Archive for 'Reviews'

Reviews – October 2022

Act Now Louis Adonis / Wow Factor 7″ (Trev)
James Vinciguerra’s artwork is as distinctive and imitated as Pushead’s at this point, and he also dabbles in electronic/dance(?) music under various twice-and-done monikers, released in editions to satisfy his robust social network but probably not much more than that. When Vinciguerra plays drums in a band (such as Total Control), he locks in on dazzling and precise beats, but if you let the man loose on his own, be prepared for inexplicable jolts of sound, color and lighting. This new one is called Act Now, and the a-side “Louis Adonis” features his pal Tarquin Manek on a one-take clarinet solo. There’s an elastic beat on the constant verge of toppling over, with frantic percussive elements, samples of talking and probably a synth or three, all splattered in kaleidoscopic dub. Trippy stuff, presumably digital in nature but feeling more in line with outer-limits DIY post-punk than the electronic boundary-pushing of a label like AD 93. Feels more like a missing Squarepusher record produced by Mark Stewart for the Rough Trade label, a future-past that should’ve happened. “Wow Factor” allegedly samples a Fishbone beat, but I don’t remember Fishbone ever sounding like a piece of heavy-grade sandpaper being beaten with an axe. More multi-layered and echo-effected horns on this one, alongside some deep-house synth chords and a chattering vocal… this track behaves like an inspired interlude that could’ve appeared on Tom Of England’s stellar Sex Monk Blues album, or Jac Berrocal freaking out over a Heatsick mix. We can all make whatever music we want, but Vinciguerra chooses his own adventure every single time.

Amateur Hour Krökta Tankar & Brända Vanor 2xLP (Appetite)
The dank Swedish underground is relentless, churning out more inspired noise than any other European country as of late. The newest comes from the trio Amateur Hour, featuring Dan Johansson of Neutral and Sewer Election, Hugo Randulv of Enhet För Fri Musik and Skiftande Enheter, and Julia Bjernelind of Typical Girls. If you’re as obsessive with this stuff as I am, you know that their other bands run the gamut from jangly indie-pop to harsh noise, and Amateur Hour manages to synthesize their various other endeavors into its own glorious sludge, like a diamond-shimmering seashore care of a recent toxic petroleum spill. Guitars feature prominently, but more as a sensation than anything rock-oriented; it’s a sound strongly reminiscent of New Zealand’s famed avant-noise styles care of acts such as Dadamah or Dead C. Amateur Hour pull back quite a bit though, frequently reigning in their Flying Saucer Attack vibes with empty ballads like “Livets Laga”, which recalls the isolated gloom of Grouper. The whole thing sounds like it was recorded in an airplane hangar on a cliff overlooking a stormy sea, which enhances the patient melodies that fill up the majority of this record. No noise for noise’s sake or pop for pop’s sake – Amateur Hour consistently strike the perfect balance between the two, and at four full sides of twelve-inch vinyl, it’s easy to get lost deep within it.

Black Bones Nairobi Night Train / F.A.D 7″ (Höga Nord)
I really dig Sweden’s Höga Nord label: they manage to keep a steady stream of cool seven-inch singles flowing, generally from artists I’ve never heard of before (and often don’t hear from ever again). Black Bones certainly fits this description – I’m still not entirely sure who they are or where they’re from, but they’ve got a tight sound going on these two tracks. “Nairobi Night Train” anchors itself to a looping wooden percussion and moves in different directions with it, first on a sort of downhill techno slide ala Mental Overdrive or something, but a melodic side appears halfway through, as if the sun rose on a nighttime rave and the village children joined in. “F.A.D” arrives on a trance-y motif which finds its way through a hypnotic maze of loops reminiscent of Boys Noize, a packed groove that doesn’t offer any space to think or reflect. If you’re a DJ and want to carve out a moment where you can ominously fist-pump in the direction of your audience, “F.A.D” is a fine tool. Both cuts are well-edited and firm, quick to get to their respective points and hammer them dutifully. There’s a strong chance I’ll never discover another Black Bones record, but there’s beauty to be found in fleeting relationships such as this.

Th Blisks How So? LP (Altered States Tapes)
More groggy low-lidded bliss from the Altered States family, this being a new project that’s essentially the duo of Troth plus Yuta Matsumura (of Oily Boys and recently-revered solo-project fame). Much like Troth, Th Blisks operate in a floaty headspace, one where downy new-age sounds integrate with Joy Division-inspired post-punk rhythms, lazy trip-hop grooves and indecipherably-reverbed vocals. Whereas Troth seem to be really honing in on their own specific sonic imprint, Th Blisks move from song to song without careful continuity; a guitar-based new-wave number butts up against a proto-techno strut without a second thought, like Cybotron running into Siouxsie Sioux at a yoga retreat. The emphasis is on the feel rather than the song – for example, the swishy drum textures and droning chords of closer “Taipei Dubble” seem to be the point, rather than deriving meaning as a pop song with verses and choruses. Th Blisks aren’t songwriters here so much as humble explorers of chill instrumentation, which could probably be said for a lot of the Altered States roster. What a nice way to spend time with your friends!

Bromp Treb Bald Eagle Over Food City LP (Artsy / Ikuisuus)
Bromp Treb is one of the great names of the ’00s DIY noise explosion, the sort of persona I’d file next to Twig Harper, Mat Brinkman and John Olson: determinedly weird men, living in homemade paper maché bunkers with piles of paint-splattered electronic gear (also homemade) and a compulsory need to package their music up in fragile little plastic releases and share it with the world. I haven’t thought about Bromp Treb (or his equally-entertaining ensemble Fat Worm Of Error) much lately, but I saw that these two Finnish labels got together to put out his amusingly-titled Bald Eagle Over Food City and I had to take a sniff. Judging from the perverse and mutilated strings/horns/electronics I’m hearing here, he hasn’t lost a step, happy to remain planted in front of a confounding pile of frequently-malfunctioning electronics and hassle out some great disjointed noise, both loop-based and free. Some tracks sound like a marching band subsumed by quicksand, others twinkle like parking-lot lights on the fritz, but they’re united in their strange activity, the perfect soundtrack for overturning a large stone in the woods and peeping all the wriggling and writhing little invertebrates. Lots of noise guys went on to become techno guys, whereas Bromp Treb remained content to keep plugging his hand-wired gear into the wrong ends of themselves and documenting the misshapen sounds that came forth.

Chacon / Nakatani / Santistevan Inhale/Exhale LP (Other Minds)
That’s Raven Chacon on guitar, Tatsuya Nakatani on percussion and Carlos Santistevan on bass, but I’m sure the real free-music heads knew that already. Chacon and Nakatani I know, but Santistevan is new to me, and like many free players these days, this trio found a particularly resonant spot to set up shop and improvise an album: the San Miguel Chapel in New Mexico, boasted here as the “oldest chapel in the United States”. From the insert photo taken of the three during their recording, it appears to be a structure both beautiful and vaguely haunting, and their music certainly follows suit. A-side track “Inhale” is sludgy swarm of sound through its entire duration, pushing and pulling in various directions but never able to break through its murky membrane. Too restless to be considered drone, they manifest a brownish-green wall-of-sound here and really stick with it. I wonder what Nakatani’s “extended percussion” entails in this performance… I’m sure it adds to the nocturnal din. “Exhale” finds the trio in more of an active conversation, each player giving space to each other as Santistevan locates atonal puncture-wounds on his bass, Chacon’s guitar emulates a beehive in a blender and Nakatani skitters across the entirety of his kit (and selected strikeable objects). “Inhale” slowly sucks the air out of the room, whereas “Exhale” squirts it back in various raucous movements. That’s my kinda church experience!

