently applied. On 45 it’s a flickering trip through a pot-leaf-shaped space station, on 33 it’s like those early Space Afrika records with the sentimentality of a Sven Weisemann dub. I’m tempted to try it on 78, but I will respect M//R’s wishes and stick with the authorized revolutions-per-minute.

Dan Nicholls Mattering And Meaning LP (We Jazz)
Sometimes I can’t tell if I’m controlling what I enjoy or if what I enjoy is controlling me. Do I really want to hear smudgy post-production jazz loops, or is some grand algorithm feeding them to me subliminally and I am defenseless to resist? Dan Nicholls’ Mattering And Meaning sure seems tailor-crafted to entertain a fella like me, and entertain it does, a relaxed and drifting suite of meandering jazz piano, domestic drones and ambient field-recordings. Very much of the times, but if it makes me feel this good, who cares how where or why it arrived? Reminds me quite a bit of personal faves O$VMV$M, the way in which the fractured melodies linger in the air like plumes of burnt sage, but Nicholls’s practice isn’t informed by dance-floor rhythm, grooves or anything tangentially related to raving. These tracks navigate their pathways like streams down a mountain, simply following the pull of gravity and taking whatever awkward turns or abrupt drops come along the way. His piano is loose and contemplative, clusters of notes and clinking high keys engaged in an ongoing conversation as the digitally-processed air, background chatter and modern auditory distractions try to wiggle their way in. “Breathe” is a particularly stellar moment, with Nicholls flying fast and free on his piano as the rest of his stoic little world inhales and exhales all around. Mmmm!

Picture Metric EP 12″ (Kalahari Oyster Cult)
God, I love these European techno producers who seem completely disinterested in providing any sort of visual or lyrical aesthetic, focusing solely on the sounds they produce as the extent of their commentary with the world. Take for example the plainly-monikered DJ Central, who for some reason decided to go by “Picture” on this new four-track EP called “Metric”… he’s clearly just picking meaningless words out of a hat, a pesty yet necessary vessel in order to deliver the sonic goods. Makes sense to me here, as these four tunes are transcendent slices of deep house which require no window dressing. Spotless and hypnotic, these cuts ride a little faster than I’d expect from DJ Central, but I could use the exercise. The flittering cymbal clicks of “Silke” are practically ASMR, coasting on trance-like chords and pads; dance-floor psychedelia for endless Euro nights. Nothing particularly new happening here, I think it’s safe to say, but Picture so impeccably crafts these tracks that lush and buoyant house music suddenly feels like a grand new concept in his hands. Hope to one day hear these tracks on a proper sound system, but for now they’re causing me to splash around my kitchen as I do the nightly dishes while listening.

Prurient Son Of Sam Of Mice And Men 7″ (Hospital Productions)
Kinda wild to think that Dom Fernow has been Prurient for like a quarter of a century now. There are perhaps a few dozen noise artists who’ve been going that long, but I appreciate the various twists and turns that Prurient has taken through the years while staying true to his general mood and spirit. From gutter noise to Mortal Kombat soundtrack imitation to towers of rickety practice amps feeding back, it’s been a fun journey to follow, if often confounding and or cringeworthy (perhaps on purpose – who knows?). Cool to see he’s still releasing singles on his own label with sensational and confusing titles, and this new seven-inch is a worthy addition to his already vast discography. “Deer That Come To Drink In The Dark” is built on a mournful synth melody, clanging metal and what sounds like a bowling strike, devolving into sickening radiator hum, the squeal of tires and a menacing dog barking at the end of a chain-link alley. As with all Prurient material, there is probably a very specific theme at play here but it’s all too inscrutable to ever unwrap. “Mannequin In Bulletproof Car” is the b-side track, another evocative title enhanced by the cinematic ebb and flow of sinister buzzing, distant hardcore screams and echoing feedback in the proud Broken Flag tradition. Curious as ever to see what Prurient’s next twenty-five years will produce.

Tha Retail Simps Reverberant Scratch: 9 Shots In Tha Dark LP (Total Punk)
My main gripe with LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem” is a simple one: where exactly is the actual party rock? They allege it’s in the house tonight, yet as I listen, it’s nowhere to be found. Good thing then that Tha Retail Simps have since formed, as this nine-song debut is full of the party rock I’d been longing for. They play their songs as if time stopped in 1976, the styles and trends frozen from that point forward, teens still smoking unfiltered cigarettes in suede bellbottoms but ready and willing to have their little ears blown away by punk rock. Tha ‘Simps embody this vibe, presenting as hippies who hate hippies, or punk rockers before the stereotypical image was fully formulated. Definitely the sorta thing that would’ve been approved by both Richard Meltzer and Allen Ginsberg. I’m reminded of The Gizmos and The Penetrators while listening to these nine shots in the dark… maybe the first Home Blitz records too, if they were written and performed by delinquents instead of an honor-roll student. This is rock music as a rude social experiment, by outcasts for outcasts, including an Unnatural Axe cover that sounds like they wrote it themselves. Makes me think of what Joey Ramone looked like before he started calling himself Joey Ramone and it puts a big ol’ smile on my face.