Jacques Charlier Art In Another Way 2xLP (Séance Centre / Musique Plastique)
Dazzling retrospective collection here from Séance Centre and Musique Plastique, bringing to light the prescient electro-pop of one Jacques Charlier, a multimedia artist who wasn’t going to get his due without someone else singing his praises. Having only released a few cassettes back in the ’80s, I’m thrilled to have made his acquaintance here, as his retro-futuristic lounge-pop sounds like the sort of thing present-day keyboard auteurs would attempt to create, very much in line with the STROOM label’s hazily romantic new-wave aesthetic. Across a good fourteen songs, Art In Another Way provides a robust feel for what Charlier was after with his music, a humble yet impish take on French chanson pop and DIY electro post-wave. One could easily file some of these songs under early cold-wave (see the somewhat menacing “Top”) whereas others invoke a Twin Peaks-ish melodrama or a playful French pop sound. Where do you even file “Tout Va Bien”, a Jane Fonda workout tape soundtrack melded to a Morricone spaghetti Western? I’m sure Charlier’s music slipped through the cracks in its day due to his disinterest in the music biz, but also because a sound this joyfully anomalous had no built-in audience. I can’t imagine what it was like to hear this in 1985, which, to its benefit, makes Art In Another Way one of the brightest and most intriguing reissues I’ve heard all year.

Chronophage Chronophage LP (Post Present Medium / Bruit Direct Disques)
There are countless good bands out there right now, probably even countless great bands too, but how many are truly interesting? That’s the elusive quality, now that everyone knows what all prior music has sounded like and there are basic templates for starting bands of every pre-established sound or style. Good on Chronophage for being one of the interesting ones, then, as their music continues to evolve and grow in unexpected ways, far from your typical post-punk or indie-rock sounds. For example, a pal of mine described the opening track “Love Torn In A Dream” as sounding like a ’90s sitcom theme song, and I can certainly picture it, some oddly melancholy comedy sandwiched between Mad About You and Empty Nest. The rest of this self-titled album maintains that tenor, one of uneasy nostalgia, unconventional guitar-pop, complicated emotions and blue-eyed soul, as if Christopher Cross signed to Mute and recorded at Cold Storage, or if Gin Blossoms shared a songwriting session with This Kind Of Punishment. Chronophage are fully soft-rock here, but it’s ornately detailed and memorable, approaching some new form of adult-oriented pop-rock rather than the comfort of retro familiarity. Weird stuff, and certainly interesting! I almost forgot punks were responsible for all of this, but the message on the back cover is a welcome reminder to us all: “IT IS RIGHT TO BE DISGUSTED WITH REALITY!”

Deep Heavy Fear Dark Days 12″ (no label)
Here’s one of those records that’s easier to simply recommend than file away, were I to work in the imaginary record store of my dreams. They’re a German group, and apparently released this twelve-inch their damn selves, though I’m surprised to imagine there aren’t any labels out there eager to release weird, poppy, downtempo synth-pop like this. “Dark Days” reminds me of Pender Street Steppers in the way that it kind of turns ’80s dance-pop on its side, pulling the parts they want (cool punchy melodic synth leads, clacky drum machines) and updates it with uneasy pop vocals, slightly closer to indie-rock than Madonna. It really works! Reminds me of the rainy-day synth-pop of Fatima Yamaha as well, nostalgic for a lonely latch-key existence that we’re probably misremembering. The plot gets even more curious with “So Schnell Wie Möglich”, a quick two-minute slip n’ slide through moody post-punk emotion, like a minimalist dub-techno remix of The Blue Nile or something, with jazzy guitar chords, live bass and drums (I think?) and more too-cool vocals, seemingly from a different band member this time around. It’s not particularly deep, heavy or fearful music, yet the name somehow fits? The type of band that either signs to XL and gets big within a year or we simply never hear from them again after this magical EP.

Freak Genes Hologram LP (Feel It)
Kind of a confusing album cover, considering there is also an active hardcore-punk group called Hologram who could conceivably put out records on a label as esteemed as Feel It, but I suppose this sort of thing is bound to happen in an underground scene where the same words tend to pop up over and over. Anyway, this is very much an album by European duo Freak Genes, their fifth one in fact, and they continue to hone their own synth-punk style, even if it’s not without clear precedent. In fact, I’d say that Freak Genes are sounding more like other artists this time around, but it’s led to better, more memorable songs? “Strange Charm” is pure Jay Reatard gone-electro (Angry Angles or Lost Sounds maybe?), whereas a number of tunes here are strongly reminiscent of Total Control circa their mighty Henge Beat. “Hologram” and “DNA” set that tone early on, with perhaps a little more spastic Screamers energy than the restrained cool of Total Control, but I’m really splitting hairs here (or are they aux cables I’m splitting?). Like many people, I sure could’ve gone for a few more Henge Beats (though I celebrate the entire Total Control discography), and Freak Genes do this sort of post-punk/synth/hardcore-tempo mind-meld well, with their British vocals, creative drum patterns and own particular melodies. The Queen is dead, but her hologram can’t be too far behind, right?

Front De Cadeaux We Slowly Riot 2×12″ (Antinote)
I tried Front De Cadeaux’s Sad Is Fashion twelve-inch on a whim earlier this year and loved it, and this new double twelve-inch (compiling previously-released and previously-unreleased tracks) is even better. Might be my techno album of the year depending how things shake out; it’s really that good! This Rome/Brussels duo located their own niche within various forms of electronic music and I find it absolutely irresistible, the sort of thing I realized I’d been searching for as soon as I heard it. They combine the super-slow dirge pacing of the Neubau label with the colorful personality quirks of minimal tech-house artists like Melchior Productions and Portable and the sunglasses-down, feet-up grooves of labelmate Alek Lee. Maybe a touch of tweaked French mania ala Mr. Oizo in there too, the way in which Front De Cadeaux utilizes a vocal hook or unexpected horn or whatever to crack a track wide open. Or Paranoid London in the way that deep deadpan vocals roll out over taut electro beats? Front De Cadeaux do all of these things across these eight tracks, cool as hell and firmly planted in its own specific aesthetic form, each track managing to slowly bang with an arsenal of memorable hooks. Confident, unorthodox cuts that find beauty in the crude and vice versa. Recommended!

Gloved Hands Empty Terminal LP (La Luna)
Pleasurable sonic spa treatment here from Morgan Fox AKA Gloved Hands, whom you may recall as one half of the ambient-krautrock-techno duo Blank Gloss. Much like Blank Gloss’s pop-ambient shuffle through fluffy clouds on pristine escalators, Gloved Hands is restlessly soft ambient music, like a big knotted pile of blankets and quilts with some cute little animal snuggled somewhere deep inside. This feels like techno as it wakes up in the morning, stretching out its chords and calibrating its bass throbs and watery samples for the rest of the day over a solitary sunrise and a serene cup of coffee. Percussion is infrequent if almost entirely non-existent here, recalling the moments in between beats on Luomo’s Vocalcity, that feeling of unhurried ambient loitering as the rack of synths test the waters before deploying a sumptuous house groove. There’s no grooving here, though – Fox might be using traditional Kompakt-esque synth pads, but he prepares them in a manner redolent of Fennesz’s Endless Summer, smearing colors together until the air is filled with drifting scenes and traces of club music sans kick or snare. Try it with your next açai bowl and see if your morning commute isn’t slightly more relaxed.

Human Adult Band Slog Quest Crosstime LP (Feeding Tube)
Cool to see New Jersey dirt-rock lifers Human Adult Band getting some shine from the good folks over at Feeding Tube, though as the label closes in on their thousandth release, there may be more underground artists with a Feeding Tube logo on their record than those without one. If you’re not already familiar with this long-running ensemble, they’ve been jamming their way to the gooey center of grunge/indie/noise/stoner/psych rock for a while now, and Slog Quest Crosstime is both a nice addition to their discography as much as it is a suitable introduction. To me, they seem to embody that weird post-Nirvana moment where bands with zero career aspirations managed to garner acclaim while performing distinctly, perhaps-deliberately uncommercial rock music. One song will groove like Cows or ’90s-era High Rise, another flails like Mudhoney at their silliest, and there’s plenty of mind-numbing dirge-rock akin to Flipper and Kilslug as well, if either of those bands had any interest in extended guitar solos (peep “Unhurried Skeletons”). There seems to be no grand purpose here, no eloquent statement of our times or attention-seeking aesthetic, just a bunch of long-term friends in some Jersey garage having the time of their lives lugubriously rocking out while other acquaintances pass through, and it’s a thing we need more of. Peep Chaz Wetlands’ contribution of “pitch shifted pedal steel” on “Unhurried Skeletons” and you’ll wish you were part of the gang too, pulling up in their driveway with some roto toms, a RAT pedal and a poorly-rolled joint.

Ignorantes Parece Que Tuvimos Demasiados Hijitos LP (Under The Gun)
This Chilean punk band didn’t call themselves “Inteligentes” for good reason – their raw pogo-punk is engineered to destroy brain cells, not stimulate them. In an age where punks are more interested in replicating every fine detail of some specific (real or imagined) past than carving new paths forward, it makes sense that Ignorantes are catching some attention, as their sound appears to be both ripped from the past and fully authentic in its own right; the best of both worlds. That’s to say, they catch the same buzzy recording quality of a South American punk band from 1985, and bash it out with nary a misstep or diversion (no “funny” cover songs, funky breakdowns or attempts at flashy musicality to kill the mood). Hornets’ nest guitar, flubby bass played one string at a time, oom-pah drums and pained vocals from some sort of cave under the stage, this is charged and angry punk rock somewhere in the neighborhood of The Swankys, Chaos UK, The Casualties, Raw Power and Huasipungo. International ‘core united in two-note song-structures and the neighbors leaving angry notes to be found in the morning. I need to listen to this sort of music on the regular to keep from blowing my top, and Parece Que Tuvimos Demasiados Hijitos, amusing cover art and all, is a worthwhile inclusion.

KEN Mode Null LP (Artoffact)
Damn, KEN Mode’s eighth album! And it’s as burly, noisy and aggressive as ever. You don’t stick it out in the post-hardcore noise-rock biz for the fame and fortune if you’re eight albums deep, and Winnipeg’s KEN Mode (named from Henry Rollins’ “kill-everyone-now mode” ethos) are clearly here because they love it. (That said, I’m sure Canada’s artist grants don’t hurt, which helped fund this one!) Anyway, if you’re remotely a fan of metallic noise-rock ala Young Widows, Botch, Unsane, Chat Pile and so on, I can’t imagine you’d leave Null feeling unsatisfied. I like this sort of stuff in modest doses, and KEN Mode nail the sound where heavy down-tuned guitars scrape and rumble, drums pummel at half-time and vocals act as sonic punctuation. They keep my full attention with diversions from the standard professional-grade metal-core template, such as the heavy industrial bleat of “The Tie”, which truly kicks butt care of its squealing horns(?) over an Emptyset-styled distorted bass throb. “Lost Grip” is a satisfyingly miserable metallic-industrial dirge, another worthy entry in the “white guy loses his mind because of society” pantheon of noise-rock, the sort of thing that will get the dozen guys in Swans shirts in the crowd smirking knowingly. Not much else to do once you’re eight albums deep but follow your heart and tighten your craft; KEN Mode bring it with gusto here.

Kulku Fahren LP (Phase Group)
Chew on this phrase for a moment: acoustic no-wave. Could really go either way, right? I found it an intriguing enough conceit to check out this album from Berlin’s Kulku, who have been labeled as such, and I’m glad I did! They’ve got an unusual take on rhythmic post-punk, offering percussive-fronted jams that still allow one of the more charismatic members of the group to bellow, rant, rave and squabble on the mic (because let’s face it, no one really wants an instrumental post-punk band). Opener “Hoodoo Blues” is a slanted lurch of drums, looped on repeat while it sounds like someone slowly lets the air out of a giant balloon before the vocalist gets to his list of complaints. Other tracks are groovier, with the pleasant tones of a xylophone, a timpani and even a cello all united in their mission of discordant, sour dance music. They get tuneful too though, like the sparkling “Untern Himmel” which does for minimalist artful post-punk what Aloha did for emo (read: centered a xylophone). Certainly recommended if you dig Einstürzende Neubauten, Niagara, Golden Teacher and/or the Anne Bean & P. D. Burwell single on Pulp Music, or if you liked the concept of the group Foot Village but never really connected with their records (I’m willing to step forward and admit that myself).

Lassie Behold LP (Phantom)
Following a fun foray into the world of singles and tapes, Leipzig’s Lassie step out onto their first vinyl full-length with Behold. Seems like they put their heart into this one, from the collection of songs to the substantial zine/booklet that accompanies the record. They play an incessantly-upbeat form of punk, with multiple members sharing vocal duties and a keyboard that bleeps, bloops and zings… pep-rally punk for a rock n’ roll high school. Sure, spiderwebs and chains are illustrated on the center labels like many of today’s evil/spooky punk bands, but Lassie bop around the room with optimism and a shared excitement, the sort of band that would be equally suited to sharing a bill with Sweeping Promises as Sheer Mag. At times, I think I’m hearing that classic Dangerhouse sound ala Eyes and The Randoms, but there’s a strain of melodicism here that bears closer relation to modern speedy pop-punk ala The Marked Men. Modern punk bands sometimes suffer from a lack of their own identity, and while Lassie aren’t exactly breaking out into uncharted territory, they’ve got a good enough thing going where I could see a crowd coming out specifically to see them play rather than simply the bands they’re opening for.

L.O.T.I.O.N. W.A.R In The Digital Realm LP (Toxic State)
It’s funny (actually not funny at all) how L.O.T.I.O.N. went from being a punk band based on retro-futuristic terror to the punk band most accurately reflecting the spirit of our times. Things are moving fast out here, and thankfully we have L.O.T.I.O.N. to provide the appropriate soundtrack, one of violent gabber beats, screaming sirens and digital fright. This new one might be their most succinct and easily-digestible one yet, offering chant-along riot songs geared for kicking one of those munition-armed robot police dogs in the face. This New York group seems to swing between traditional rock band and synth-based formations, and W.A.R In The Digital Realm leans towards the latter, with programmed drums and aggro synths comprising most of the music, the guitar being the main (only?) instance of live instrumentation. Vocalist (and band artist) Alexander Heir sounds like he’s somehow whispering his gnarled vocals this time around, like he’s doing his best orc-wizard voice softly into a tiny microphone while his roommates sleep in the room next door. It adds to the overall feel of cybernetic armageddon – as I listen, it doesn’t feel like I’m being screamed at by a punk, it feels like some radiation-poisoned commandant is barking threats with one hand on a giant red button and a skull in the other. We all hate cops, but “Every Last One” is a new anthem for the cause, the sort of Ministry-esque rager that makes you want to rip down chain-link fencing with your bare hands. Ugly music for ugly times!

Olta Karawane Deep Cover #6 12″ (Deep Cover)
Olta Karawane are a self-described “alcoholic duo from Moscow” who first came to my attention as purveyors of not just one but a series of remixes of Primus’s “My Name Is Mud” (you can find those on Bandcamp). Not a bad way to make a first impression, but their two edits on Deep Cover #6 are entirely different beasts, the sort of thing friends and fellow party-goers would enjoy rather than uncomfortably scurry away from. “Galocher” is a superb edit of Cosa Rosa’s “Die Fantasie Reicht Bis Zum Knie”, a pensive Euro-pop smoker, adjusting the BPM to a Balearic presence with sweeping synths and precise little twists for maximum party pleasure. Great tune! “In Freunde Mit Dub” appears to be an original, or at least more of an original, and it locates a different groove, equally Mediterranean and laid-back in nature but with some overly active synth-work, pulsing rhythms and at least one keyboard soloing at any given time. Could be the best hold-music you’ve ever had while trying to get your electric bill adjusted, or a midnight epiphany at some outdoor club you’ll never find again. Hope Olta Karawane are surviving alright (and not hitting the bottle too hard) – there’s a freeness of spirit and wild talent on display here, one that deserves to thrive.