Romero Turn It On! LP (Feel It)
Sometimes I worry it’s a little too overstated here, my unabashed love and appreciation of the Feel It Records label, Australian bands and the power-pop genre, but they all truly bring me joy! Seems like I’d be the precise demographic for Romero’s debut then, seeing as they’re a new Australian power-pop group on Feel It, but after a few spins, this one misses me almost entirely. We’re entering “unfair judgment” territory here, but something about it feels too formulated and artificial, their sound similar to a rock band assembled by a board-room of ad execs who need an edgy-but-not-too-edgy band to do rock poses in front of the camera and write proficient and inoffensive rock songs while advertising the newest iPhone or whatever. Romero borrow heavily from The Strokes (circa First Impressions Of Earth), Royal Headache and Sheer Mag, quite distinctively and specifically throughout. They open with a Royal Headache-style groove, and follow it with a Strokes-y one, and while they certainly have the chops, it often feels like a clinical exercise, a band trying to make it big rather than revel in their own unique chemistry. By the time the dual guitar attack and cowbell hipshake of the title track hits, their brazenly Sheer Maggiest track on the record, I’m ready to tap out. There’s a very good chance Romero are cool sincere people doing this band solely for the love of playing in a band, but Turn It On! sounds like a band trying to be a cleaned-up, Instagram-ready version of other established bands and I can’t get into it.

The Shifters Open Vault 2xLP (Insolito / Adagio 830)
In the panicked time of the no-foreseeable-gigs pandemic era, The Shifters did what many bands did and dumped a big pile of unreleased tracks on Bandcamp in hopes that fans might send a few much-needed bucks their way. This apparently caught the attention of Insolito and Adagio 830, and now we have a sharp double-LP edition in the form of Open Vault. I’m not certain that I needed two full LPs of The Shifters’ random outtakes and demo recordings, but at the same time, I’m not certain that I didn’t need them, either. I’m a fan of the group, and seeing as shambolic and homespun lo-fi post-punk indie is very much their vibe, this has been a treat to listen to. Plenty of random tracks I’m unfamiliar with, and hits like “Work/Life Gym Etc” offered up in pleasantly roughed-up form here. More than a few GarageBand tracks too, recorded solely through their Macbook’s built-in mic, and I have to say, they could’ve done an album of just these tracks and I’d be more than content. “Year After Year” and “Faux American History 101” are two of these home recordings and they’re real charmers, akin to the finest untrained musicians copying The Fall on limited singles back in 1979 (like Horrible Nurds, Thin Yoghurts, Four Plugz and the like). I don’t want to encourage everybody to dump their outtakes on Bandcamp in hopes of a record deal, but in this case it worked out nicely.

Straw Man Army SOS LP (D4MT Labs Inc / La Vida Es Un Mus)
Straw Man Army’s 2020 debut album Age Of Exile was one of the freshest punk debuts I’d heard in years, distinctly on its own trip without being anything other than punk (or post-punk). It’s a hard work to follow, but Straw Man Army succeed once more with SOS. If you’re not familiar, you’re in for a treat: this New York group (featuring members of Kaleidoscope) plays an urgent and distressed form of post-punk, with tight and unique rhythms, rapid-fire spoken vocals and a permeating peace-punk gloom without adhering to generic peace-punk signifiers. Guitars are brittle and mostly undistorted, the drumming is precise and full of wild rolls and tumbles, and these songs act as small flickers of candlelight against the pitch-black backdrop of capitalism, infinite war and inequality. While listening, I’m picturing what Uranium Club would sound like if they were dead serious and signed to Crass Records, or those spoken-word Propagandhi songs if they were rendered artistically and beyond the smelly reach of Fat Mike, but really those aren’t accurate comparisons so much as fleeting thoughts – Straw Man Army are as singular a punk band as I can recall. There’s less feral energy on SOS than their debut, which leads to more of a refined and sophisticated musical statement; normally I’d be against that, but Straw Man Army are so masterful and talented that it works in their favor. Even the melodies themselves sound ill at ease and suspicious, so skillful are Straw Man Army in infecting every inch of their music with a barren dread. Strongly recommended!

Tapes Meets Nikolaienko Sunda School II 7″ (Porridge Bullet)
I know we’ve got some fans of rickety bleeps and watery bloops reading these pages, so please, direct your attention to this new seven-inch EP from Tapes Meets Nikolaienko on the Estonian Porridge Bullet label. This is top-shelf electronic dub artistry on a homespun personal level from Jackson “Tapes” Bailey and Dmytro Nikolaienko, who apparently both used an organ to create these tasty electro vignettes. Throw a pensive, disaffected vocal over top and I’d compare it to the minimal-synth post-punk of artists like Essendon Airport and Young Marble Giants, or hotbox these tunes in the weed-smoking room and I’d compare it to Morgan Buckley and Sam Gendel, but Tapes and Nikolaienko keep to their own trip here, loops coasting along and four hands busily attending to them. Very much in that “leftfield” zone that I find myself frequently gravitating towards as a listener, but more as a natural consequence of this duo’s inquisitive mindset and melodic behavior than any sort of intentional desire to sound strange. Not sure I am ready to accept the fifteen-dollar seven-inch as a standard matter of course, but I can’t imagine any seekers of humbly psychedelic electronics dropping that much on Sunda School II and feeling as though they’ve been cheated.