The Prize Wrong Side Of Town 7″ (Anti Fade)
Doing my best to piece it together: looks like Aussie power-poppers Mr. Teenage are no more, but three of them are now in The Prize, one of whom is the child of Cosmic Psychos drummer Dean Muller. Mr. Teenage had a cool thing going, a mellifluous power-pop punk style with tasteful hard-rock flourishes, and The Prize continues forward on essentially the exact same musical path. No harm in finding your lane and sticking to it! These songs acknowledge the impact made by Royal Headache and Sheer Mag while maintaining a more general-admission style, less idiosyncratic and more populist at its core. Wave your beer bottle, sing along, hell even bop around into other people if you’re one of those types… The Prize’s rock n’ roll is naturally uplifting and communal. Each band member is credited with vocals, and I’ll be damned if the back cover doesn’t prove it with a live pic of all five band members singing. No egos here! They all look like they just woke up in their photo-booth pictures on the cover, but these songs are caffeinated and ready to get a jump on the day. Three originals and an Incredible Kidda Band cover, because why cover any ordinary Kidda Band?

Anna Savage Queens Rd / Saturn Again 7″ (Altered States Tapes)
And now something entirely pleasant: the debut single from Fremantle, Australia’s Anna Savage (which I’d assume rules out any possible relation to members of Parquet Courts). She collaborated with James Vinciguerra on the art (there he is again!), which means that anything is possible with her music, but “Queens Rd” is nothing more than a pleasant acoustic meanderer. Recorded up-close with just the faintest hiss of the room grounding it, “Queens Rd” is tender folk in step with Vashti Bunyan and Maxine Funke (who shares this sense of personal intimacy in her music). “Saturn Again” arrives similarly, traipsing through a homespun folk tune on acoustic guitar. Savage has exceedingly sufficient guitar chops for the style, and her voice is hushed and confident, resulting in a pretty exemplary foray into pastoral folk. Disarmingly straight tunes, particularly considering the left-of-center pedigree of Altered States. And seeing as this is her first publicly-released recording, I’d imagine she’s just getting started on the path to charming all who encounter her music.

Sick Thoughts Heaven Is No Fun LP (Total Punk)
Drew Owen has been getting kicked out of clubs since the early ’10s, a scruffy, proudly-inebriated punk who is all scum, no crust. He’s left his skid-marks on the scene with a hefty variety of collaborations and solo projects, most prominently under the Sick Thoughts moniker, which enlists the help of friends when necessary. He’s probably against the concept of evolution, but Owen’s music has only gotten tighter, catchier and more refined over time, in a manner that gets deeper to the core of punk rock rather than further outward into sellout territory. Heaven Is No Fun is his new full-length and his best yet, really capturing the elusive “all killer no filler” flag. These songs are tuneful and grating, perfectly in line with first-wave heroes like The Dead Boys and The Misfits, as well as Killed By Death one-offs like Hollywood Squares, Nervous Eaters and Freestone. Completely snotty in the vein of GG Allin’s first album, and just as tuneful/hateful, with earworm hooks being equally important to attitude and crude sass. He even manages to slow it down to perfection on “Mother I Love Satan” and recall early Judas Priest on “Submachine Love”, displaying how smoothly early punk and NWOBHM can intermingle in the hands of a keen songwriter. I kinda can’t get over how good Heaven Is No Fun is, especially considering that hard-partying punks tend to decline in ability and focus as their youth fades. With any other band, I’d say it isn’t possible they actually sold their souls to the devil, but in the case of Sick Thoughts it feels like a distinct possibility.

Siri Karlsson 100 DB LP (Tombola)
Siri Karlsson’s 2019 album Horror Vaccui passed through these pages back in 2019, kind of an unmemorable-if-not-unpleasant take on industrial-tinged horror-folk, but whatever their new album 100 DB is, it’s not that! I get the impression that this Swedish duo approaches every album as its own unique organism, worried less about continuity between records than stamping each one with its own distinct identity, and they definitely do that here. To their credit, I haven’t heard many records like 100 DB before, as they go all-in mixing epic prog instrumentation with rollicking space-rock riffs, big strings and bigger synths. It feels like a big rock record, but there are no guitars! Their sort of stadium-minded approach reminds me of Boris, and these songs often sound as if Boris was fronted by Aïsha Devi and only interested in covering the songs of Magma and Heldon. I appreciate the wide variety of Swedish artists who swing for the fences with their music, from Kite to Avicii to The Hives, and Siri Karlsson absolutely go wild here, trying to make every percussive breakdown the burliest, every cosmic synth arpeggio the flightiest, and singing as if it’s imperative that the rest of the world listens. I’m not sure who the audience is for this style – fans of both CocoRosie and stoner-rock? – but if there isn’t already one out there, Siri Karlsson seem confident it will come.

Terminal Addiction EPs 2020-2021 LP (Not For The Weak)
At first glance, the skeleton/skull/mushroom-cloud art and generic hardcore band-name had me ho-humming as I dropped EPs 2020-2021 on the turntable. A moment later I took note of the fact that Terminal Addiction aren’t from suburban New Jersey or Chicago, but Nizhny Novgorod, Russia, which certainly alters my experience. It’s surely a lot harder to be a raging punk band where they’re from, a more firmly established dictatorship zone of despair than the US (at least for the time being). I’m sure you have to fight twice as hard to exist as a band, from the basics like owning/storing gear to finding places to play, and yet their music rages in a fairly generic manner redolent of Totalitär, TØRSÖ, Vaaska and other Swedish or Swedish-inspired hardcore bands. That said, “generic” has never been a punishable crime in the world of hardcore, and the studio recording they’ve got (on what was originally two cassette EPs) is punchy and clean, honestly probably polished to a point beyond I tend to like my hardcore-punk. Lots of people do prefer their hardcore to sound like Terminal Addiction, however, and it’s delivered with an inherent urgency and daringness that most of us Westerners could only pretend to have.

Two Shell Icons 12″ (Mainframe Audio)
What if there was some bliss to be had in the imminent augmented virtual-reality zone? That seems to be the question posed by London’s Two Shell on their superb new EP, which looks far into a digital future with a quirky optimism and the beats to back it up. They got their start with Bristol’s Livity Sound, and I can certainly hear their techno bangers in the context of labelmates Peverelist and Hodge, but Two Shell have come out and defined their own aesthetic with careful detail here. A good part of that comes from the “mad futuristic vox” (that description comes from a Bandcamp commenter), which pop in and out of these nu-rave tunes like an AI customer-service attendant checking in to make sure you’re partying at optimal levels. Reminds me of Al Wootton under his Deadboy alias given a turbo-charged upgrade, music that has big-room hooks and abundant personality, as likely to call to mind classic trance tracks as the utopian vision of Drexciya and the playful impishness of Zomby. Following Sophie’s untimely passing, I thought I might not encounter a British electronic artist as joyously abnormal as hers for a while, but Icons is filling that void with all of its confetti-colored splendor.

Labyrinth Of Memories compilation 2xLP (Kashual Plastik)
For as long as I’ve been around, compilations have played a pivotal role in defining scenes, providing some sort of much-needed aesthetic cartography as groups of like-minded folks do their respective things in a similar time or place. It’s about time then that someone put together a collection of the global lo-fi bedroom sound-collage ambient abstracted post-post-punk scene that has bubbled up over the past few years, and this sure seems to be it! Across four sides of vinyl and no less than thirty-one tracks, Labyrinth Of Memories does a masterful job of providing a sort of who’s who (and who’s not who) of that loosely-congealed scene. Not only does it put together some of my favorite names in that sub-underground – Monokultur, Mosquitoes, Hypnotic Sleep, People Skills, Brannten Schnüre to name a few – Kashual Plastik does us the service of locating top-quality lesser-knowns in a scene that, at its peak, is lesser known. The globe is fully combed here, with a few North American artists, a handful of Australians and majority European representation, a United Nations of quiet bookish weirdos armed with acoustic guitars, portable tape recorders, borrowed synths and a nagging desire to assemble it all into some sort of crude sonic art. By the time you make it to the final two tracks, Loopsel’s enchanting ambient guitar and Thomas Bush’s alternate-reality-emo rendition of “Private Dancer”, I’d hope that you already have a rough idea of the private basement recording project you intend to create.

Reviews – September 2022

Jacques Bon & Drux A Long Way 2xLP (Smallville)
Move D and Benjamin Brunn’s Songs From The Beehive was a formative techno full-length for yours truly, a minimal tech-house album that saved plenty of space for all its warm, weird, fuzzy underpinnings, wisely adorned by the cover’s colorful splots. Fourteen years later, German label Smallville continues that same mission of funky, non-aggressive tech-house with this new one from Jacques Bon and Vincent Drux (and just like Songs From The Beehive, its cover was also designed by Smallville’s in-house artist Stefan Marx). Bon and Drux do a great job of ignoring the past decade of electronic music’s multitudinous trends, sticking with a rich tech-house sound designated by booming bass-lines, hazy synths, pleasant levels of reverb and a consistently casual pulse. Nothing fancy or designed to provoke, just solidly-constructed tech-house with subtle detailing here and there. It feels very much in line with Perlon’s ’00s roster, the sort of thing that could be accompanied by a Villalobos or Luciano remix on the b-side. Though this one isn’t quite emo enough to be confused with the Giegling roster, they both inspire me to wish I was in some sleepy German town raving in a cobblestone courtyard flanked by coffee shops and a babbling brook. Not an essential release, though A Long Way conjures an essential feeling, which I insist you locate somewhere else if not here.

Carcáscara 2 LP (Hegoa)
Very pleasant combination of modern minimalism and traditional folk here from Carcáscara and their Basque Country residence. I appreciate a group that takes fifteen years to follow their debut, which is the case with Carcáscara’s 2 – they clearly aren’t pumping out content for the sake of it. 2 opens with a softly chiming acoustic guitar and sweet vocals reminiscent of Devendra Banhart’s early studio albums, but the album opens outward from somewhat traditional folk music to a sprawling suite of harmonium, pitched percussion, melodic vocals and plenty of resonant classical guitars. The label references John Fahey and Robbie Basho as influences, and while Carcáscara employ plenty of cascading acoustic guitars throughout, there’s a clear path to the many modern artists who utilize cyclical patterns as an almost meditative practice as well, from the tempered percussion of De Leon to the healing grooves of Joshua Abrams Natural Information Society. But whereas the work of many modern “fourth-world” ambient players can feel as thought it was stitched together on a laptop, the music of Carcáscara is particularly organic and natural-sounding. The sustained drone of a synth on “Aries Resurrection” is clearly electronic, but the rich tones that quickly envelop it could be flutes, an old organ, or something else entirely. All of these songs feel as though they were carefully rendered by human hands, and that tenderness has seeped into every crevice of this charming album.

Chat Pile God’s Country LP (Flenser)
It’s both cool and a little weird that some people seem extremely psyched on the debut album from Oklahoma City’s sludge / noise-rock outfit Chat Pile. This sorta aggro, noisy, mid- to slow-paced rock thing felt like its moment came a decade ago, but I personally find it an endearing sound regardless of time period, so long as it’s performed with style and intent. Chat Pile manage to merge the sludge-rock that filtered through the hardcore scene in the ’90s (think of Cavity, Gob, Deadguy and Floor) with some of Korn’s down-tuned groove and the “I’m a crazy guy who’s losing it” vibe of Daughters’ last (and presumably final?) record. It’s good! Chat Pile are clearly trying to write memorable songs rather than fill up a space with sound. Although a well-intentioned track like “Why” reeks of “31 year-old white guy realizes the world is bad”, they have some great moody moments that verge on Alice In Chains-level brutality, like “Anywhere” and even “Why”‘s lumbering opening riff. Not sure you’ll need to hear “I Don’t Care If I Burn” more than once, but it’s cool that Chat Pile are trying to create their own thing rather than follow the established blueprint. Many bands who attempt this style focus on the sound and aesthetic rather than the songs themselves, but God Country is a dynamic record, notably replayable in a genre that often prides itself on grueling monotony.

Claude A Lot’s Gonna Change LP (American Dreams)
Unrepentantly chill debut full-length here from Chicago’s Claude, who successfully coalesces a few different strands of popular underground pop (dream-pop, chill-wave, synth-pop). Her songs range from smoky slow-dances to caffeinated electro-pop, all unified by her confident and well-enunciated voice. She casually speak-sings for the most part, with each syllable sounding carefully considered and unhurried, and her delivery is probably the biggest draw for me. It’s so easy to sound disaffected and over-it these days, especially with echo-y synths and electronic programming, but Claude comes across as sincere and considered, willing to give a little of herself even if it means risking vulnerability. The album opens with a song about being in her twenties (“Twenty Something”), whereas I feel like most solo electro-pop singers would avoid admitting something as real as their age, no matter if they’re in their twenties or their sixties. I hear some Lana Del Rey, Tamaryn and Cocteau Twins in these songs, but also unlikelier artists like Pulseprogramming and The Postal Service (“What’re You On Tonight”) or, I dunno, Molly Nilsson covering That Dog (“Claustrophobia”)? Whenever I recognize a nice wide spread of related-unrelated artists in a record, it usually means I dig it, which is certainly the case here. Best twenty-something album of the month!

Caleb Dailey Warm Evenings, Pale Mornings: Beside You Then LP (Moone / Alien Transistor)
Moone label-head (and occasional Soft Shoulder member) Caleb Dailey bears his tear-stained, denim-clad heart on his solo debut, Warm Evenings, Pale Mornings: Beside You Then. Sometimes, we best express ourselves through the words of others, an approach Dailey favors here as this album consists entirely of covers, classic weepy country tunes written by Gram Parsons, Gordon Lightfoot and Blaze Foley. I’m sure these timeless gems would sound lovely performed on a broken washing machine and a theremin (that’d be better suited for a Gilgongo release), but Dailey gives them the proper rock instrumentation alongside a small collection of pals, adorning these songs with keys, pedal steel, banjo, harmonium and whatever else might be necessary to get the job done (including none other than Tori Kudo himself playing violin on “Brass Buttons”!). The recording is warm and lively; I’m reminded of some of those early Elephant 6 recordings where you can practically hear all the musicians shuffling their feet across the room, moving microphones and picking up instruments in a cluttered and convivial studio space. Played by one’s lonesome, these songs would be A-OK, but Dailey opens the blinds and lets their tender power shine (with a little help from his friends).

Doc Flippers Human Pork LP (Sophomore Lounge / Phantom / We Don’t Make It)
Since the beginning, German punk has always been one of the weirder forms of punk, and Leipzig’s Doc Flippers continue that proud tradition with their full-length vinyl debut, Human Pork. The artwork calls to mind both Lumpy Records and Sam McPheeters, and that same sort of restless desire to agitate is prevalent throughout the album, even as there’s no hardcore (and mostly just the essence of punk) to be found. If anything, it seems like Doc Flippers are purposefully making fun of punk while simultaneously playing their own form of it, if that makes sense… it’s not irony, it’s more like a deliberate nose-thumbing at the audience as well as themselves. Some of their weird guitar licks recall some of those tape-only post-Coneheads projects and early Chronophage, all with the same “half a dozen people on stage” feel of Natural Man & The Flamin’ Hot Band. Throw in an instrumental funk break where the joke is that it’s actually kinda good, and then just speed it up on a loop over and over? Why not! It’s a wacky party for sure – someone’s getting pranked here, and if you’re not sure who it is that’s getting pranked, there’s a good chance it may be you.