Wow Falene LP (Maple Death)
Italian quartet Wow do kind of a cool thing here, moving in multiple directions but minimally-so. A restless collection of pared-down ideas, I feel that while Falene is around half an hour long, I am less close to understanding anything about this group as when I first read the little promo sticker on the sealed polyethylene bag and decided to slide it open. Falene opens with some investigative drones, seemingly the work of a couple knobs and only one hand, and they follow it with a smoke-filled indie-goth boudoir, the sort of thing that The Black Heart Procession and Slaves messed around with back in the day when hardcore kids were wearing JNCOs the first time around. Length is no object to Wow, as the aforementioned goth song is nine minutes long; I dunno, are you gonna tell them to stop? My favorite cut is probably the b-side opening remix from Hugo Sanchez, which takes a painfully slow beat and walks it in a circle until the floorboards are worn down… reminds me of a Neubau release with live drums, chunky bass and little else, which pleases me greatly. That track wraps with a field recording of nature, which isn’t particularly revelatory at this point, and then Falene closes with a relatively brief paisley-psych ditty redolent of Sébastien Tellier or fellow Italians Jennifer Gentle, because Wow clearly threw the rulebook away without cracking it open once. Probably gonna take at least four more albums for me to start to get a grasp on this group, so I wonder which one of us will tap out first?

XV Basement Tapes LP (Half A Million)
XV’s self-titled, self-released debut lit the post-punk underground on fire back in 2019, one hundred copies tantalizingly out of reach to anyone who found out about it five minutes too late. A much needed repressing arrived last year, and now we’ve got a prim vinyl issue of their Basement Tapes cassette, collecting home recordings from 2018 and 2019 (and originally released in 2020). This one is significantly looser than their self-titled debut, very much reveling in the territory of a band messing around with each other, practicing songs and breaking songs down and completely disinterested in hitting all the right notes or following traditional rock protocol. The thing I find most striking about Basement Tapes is how incredibly comfortable this trio is with each other; they display a camaraderie and closeness that most bands couldn’t even begin to fake. “Please Stop Talking” is some sort of inside-joke vocal game, the end of “Lights In The Woods” devolves into an accapella group rendition of Madonna’s “Get Into The Groove”, and closer “Goodnight” is a truly weird whisper-zone, ASMR weaponized for DIY post-punk. You simply can’t behave this way with bandmates you’re merely cool or on good terms with – XV display such a hilarious and intuitive rapport with each other that, as a listener, I almost start to feel like the secret fourth member of the band by proximity, or at least wish I was.

Reviews – April 2022

Eve Adams In Hell LP (Soft Office)
I love the band Lewsberg, yet it was news to me that members of the group run a label called Soft Office. I’m curious as to what they’re doing both musically and curatorially, so I was intrigued by this vinyl edition of a 2017 cassette album from Los Angeles-based singer Eve Adams, who was also new to me. I’m learning all sorts of things! Adams has a lonesome Californian vibe going on here, not so much the busy off-ramps of Los Angeles as the endless expanse of inhospitable desert and the various roadside shacks that pepper it. She plays amplified guitar softly, sings in beautifully hushed tones, and inhabits that sort of “ghost of girl groups” vibe that has captivated both artists and audiences in the past few years (the original 2017 release year sounds about right). At her most tuneful, I’m reminded of Hope Sandoval’s solo material, at her dustiest I’m recalling the haunted pop songs of Cindy Lee, and at her most freaky I’m picturing some sort of feminine Devendra Banhart tripping deep within Joshua Tree. Very Lynchian, no doubt, right down to the sparse and eerie cover of The Crystals’ classic “He Hit Me”. Wonder what Adams has been up to since, or if there’s a final-chapter twist wherein we discover that Eve Adams never really existed in the first place.

Anadol Felicita LP (Pingipung)
Anadol’s debut album Uzun Havalar blew me away a couple years ago – it was my second favorite of the year, in fact, and is still a constant turntable presence in my household. I acknowledged the possibility that it might be a singular lightning-strike of sonic greatness, a fully realized debut that combined various strains of music to stunning effect that will never be duplicated or continued. I’ve been hankering for a follow-up ever since, and amazingly, Felicita manages to mine the same general aesthetic territory while remaining on high par with the debut, at least from my point of view. If you’re not already familiar, you’re in for a treat: Anadol is essentially one Gözen Atila, a Turkish musician / “sound artist” who employs a talented small crew of local musicians to fully realize her ideas. This results in a stunning swath of cosmic krautrock, Turkish melodies, minimal-synth noir and mystical pop, seamlessly devised and completely entrancing. I’m envisioning dreamlike pairings of Agitation Free with Richard Schneider Jr., Lena Platonos with Roberto Cacciapaglia, or Pascal Comelade alongside Jac Berrocal while Felicita spins, but those are merely beacons that Anadol glides past. What a beautiful, perplexing and incredible second album!