420 420 LP (Lustwerk Music)
Gotta hand it to Galcher Lustwerk for behaving in a sporadic and confusing manner that simply doesn’t jive with way the world works today (relentless online content and promotion). Rather than constantly chiming in on social media, Lustwerk seems content to fade below the surface, which is cool with me… more artists should make their fans chase them rather than the other way around. Case in point is this album from 420 – it’s perhaps Lustwerk’s most uninspired moniker, though the music is as sweet as anything released under his primary name. This is rich, supple house music with Detroit and German influences, deployed under the cover of night and in the darkest crannies of the club. “Untitled 1” is the upbeat party-starter, its speedy bongos giving way to luscious pads redolent of DJ Central and Omar S. If anything, 420 leans closer to traditional techno than previous works (see the Drexciya-esque “Untitled 6”) but it fits him as well as the downtempo house he’s refined over the years. Lustwerk’s vocals have always been one of the most striking and distinctive aspects of his music, and while he doesn’t rap on all of these tracks, his staccato vocal lines remain the show-stealer, at once energetic yet fully reclined. There’s a lot of Lustwerk material out there, the majority of which shares the same sonic aesthetic, but 420 feels particularly fresh to me right now. More of the same, but when the same is so damn good, who could complain?

The Frowning Clouds Gospel Sounds & More From The Church Of Scientology LP (Anti Fade)
This Frowning Clouds album went right on the turntable, sans research (or even really reading the cover), and as these dainty throwback garage/soul/rhythm-and-blues songs entered my head, I couldn’t help but think to myself, is this band completely unaffected by the world we live in? I was trying to figure out how a band could be so pleasantly, cluelessly carefree, retro-rocking without the slightest hint that they’re aware of the situation we’re all in, and then I finally looked on the back cover to learn that this album is a collection of The Frowning Clouds’ earliest material from 2011 through 2013. That explains it! They were based out of Geelong and Melbourne in the great country of Australia, and apparently no longer exist, but managed to put out a few albums back in those simpler times. Their songs are deeply rooted in a ’60s garage sound, as twinkly as The Byrds and Tommy James & The Shondells, snappy as The Kinks and scrappy as Los Cincos or The Black Lips. It’s extremely retro, unabashedly so, and if that’s the sound you want to hear, I can’t imagine you’ll walk away disappointed from this one. It doesn’t resonate too strongly with me, hearing it for the first time here and now, but anyone wearing purple-tinted sunglasses and multiple bead necklaces will surely find ample reason to groove along.

Isolationgemeinschaft Der Tanz Geht Weiter! LP (Phantom)
Quick advice for any punk and punk-adjacent bands looking to get a record out today – go send your demo to Phantom! I’m not sure how this German label does it, but they seem to churn out a higher frequency of vinyl releases than anyone else out there… maybe their dad owns a pressing plant? Anyway, Isolationsgemeinschaft (or as they’re casually known, I.G.) linked up with the label for their second full-length, and much like their 2020 debut, Der Tanz Geht Weiter! is a morose synth-wave album full of deadpan German vocals, oscillating synths and unfriendly drum machines. Cabaret Voltaire and Martial Canterel feel like compatriots if not outright influences, though Isolationsgemeinschaft are a bit less experimental than the former and less clinical than the latter. The immediate delivery and somewhat rudimentary songwriting feels more post-punk than cold-wave, even if there is nary a guitar in sight. They probably open for Boy Harsher when they come through Germany, or if they don’t, Boy Harsher’s agent needs to pay better attention to the underground. By no means a life-changing album, but would I lurk around a basement chamber wearing black eyeliner and a cape while listening to it? I believe I would.

Ben Klock & Fadi Mohem Klockworks 34 12″ (Klockworks)
If it ever feels like I write overwhelmingly positive words about the techno I review here, I think it’s because I don’t get sent a ton of this stuff, so I’m already kind of self-selecting, going right to the records that interest me most and passing over some of the less-inspired entries (in what is of course a supremely crowded field of artists and producers). This means I have more time to check out a new Ben Klock EP such as this, love it, and share the good word here with you. The last time Ben Klock teamed up with Fadi Mohem, it was for “a collaboration on a futuristic NFT in 2021” (insert queasy-face emoji), but I’m glad they’re back to taking their hardware jams to vinyl instead of wherever NFTs reside. Opener “Prefix” could entertain me from its opening drum loop alone, a ragged stutter-step that pleasantly increases my heart rate. They let that killer loop rip and proceed to craft a full tune around it, with lingering keys, EKG beeps and a pleasantly restless energy. The rest of the cuts continue similarly – don’t expect any epic build-ups or melodic leads, Klock and Mohem are here to drill a hole in your head with their mighty selection of hardware, very reminiscent of Planetary Assault Systems, Barker & Baumecker and the rest of Ostgut Ton’s heavyweight fighters. If the extremely German bleep/thwack of “Hydrocarbon” doesn’t resonate with you, I implore you to send me some techno that does!

Lolina Fast Fashion LP (Deathbomb Arc)
“Lolina is the Joseph Beuys of my generation” is a thought I had while listening to her newest, the head-spinning Fast Fashion, and while I don’t have a well thought-out explanation to defend my hasty assertion just yet, I can confirm that she’s dazzled and befuddled me over the past few years like no one else. What to even say about this one? I’d rather you heard it yourself, but until you do, I’ll start by kinda uselessly stating that the a-side encompassing cut “Looking For A Charger But Only Works On Batteries” is wild. She seems to be messing with some sort of time-squelching sampler for the length of the album, a Casio SK-1 modified to edit space-time as well as sample one’s voice, perhaps? The first cut is nearly twenty minutes long, and Lolina works it the hell out, even dropping a beat ala MF Doom for a brief head-bob excursion. In lesser hands, I’d struggle to get through such a frantic mess, but the track progresses with finesse and horror, a real marker of our times. The b-side is filled with a fairly consistent level of sampler madness, perhaps perfected on “”Mark Ronson’s Ted Talk Intro (Using Computer Remix)”, a track with a title that lets you know what’s in store. Now, I’m not going to Google it to figure out if Mark Ronson actually ever gave a real TED Talk, but Lolina chops his words of motivation with a Dada-ist impulse, whipping it into footwork-style loops seemingly on the fly. All of Fast Fashion feels immediate and unedited, though I accept that I’ll never know what truly took place to create these baffling rapid-fire edits. With some artists, you want to know how the sausage is made, but I accept Lolina’s world on her terms and conditions, too busy being delighted and stunned to react any other way.

Frank Marchi Jazz Odyssey LP (no label)
Trying to pick up enough of my brain matter off the floor to see if I can string a few words together about the record that splattered it there in the first place, Frank Marchi’s Jazz Odyssey. Marchi is a living West Bay legend, having played in bands as crucial as Plutocracy and Agents Of Satan while remaining active beyond their legacies (he even played bass on the new Tony Molina record!). And now he’s got his first solo record, what seems to be a dub plate full of solo material recorded earlier this year. It rules! I’m going to go ahead and assume that Marchi personally formulated a lot of what I’ve come to understand as the West Bay sound (while also being influenced by his countless friends and bandmates), as the material here is vibrant and alive with that distinctively West Bay form of smoothed-out aggression. It’s music for cruising down a highway with a giant joint being passed around, but also way more hostile and mystifying than the various other forms of music that enable the same behavior. I can certainly hear No Le$$ in these sour grooves, but I can also hear the beat-digging of Madlib, the cosmic riff meditation of Om and the hardcore-prog of Man Is The Bastard and Gasp. These songs are all instrumental, but unlikely and entertaining samples provide the occasional human voice, and Marchi’s freaky guitar noodling contrasts nicely with the funky breaks and dynamic bass grooves. It’s crazy to me that I can find zero information about this record online, only some clips on Soundcloud, considering the level of craftsmanship and quality. I kinda keep worrying I dreamed this whole thing up, that I’m going to look for it next to my stereo the following morning and it’ll be gone.