Axe Rash Contemporary Ass 7″ (Not For The Weak)
Here’s an example of why I prefer punk bands to punk solo projects: in this particular case, I get to enjoy the fact that no fewer than four people agreed to naming their own band’s new EP “Contemporary Ass”. Sure, any one person can come up with a ridiculous title, but the fact that four friends found each other and were fully on board with Contemporary Ass warms my little heart. Seeing as the name Axe Rash isn’t too far removed from Assrash (one of my favorite ’90s Minneapolis drunk crust units), I wonder if that connection was intentional? Anyway, before I get even further off track, let me get to the music of Sweden’s Axe Rash, who drop a rowdy bunch of hardcore tracks here. The debt to Totalitär is obvious in the predominant riff structures and drum patterns, but I’m also reminded of Public Acid at times, and there’s even a couple moments clearly indebted to Crazy Spirit and the Toxic State oom-pah punk drumbeat that has raged like wildfire in underground hardcore-punk over the last ten years. Cool stuff, but my favorite part might be the easily-read lyric sheet – the inclusion of the line “fuck a vegan!” is an intriguing surprise at the end of “Gig Life”, and “False Pictures” is what seems to be an indictment of Instagram (though I just checked and the band does have one, oh well). Gonna need to get myself some axe ointment before I start to peel!

Brain Tourniquet Brain Tourniquet 7″ (Iron Lung)
Yo! This is what I want from Iron Lung: brutal fast-core from a band who named themselves after a Man Is The Bastard song. There are so many great Man Is The Bastard song titles, and so few of them have already been taken for band names! This group hails from Washington DC, featuring members of lots of other DC hardcore bands, and they do the style right with gnarly black-and-white photos of physical harm and/or murderers. Skulls are too oblique for their version of power-violence-styled hardcore; like Crossed Out and No Comment before them, Brain Tourniquet are interested in harsh realities not harsh fantasies. They blast with Lack Of Interest precision, stop on a dime like the aforementioned No Comment and stomp out the doomy parts in an ugly-yet-heavy manner that reminds me of third-wave power-violence unit Scapegoat. Zero frills or fresh commentary on the genre, just pure menacing hardcore brutality delivered intensely and succinctly, right down to the traditional EP-ending dirge that’s three times as long as any of the other tracks. Another Iron Lung slam dunk!

Rudolf Eb.er & Will Guthrie Hilt LP (Fragment Factory)
Wow, fascinating pairing here between two distinctive avant-noise gents whom I wholeheartedly endorse. Didn’t think they ran in any of the same circles, but for better or worse, we live in a time where anything is possible, including a collaboration between grotesque sonic “aktionist” Rudolf Eb.er from Sweden and frisky avant percussionist Will Guthrie from Australia. I was aware of this record’s existence for a week before it was released, which gave me ample time to construct a fantasy in my head of what Hilt might sound like, and I’m glad to say that the actual album doesn’t disappoint. It’s a frequent case of having no idea who does what – hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if Eb.er took over on percussion just to mess with us – but that sort of disorientation is key to the experience. Across two twenty-minute sides, they locate various moods, dig deep into them, and then adjust course abruptly. The crackling of a fire (or some reasonable facsimile thereof) builds over eerie tones, airwave static and murmured voices; a repetitive rhythm is tapped out on scrap-metal and detritus; a passive smoke break is interrupted with the acidic shriek of scraped metal so visceral it sounds like it’s actually happening in the room with you. I presume Hilt was rendered via long-distance file sharing, but who knows, or who cares? No matter how they did it, eight minutes into the second side it sounds like I’m tumbling down a mountain amidst pebbles, rocks and dust, wondering if I’ll retain consciousness when my body finally comes to a halt.

Front De Cadeaux Sad Is Fashion 12″ (Antinote / Agnès B.)
Antinote is responsible for some of my favorite dance tracks of the past few years, always kind of under the radar but top-notch in their consistency. Took a chance on this new one from Euro duo Front De Cadeaux (Hugo Sanchez out of Rome and DJ Athome from Brussels), and it’s a proper banger! I have learned that this sub-genre of techno is called “beatdown”, which is based on a slow BPM (between 90 and 100) and hard-hitting basslines and kicks. Works for me! The a-side is “Trans Émois” and it kicks big juicy butt: simple bassline, heavy kicks, little chirpy melody and an affected male vocal repeating the track title. Not much else I could find myself wanting for. “Sad Is Fashion” is even slower, paced and constructed like my favorite Neubau bangers from Gil.Barte and AngstLust but without any sense of menace or industrial vibes. There’s an even sleepier, deeper vocal on this one too, placing this track in that nether zone between arousal and unconsciousness. So good. All this and it comes as a split release with the venerated French fashion designer Agnès B., who apparently also puts out records from time to time?! There are so many little spots of greatness in this world if you choose to seek them out.

John, Paul, George, Ringo & Richard Das Ist Die Zukunft, Aber Nicht Deine! LP (Phantom)
Okay, sometimes a dumb band name hits just right, which I’d say is happening here with John, Paul, George, Ringo & Richard. File next to Duran Duran Duran for artist parody names that receive a hearty chuckle the first time around (unlike, let’s say, the sonically-impressive Joanna Gruesome). Anyway, now that we’ve appreciated the name, we can move onto the music, which is a fittingly impish form of rudimentary electronic post-punk. Reminds me of Les Georges Leningrad, Factorymen, Metal Urbain, Die Tödliche Doris and the multitudes of post-punk pranksters who’ve viewed the song format as a canvas for irritation, silliness and bewilderment. Guitars dip in and out when necessary, various voices appear in various guises, and there’s at least one theremin whirling in the background, presumably handled by John, Ringo or some sort of Scooby-Doo Frankenstein ghoul from the sound of it. Stupid fun for punks who appreciate that sort of thing.