Dan Melchior CB Odyssey LP (Sophomore Lounge / Feeding Tube)
Dan Melchior is a man of many talents – just check out his paintings on Instagram! – and even narrowing it down to merely his musical output results in a fairly vast selection. I’ve particularly enjoyed some of his more abstract and noisy releases, but CB Odyssey seems to be lyrically driven and is all the most entertaining because of it. Maybe he was always a fine-tuned wordsmith and I’d forgotten or somehow not really noticed, but CB Odyssey is full of lyrical gems, Melchior allowing the listeners to witness the futile insanity of the world through his keenly observant eyes. I think it’s the third track that features the couplet “the dog shat on a dead jellyfish / I suppose I should’ve made a wish” – it’s a line that perked my ears up immediately, and Melchior casually wanders through his songs with eloquence and hilarity throughout. The music never gets in the way of his words; most of these songs follow somewhat familiar melodic progressions with fidelity both crusty and glammy, vaguely similar to Timmy’s Organism and Debris but also kinda bluesy and welcoming, no noise for noise’s sake. The form might be conventional, but Melchior’s animated personality and unique perspective whip it up into something unfamiliar and captivating.

Михаил Минерал Лоб LP (Inu Wan Wan)
Feels like the previous Inu Wan Wan album (the improvised klang of Sheng Jie and BoYu Deng) is still ringing in my ears, and now I’m trying to make sense of this outrageous debut from Moscow’s Михаил Минерал (translated to Mikhail Mineral for us non-Cyrillic readers/typers). Opening with the kitchen-table clatter of “Infa”, I could tell this would be the sort of record I dig, a dazzling display of junk-drawer percussion that reveals its form after a couple minutes. I could go for a whole record of this specific style, little bits of tuned metal and wooden scraps getting shuffled around, but Mineral’s instrumentation expands throughout Лоб like one of those death-smelling flowers with giant otherworldly petals. These tracks are clearly the work of a highly curious mind, with details whizzing past at such a clip that it’ll take multiple listens to catch all the details. Throughout, I’m picking up a clear and direct lineage to the late great Ghédalia Tazartès, the way in which Mineral borrows from folk-song, hysterical Dadaism, jazz and DIY synth-forms to pull together their own vision of noise. “Burn Pavin” might be one of the most traditionally musical tracks here, and it’s also one of my favorites, a heavily messed-with horn given an extended solo over a persistent pulse and vocal chant. Лоб is absolutely teeming with life, both beautiful and repugnant. Recommended!

Мodal Melodies Modal Melodies LP (Anti Fade)
The restlessly creative Jake Robertson is seemingly unsatisfied with the thick stack of records he’s recently released under the Alien Nose Job moniker, now collaborating with vocalist Violetta Del Conte-Race in the form of Modal Melodies. Sure, he could’ve thrown us a curveball and had this band sound like Atari Teenage Riot, The Cult or ESG, but Robertson followed his synthetic heart for an album of lightweight synthesized pop the way he’s done it in the past. Modal Melodies cite Lena Platonos and Karen Marks as influences, two artists I rank highly, but I’m not sure Modal Melodies ever reaches the level of artistry, catchiness and overall weirdness of those artists. Instead, it finds a fairly inoffensive lane, mid-paced and melodic, closer to Jane Weaver, Kristin Kontrol, Ann Steel or Austra, to be filed under the general header of “indie goes electronic”. The sounds are nice, and some of these songs (like “The Sun”) have some cool stuff happening under the hood, but they’re delivered so passively, with Del Conte-Race’s vocals low in the mix and reverbed to the point where they become another melodic aspect rather than a commanding focus. I feel like lots of bands do this, they sort of coat everything in a hazy warmth, and while it can make the music more comfortable to pleasantly tune out, I’m the kind of listener who wants to either know what’s going on or be taken on a fantasy ride; this one doesn’t really do either for me.

Tony Molina In The Fade LP (Run For Cover / Summer Shade)
The only people I know who don’t like Tony Molina’s music are the ones who haven’t heard it yet. The man has been clearly and poignantly crafting his guitar pop for a good number of years now, kind of breaking out with 2013’s Dissed And Dismissed (has it really been nine years??) and continuing to forge his own path of wistful guitar pop with baroque melodies and thrillingly brief guitar solos. 2018’s Kill The Lights kind of swerved us with its blatantly Beatles-inspired acoustic pop, and now In The Fade kind of captures the full Molina spectrum, from tender instrumental strum to massive fuzz-pop hits. His sound has been compared to Weezer more than a few times, but it hit me while listening to In The Fade that the correct comparison is actually The Rentals – Molina shares Matt Sharp’s uncompromising pop vision, similar in both vocal delivery and impatience for the big chorus. Sharp fell in love with synths, but Molina is a guitar man through and through, and would also probably quit Weezer after a couple landmark albums for being unable to deal with the annoying main guy. Molina doesn’t need to hitch his wagon to a big star anyway, since his own glorious vision of guitar-pop is on full display here through what is his lengthiest album yet. It’s his longest and I’m already eager for more!

Мontel Palmer Wayback 7″ flexi (Tax Free)
The Tax Free folks continue to expand and dazzle my mind with this new single-sided flexi-disc from Montel Palmer, an apparent band (as opposed to a single person) with social ties to other Tax Free artists like Iris and Employee, both of whom I cherish. While those other artists follow a discernible albeit rocky path toward some form of pop, Montel Palmer fell off that cart long before it even started rolling. Their music consists of rough tape experiments, warbly guitar excursions and unrelated rhythmic accompaniment, all of which appear to be significantly jacked-up before making it to the mix. Reminds me of head-scratching DIY offerings by the mysterious File Under Pop, Milk From Cheltenham, Chips For The Poor and The Shadow Ring, with a smidge of the basement-techno-psych mindset I’d associate with Wah Wah Wino’s more esoteric offerings. Jump right to the impossibly catchy numbskullery of “Who’s Gonna Get It???” and see if Wayback isn’t the finest flexi-disc you willingly purchase for yourself in 2022.

Organ Of Corti Incus / Malleus 7″ (Dead Mind)
Dan Johansson has yet to offer a collaboration I haven’t enjoyed, this new one with iDEAL’s Joachim Nordwall and Altar Of Flies’ Mattias Gustafsson included. Johansson’s work in Neutral is my fave, but I’ve always enjoyed his solo material as Sewer Election, and now you can add Organ Of Corti to the ever-growing stack. I appreciate that many Swedes still utilize seven-inches as a meaningful format, and these two cuts are fun ventures into places that’ll permanently stain your clothes. The central rhythm to “Incus” is a wet sloshing sound, over which they lay digi-metallic interference, cut-up noise and electro-acoustic disturbances. It calls to mind John Wiese interrupting an Aaron Dilloway solo loop session with his chaotic range of fast-moving electrical shocks, which, come to think of it, probably already happened at some point in time. “Malleus” also brings forth a late ’00s Wolf Eyes style, with frantic industrial puttering placed up against eerie synth warbles, slowly gaining in intensity as drawers of rusty utensils rattle and the three noise-makers move from a passive conversation between their respective “instruments” into a lively three-way sparring. Even at the EP’s most frantic moments, these pros leave plenty of space for the sounds to breathe, embracing cooperation over competition. It’s scarier, and more fun, that way.

Persona Free Your Mind! 12″ (Iron Lung)
Hasn’t been a shortage of New York hardcore in decades now, and I’m not even including the ever-popular gangsta-beatdown style when I say that. Persona must be kinda new, but they’ll fit right in with all the crusty, dressed-up punks who bring a handful of fireworks to every gig. These songs are chaotic and raging in that distinct vein of American-influenced Japanese-influenced American hardcore. I’m hearing plenty of H-100s and Nine Shocks Terror here, fast but never grindy with shifty riffs and drumming that has no choice but to pummel. The vocals appear to be studio-distorted, which places them in more of a modern lineage than an actual 1999 hardcore-punk band, but there’s no mistaking Persona for Blazing Eye, S.H.I.T. or Lebenden Toten – they don’t seem particularly interested in “hardcore as noise” so much as “hardcore as a means for destroying the system (or at least someone else’s property)”. Cool with me! There’s more value than ever in hardcore music that speaks to a wide audience in both riff and lyric, as opposed to having to guess which $1,200 Swedish hardcore seven-inch inspired which song, and Persona make it work, even while living in the most expensive city in America.