M. Klein & Steffan De Turck A New City LP (Het Generiek)
I’m unwilling to let just anyone guide me down the unknown path of field-recording sound collage, but when two strangers by the names of M. Klein and Steffan De Turck invite me on a blindfolded trip through their slice of the world, how can I resist? This LP features two pieces of edited, layered field-recordings and minor keyboard accompaniment. They move at a brisk but not frenetic pace, hopping from crowded social spaces to secluded loitering zones as though passing them on foot. The jingle of a passerby’s phone game pops up among the rustle of air on microphone, footsteps down marble hallways escalate out of the frame, and a somber keyboard melody adds intrigue to the crickets buzzing at dusk. What feels like a paddleboat ride might actually be a Japanese speed train – who can say besides Klein and De Turck? Reminds me of Luc Ferrari’s charming Presque Rien in the way that both natural and artificial surroundings are blended with surreal electronics to create an alternate yet recognizable reality… “A New City” indeed.

Los Lichis Small Mole & The Flavor Trio 12″ (Ever/Never)
For as polished and seemingly “serious” as Ever/Never has gotten over the last few years, I love that the label still can’t resist sinking money into brutally non-commercial projects once or twice (or thrice) a year. Maximum Ernst and Hand Of Food come to mind, and now you can throw Mexico City’s Los Lichis on the stack as well. They’re a trio of a confounding nature, offering two lengthy cuts of what is by my estimation loosely-improvised drone rock, described as a “Mexican raga” in the promotional materials and certainly a befitting classification. These tracks have me thinking of Tony Conrad with Faust trapped in a cave rather than a studio, one of those interminable drone songs that Reynols would insert into the track list of one of their lengthy CD releases, or the reverberations that slowly fade after a Rakta practice session. One could hear this and evaluate it to be heady devotional music of some primordial order, but then the art that accompanies Small Mole & The Flavor Trio is mostly weird jokey imagery that owes more to Tim and Eric’s sensibility than Current 93 or Popol Vuh. Are Los Lichis serious about their maudlin psych-rock drones or not? If it’s their aim to keep us from ever knowing, this EP is a success.

Marc Matter Could Change LP (Futura Resistenza)
Marc Matter is a member of Institut Für Feinmotorik, an avant turntable-based group known for deep investigation of the most peculiar sonic qualities of the turntable, so it’s not entirely surprising that his solo album is similarly prankster-y and erudite. Matter employs a simple yet effective trick here: he loops a split-second vocal clip at slowly-shifting intervals, the computerized voice’s phrasing mutating between syllables both intelligible and gibberish. If it sounds annoying, it most certainly is, but it’s so expertly executed and hypnotic as well. “Annoying” is an underrated musical concept, anyway! I would place Could Change next to vocal sound-artists like Anne Gillis and Blackhumour, both of whom are also fascinated with the ways in which incessant looping snippets of human speech can transcend their simple ingredients towards something oddly profound. Bill Orcutt’s recent A Mechanical Joey is a similarly effective (yet different) work, sharing with Could Change a desire for nearly imperceptible shifting over extended time, very much in the Alvin Lucier school of thought. Meditatively non-meditative music here, a delight for those of us willing to be delighted and a chorus of “turn that off right now!” from everyone else.

Mercenary Demos Collection LP (Beach Impediment)
Grisly images of skele-reapers, deadly armed forces and Olde English band-name fonts greet the audience of Mercenary’s full recorded works, Demos Collection. “Sounds like they probably play ferocious Scandi and Japanese-inspired d-beat-centric brutal hardcore”, you might say, and after spinning a few times, I’m happy to concur, astute reader! Mercenary existed in the mid ’10s in Atlanta, and while they never made it to wax beyond a track on a Beach Impediment compilation seven-inch back in 2014, this is a fine collection of satisfyingly raging hardcore. My experience with Mercenary was enhanced greatly by Ryan Bell’s accompanying liner notes, as he puts Mercenary in the context of the Atlanta hardcore scene (meager but often very good) and explains how and why the band existed. It also provides a fitting tribute to vocalist Michael “Ruby” Rubenstein, who sadly passed away unexpectedly in April 2021, a man clearly larger than life and beloved by punks far and wide. Xerox-burnt skeleton warriors and mushroom clouds are cool and all, but it’s Bell’s thoughtful writing that provided the context to helped me truly connect with Mercenary’s music.

Model Zero Little Crystal / Leather Trap 7″ (Sweet Time)
New two-song single here from what has to be Memphis’s grooviest punk rockers, Model Zero. Sharing what I believe to be at least one or two members with Ex-Cult and The Sheiks, Model Zero continue to refine their charismatic post-punk sleaze on “Little Crystal”, whose only lyrics I can clearly make out are the words “hot stuff”. Melodic and cool, this song bridges the gap between the art-punk of Pere Ubu with the buttoned-collar indie-rock of Spoon, but of course played by a bunch of nobodies from nowhere (which is forever the coolest way to be). A song that wouldn’t be out of place on a sleeveless Ork Records 45 from 1977, that’s for sure. “Leather Trap” sounds like the name of a band supporting Limp Wrist on tour, but it’s actually a punched-up rocker that reminds me of The Shifters at their most energetic, or I dunno, if that one very best local band, the one who refuses to get their act together, ran through a medley of Pulp and Eno covers in the basement just for kicks. Model Zero very well may have their act fully together, but they play their songs like a cool band who doesn’t care if they ever make it anywhere.

Moral Panic White Knuckles 7″ (Robellion Music)
We’ve got the first seven-inch single following two albums from New York punk-core trio Moral Panic on our hands here. Theirs is a fitting name, not because the band members have any particular clash of morality so much as it sounds like a classic hardcore band name from like 1982 or something, and seeing as they more or less sound like that, it works. Plus, they appear to be gentlemen of aged experience, who very well may have been around for hardcore in the ’80s, or at least the ’90s for sure, and their sound fits in with members of that first (or first-and-a-half) generation of hardcore punk, bands like Social Unrest and Youth Brigade and TSOL and so on. Nothing fancy or groundbreaking, or even particularly trendy, just trustworthy tuneful hardcore-punk they way it’s always been done. As a possible curveball, they cover Big Black’s “Colombian Necktie” here, which ends up sounding a hell of a lot like Austin punkers Video, whose Leather Leather album is one of my personal punk faves of the previous decade. Everyone involved ought to be pleased with themselves!

Richard Papiercuts Reunion LP (Ever/Never)
Peanut butter is back! That’s what Richard Papiercuts told us back in 2015, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since. Now Papiercuts is back as well, this time with a six-song album performed entirely by himself. In a way, I’m seeing parallels between Papiercuts and John Sharkey, as they were both brash, outspoken youths, all meanstreak and sarcasm, who have since mellowed out as middle-aged dads (and produced some of their finest music following that transition). Papiercuts ventures even further into a k-hole of adult-oriented pop this time around, dancing in the streets as opposed to moping in the sheets like many of the “Covid quarantine” records we’ve gotten from other artists. Opener “Judgment” is silky and emotive in a way that reminds me of The Blue Nile, and it’s followed by “Reunion”, which sounds like Scott Walker singing a Peter Gabriel song (and is as honestly as good in reality as you’re imagining in your head). Papiercuts celebrates and deforms the blockbuster pop of the late ’80s and early ’90s, clearly thinking of Phil Collins and George Michael (and on “Alma”, perhaps more Billy Joel than he bargained for), and only a pop-averse curmudgeon could avoid smiling during the proceedings. I can’t tell if Papiercuts would get into a fistfight with Alex Cameron or become fast friends if they ever met, but I get the impression there would be no middle ground.

Peace Decay Death Is Only… 12″ (Beach Impediment)
Featuring personnel from Severed Head Of State, Vaaska and Guerra Final, Death Is Only… is the debut EP from Austin’s Peace Decay. If they were crustier they’d probably go by Peace DK, and if they were moshier they’d probably be Piece Dekay, but they play a very athletic form of epic crust, guitars bringing high drama and vocals establishing a sense of cosmic doom. It’s certainly in line with bands like Tragedy, Forward and Selfish, a genre occasionally maligned as “stadium crust” which I’d say Peace Decay mostly avoid. They come across as deadly sincere here, and their drum sound is heavy and rugged as opposed to polished in the production style of NOFX – I’d file Peace Decay closer to Skitsystem than Coliseum. Themes of death, misery and annihilation fill these five songs, and while they might’ve come across as more of a heavy-metal fantasy a decade or two ago, Peace Decay’s role as harbinger of extinction feels uncomfortably apt today.

Rot TV Tales Of Torment LP (Tee Pee)
No sooner has the beer dried on Rot TV’s 2019 debut EP than their full-length debut arrived, reeking of cigarettes from the night before. If you don’t like hard living and its various consequences, this Melbourne rock unit has a finger in the air for ya! Tales Of Torment builds on their debut, collectively summoning the various modes of bad-news rock n’ roll that have captivated delinquent kids for some forty years now. I’m hearing epic pounders ala Turbonegro, petty-crime punk ala The Damned, the backstreet punk-pop of Vanity and just a sprinkling of top-flight guitar licks redolent of Heart or Thin Lizzy. That’s enough patches to fill a modest denim vest, and you may want to save a prime spot for Rot TV once you give this debut a spin. Vocalist Harriet Hudson-Clise is confident without overdoing it, and her husband Graham might not want to admit it, but there seems to be a poly thing going on between the two of them and his guitar. For the type of exhaust-stained rock music Tee Pee trades in, Tales Of Torment is a suitable fit.

Sad Eyed Beatniks Claudia’s Ethereal Weaver LP (Meritorio)
First vinyl appearance for Kevin Linn’s Sad Eyed Beatniks project following numerous tapes over the past few years. With most of those cassettes on the Paisley Shirt label, Sad Eyed Beatniks fits the bill as a mostly acoustic, semi downcast indie-pop affair, played with a “first take best take” / amateurs-only aesthetic. Simplistic music at its core, no doubt, but who really wants intricate, sonically-dazzling versions of this stuff anyway? The music of Sad Eyed Beatniks was meant to live on fuzzy cassettes passed around between friends. There’s plenty of room for various approaches within this fragile indie-pop framework anyway, and Linn tries out most of them, from solo acoustic songs to rock-quartet instrumentation (though I can’t figure out if he’s actually joined by other people, as the credits state “all music by K Linn” but the thanks list says “thank you Mike, Karina and Kati for helping with these songs”). In softer moments I’m reminded of The American Analog Set and The Zoltars – any twee-pop that can be traced back to the Velvets, really – but there are some starker moments throughout as well, reminiscent of the anguished strum of Drunk Elk and This Kind Of Punishment. For as long as they continue to produce horn-rimmed glasses, those who wear them will continue to make music like this, I’m pleased to say.

Schisms Break Apart The Idea Of Separation LP (Bergpolder)
Fans of rank ugly noise “rock” rejoice, I’m here to tell you about the new full-length from the UK’s Schisms. Featuring Bridget Hayden, whose work I enjoy both solo and as a part of the glorious Vibracathedral Orchestra, this trio is all sorts of murky, stomping out extended anti-melodic jams in a crude and efficiently lo-fi manner. I’m reminded of a bit of Neutral in the way that occasional rock moves will bubble up to the surface of an industrial waste pit, and at rare moments when the trio appears to be locked-in in a manner that resembles how normal bands behave, I’m reminded of the late great Air Conditioning. Sightings’s Michigan Haters is similar in sonic spirit as well. One of the Schisms is on guitar, wielded in a caustic and atonal form not unlike much of Bill Nace’s work, and along with some other sound effects and what might actually be some form of percussion (which gets downright jazzy at the end of the record!), the show stealer is an absolutely farty synth bass that dominates the mix. It might be a stretch to call this music “dub” in any form, but what other term should be invoked when huge puffy bass tones are twice as prominent as any other aspect of the performance? Whoever is in charge of that bass is confident and bold here, pushing this freaky sonic maelstrom onward with their own unique approach.

Star Party Meadow Flower LP (Feel It)
Cool “quarantine project” turned semi-real band here from Carolyn Brennan and Gen Pop’s Ian Corrigan, who was also the secret-weapon bass-player of Vexx. (Come to think of it, ever single member of Vexx was a secret weapon in their own right. God I miss that band!) Star Party is of course punk, but follows its own path, one that tempers high-tempo wall-of-sound riffing with the hazy fuzz of British indie and twee. Shop Assistants are referenced as direct inspiration, which certainly rings true by my ears, and I’m also hearing The Raveonettes, Dum Dum Girls and Go Sailor as sonic touchstones for what Star Party are after. They utilize a drum machine in lieu of a human drummer, but it never gets in the way or shouts “I’m a drum machine!” as these songs whizz or flutter by. There’s an urgency to many of these tunes, and a willingness to acknowledge the existence of slam-pitting, if not outright endorsing such behavior, that gives Star Party its own particular flavor. “Shot Down” provides a solid example of this, as the song itself could’ve worked well in the hands of both The Queers and Vivian Girls but doesn’t particularly sound like either.

Sworn Virgins Strangers Hands 12″ (Deewee)
I like to think there is still some room for sleaze and filth in today’s musical underground. If you ask me, the key is to focus on having fun with it, to express one’s self as opposed to focusing on getting a reaction; be a party that people want to join, as opposed to a spectacle based on provoking others, let’s say. London’s Sworn Virgins are an overtly sexualized electro duo, as if the pixelated porn shot on the cover (and my little intro) didn’t already clue you in, and as far as I’m concerned they’ve got the right attitude for the job. They’re not a “joke”, but as I listen to this four-song EP, I can picture Bobby Moynihan and Bill Hader performing some sort of satirical Daft Punk sketch more than the arrogant, self-serious sex pests Sworn Virgins might simulate. These songs slap like Matthew Dear circa Her Fantasy, but the weird little intros and over-the-top vocals of “Searching For Hiro” (the top track here) has me thinking of a new Kroll Show character, or “Tight Ferrari” by Sean Yeaton and Joel Ford (which, if you haven’t heard, go and Google right now). Certainly in line with the peak years of Ed Banger, if ultimately more innocent-sounding… I always assumed the Ed Banger crew actually was traversing Paris by neon-lit yachts, whereas Sworn Virgins are probably shy graphic designers or legal assistants by day whose dreams are filled with aviator shades and smoke machines. They’ve got a song called “Male Man” here, are you seriously not gonna smile at that?

Tilth Rock Music LP (Round Bale Recordings)
Post-rock duo Tilth, now split between Colorado and upstate New York, come forward with their third album, Rock Music. As one might reasonably expect the title to be a sly upending of expectations, the press release confirms that the group wants to “strip rock music down to the bare essentials”. As I listen to Rock Music, however, I can’t help but think, are these really the essential parts of rock music that captivate Tilth? These songs are made of softly drifting guitar chords, reverberating drones rich in warm melody and subtle sonic details. It sounds like extrapolations on the indie post-rock of Duster, Kepler and Bedhead, sleepytime indie-rock for eggheads in big cities in the ’90s. A touch of Earth’s The Bees Made Honey in the nods to Americana guitar as well, but nothing that remotely captures the spirit of rock music as far as I can tell, not even in an oblique or far-fetched way. When it comes to distilling Hendrix solos and Led Zeppelin stomp in an infinitely extended microsecond, I’ll turn to my Merzbow records, but divorced from the concept, Rock Music is pleasantly unremarkable and comforting, like the second best blanket on the couch.

Treasury Of Puppies Mitt Stora Nu LP (Discreet Music)
If you aren’t already familiar with Treasury Of Puppies, you’re probably thinking “what the hell kinda band calls themselves Treasury Of Puppies?”, but if you are familiar, you’re probably thrilled that they’ve got a new, not-instantly-sold-out album available. And you’ve probably gotten past the name, or find it appealing for the manner in which such a cutesy, children’s book sort of name is applied to this very homespun and minimalist duo. They’re currently one of the centerpieces of the “contemporary homemade music from Sweden” scene that I personally can’t get enough of, as loosely described on the Discreet Music insert that accompanied my copy of Mitt Stora Nu. I’d hope you’re familiar with one of the other cornerstones of this scene, Neutral, and I can’t help but compare Treasury Of Puppies to them. Both groups are male/female duos making inscrutably personal music (almost always in Swedish, too), but whereas Neutral find consolation in the brittle, crackling darkness and feedback-laden wasteland, Treasury Of Puppies walk on the sunnier side of the street, even if it’s still filled with cracks and debris. They’ll fit the occasional soft post-punk tune in amongst tape experimentation, humming, chimes, wandering pianos, spoken word, crude nature recordings and whatever else is at their disposal, resulting in an entrancing suite of early-morning experimentalism, as warm and welcoming as a breakfast of Upplandskubb and paté. Highly recommended!

Troth Oak Corridor LP (Knekelhuis)
Cool deal for Newcastle, Australia’s Troth to link up with Amsterdam’s Knekelhuis, a suitable if not obvious pairing. Knekelhuis loves to think to the future with their alien-sounding electronics, whereas Troth have always been a bit more pastoral and hushed, if undeniably synth-centric in nature. This new one is their finest distillation yet, a record that feels both icy and warm at the same time, like some ingenious new room at the spa that manages to maintain fresh snow at one hundred degrees. Drum machines sputter out the slightest of rhythms, keys sound “bedroom”-ish and private, and the enchanting vocals of Amelia Besseny shine not like a lighthouse on a rocky cliff but a flashlight under the covers. Good luck making out a single word, but her voice, somewhere between Grimes and Cocteau Twins’ Elizabeth Fraser, conveys a wonderment and hopefulness that pulls these moody, occasionally-somber synth patterns up from the fog. Next time I spin Oak Corridor, I’m going to distribute my collection of precious gemstones around the turntable and see if any of them glow – I’m betting I can get a slight shine out of my rose quartz!

Uwalmassa Malar LP (Mana)
Psychedelic post-techno percussion records are de rigueur these days, but it’s refreshing to witness Indonesia’s Uwalmassa, who might be a little closer to the root source of the technique than random dudes from Bristol or Brooklyn. Don’t expect anything resembling a Nonesuch gamelan compilation, though, as Malar is as much a weird minimalist electronic album as it is a hypnotic display of tuned metal percussion. These tracks are sparse and brooding, sometimes locking into patterns and sometimes tapping out alien morse-code or simply testing the capabilities of their setup. Reminds me a bit of Raime’s earlier material, as it has a slight “basketballs being dribbled in an empty gymnasium” feel at times, though there’s also a track like “Putung”, which is more reminiscent of one of Ricardo Villalobos’s abstract productions (ala Vasco or Empirical House). There’s no 4/4 thump, and Uwalmassa dance around that concept metaphorically (and presumably literally), skittering around the absence of rhythm with lightly clanking cymbals, suspicious bells and intricate blocks. The deeper you go into Malar, the greater the reward – I’ve been swimming in it for a few weeks now and still haven’t touched the bottom.

White Stains Blood On The Beach 7″ (Neon Taste)
That great Pittsburgh scene comp LP from a couple years ago is still ringing in my ears, upon which White Stains supplied a fine cut, “Let’s Die”. I hadn’t previously checked out the band further (something about the implied “we’re referring to jizz!” in the band name kept me at arm’s length), but this new EP comes with a sharp Vains cover homage and it’s not like I have anything else to do besides check out new hardcore records anyway. Unlike many of their Pittsburgh peers (and members’ previous bands), White Stains go a very early hardcore route, reminiscent of Sick Pleasure, Teen Idles and Circle Jerks… hardcore to be sure, but in the formative style long before it was co-opted by athletes and honor students. As a vocalist, Keith Caves sounds supremely disinterested in the music his bandmates are playing, and his languid, over-it vocals are a nice foil to the rough n’ tumbly hardcore-punk the rest of the ‘Stains have to offer. I’m not sure what the title track is all about – what beach is there in Pittsburgh? – but “2021” is an appropriate pulse-check on our pointless miserable lives, as nuclear-fearing and taken-advantage-of as the rotten teens who first played this style some forty years ago.