Personal Style False Memories 7″ (no label)
I wouldn’t be surprised if there are more rock bands in Buffalo and Albany than the five boroughs of New York City at the present moment. Not sure what’s going on up there – haven’t they heard of home-recorded chill-wave yet? – but it’s cool to see such activity in an area that’s never really snagged the spotlight. Anyway, Personal Style are one of these bands, and they’ve got this new two-song single, which rocks in kind of a “polished ’90s alt-rock meets firehall punk shows” way. “False Memories” lands on the smoother side of the intersection of radio rock and post-punk emo, a simplistic stomp which has been utilized in a similar fashion by bands like Foo Fighters and The Hives to crowd-pumping success. “Heartbeat Memorial” is poppier and faster, like The Get-Up Kids covering Queens Of The Stone Age perhaps? The bassist wrings a lot of joy out of what would be a fairly rudimentary riff in someone else’s hands, and the singer manages to slightly strain without losing tone, reminding me of The Jazz June’s Andrew Low (whose last album remains criminally under-appreciated). Ironically, there isn’t a ton of personal style on display here, but that’s kinda what makes me enjoy the seven-inch; Personal Style aren’t trying to do something unprecedented or abnormal, they just wanna play their poppy emo-punk to the best of their abilities and I commend them for it.

Shackleton The Majestic Yes 12″ (Honest Jon’s)
I’ve been patiently waiting for this one, a Shackleton record where he returns from the mathematical occult outer-realm he’s floated off into over the past few years and gets back to the stuff I love the most – mildly creepy tribal-drum madness. This one features no guests, no outside influences, just the man himself and his ability to whip up a heady mix of rich percussive workouts and dark cosmic exploration. While clearly bearing his sonic signature, the three originals here are a bit more direct and live-sounding than previous material, solidly outside of the traditional club realm while deeply rhythmic in nature. Shackleton uses a very natural-sounding set of percussive motifs here, with the sounds of stretched rawhide, tuned wood blocks and caustic cymbals taking precedence over anything blatantly synthetic. While the drums lend themselves to repetition, these tracks are far from monotonous commutes; patterns shift, juke and split in two, or in the case of “The Overwhelming Yes”, speed up and overheat about halfway through. Wrapped with a Mark Ernestus dub of “The Overwhelming Yes”, The Majestic Yes is a fine return-to-form for one of Great Britain’s most remarkable producers of the ’00s, ’10s and beyond.

Short Cuts! Find Us / Seeds Of Doubt 7″ (OBS)
Is it just old dudes reliving their teenage years who are releasing seven-inches anymore? I sure hope not, but there seems to be a good amount of guys my age or older putting out these financially-irresponsible EPs because they’re the only ones with the fiscal means to do it in our current inequitable hellscape. Anyway, I can’t quite figure out where Short Cuts! are from, but I’m narrowing it down to Southern California by way of London, England. At least that’s how they sound, as they inexplicably cop the trademark Fat Wreck Chords sound on these two tracks with vocals that are some strain of British (or perhaps merely trying to be). “Find Us” is like Lagwagon with the sing-along resonance of Good Riddance, a phrase I didn’t expect to share here in 2022, but I’m truly not mad at it, particularly after spinning “Seeds Of Doubt” on the b-side, which confirms this as their sound. The b-side’s not quite as fast, but it calls to mind my early teenage years, encountering pop-punk bands from the Poconos doing their best impressions of Anti-Flag, NOFX and Bad Religion at the show while wondering if anyone will enjoy my wannabe power-violence band’s demo tape. I deeply appreciate Short Cuts! for surprising me with these nostalgic feelings, and I hope they’re able to find a similar sense of satisfaction in what they’re doing.

Troth Blood In My Hair / Lumena I 7″ (I Dischi Del Barone)
Been a minute since I had heard from the great I Dischi Del Barone label (the Goodbye Boozy of the post-noise underground!), but don’t pour one out for ’em just yet – the singles-based label dropped two new ones in 2022, one of them being this Troth offering. Here’s a group that continues to find their path with each new record, moving from a more nondescript position into its own form of weirdly crunchy chill-wave, like a soft blanket speckled with dried leaves from yesterday’s picnic. “Blood In My Hair” pushes the electronic rhythm right up in your face, a wet smack that’s almost incongruent with the hushed melodic tones and Elizabeth Fraser-esque vocals (near impossible to follow, even with the lyric sheet!). Troth make it work! “Lumena” starts off sounding like a King Diamond interlude with its spooky harpsichord progression, but then Amelia Besseny’s vocals hit and the thing switches to mid-’80s 4AD mode, a pensive gothic pre-game suited for brewing some rose-hip tea and applying one’s eyeliner before going to the Lords Of Acid gig much later in the evening. Long may the Swedes and Australians cooperate on ventures such as this!

Tsap Crimes Against Time LP (Altered States Tapes)
Tsap is the duo of Cooper Bowman (Troth) and Chris Colla (Low Life), and they’ve crawled out of the murk of their debut LP, Flickering Lyghte In Campsite, without cleaning themselves up for Crimes Against Time. Whereas the first one had a loose industrial-techno feel at times, Crimes moves its cloudy synths in a different direction. Essentially all of these songs feature lightweight drum-machine patterns and what seems to be the tiniest synth on the table, its high-pitched melodies sounding as though they’re one AA battery away from cutting out. Imagine a Suicide that runs on Diet Coke instead of, umm, actual coke, and replace the “Elvis impersonator trapped in a well” vocals of Alan Vega with a distorted industrial yowl redolent of Michael Berdan (with a subtle Australian accent). Or imagine the fragile moodiness of Trop Tard disturbed by a belligerent punter on the bus. It’s an interesting combo, these unimposing synths/rhythms and the angry shouts of a man choking on his own smoke in the other end of the basement. Took me a couple listens to really settle in, but I’d say I “get it” at this point, and also quite enjoy it, even when the synthetic bass lines recall the intentional chintziness of Sleaford Mods. If anything, Tsap feels like some act that would’ve appeared on a single Broken Flag compilation cassette before immediately vanishing forever… what’s not to like about that?

Vintage Crop Kibitzer LP (Anti Fade)
Fourth album from Melbourne’s Vintage Crop, who, despite their spicy name, revel in the mind-numbery of domestic life, not BDSM gear. They also have managed to not really change their sound all that much, as Kibitzer is a very reasonable and congruous follow-up to 2020’s Serve To Serve Again. If you’re a stranger to the Vintage Crop experience, they’re like if one of those mandatory corporate human resources training videos was a post-punk band, but in a good way, since they’re not actually a part of your terrible office-cubicle job. Sounds odd, but it works! If anything, they’ve toned down the “-punk” aspect of their sound here for a more polite and manageable indie sorta thing, like a pre-funky Parquet Courts, a less-manic Uranium Club or, at their friendliest, The Shifters. It’s not until b-side “Drafted” comes on that I can picture their crowd bopping into each other, but I’m not mad about it – Vintage Crop seem to deliver their message best when their songs are melodic and relaxed, which tends to be the dominant mode here. Why rush screaming into the modern dystopia when we can calmly take the elevator, humming a little melody to ourselves?

Winged Wheel No Island LP (12XU)
The pandemic home-taping repercussions continue to roll out, but for the most part I’d say it’s been a good thing – humanity’s on a steep decline but artists are experts at finding workarounds. Case in point is the mail-collaborative project Winged Wheel, featuring folks from Spray Paint, Tyvek and Powers/Rolin Duo (Matthew Rolin to be precise). Based on drum loops and big beautiful guitars, No Island ends up sounding like Trans Am meeting Beach House or something like that. Maybe one of those marquee Oren Ambarchi albums if he had a little bit of indie/emo in his bloodstream, too? The drums are krautrock-esque in their unwavering repetition, and the guitars brighten the corners with chiming melodies akin to (the under-appreciated) Ulaan Markhor, the CT psych-rock scene and of course at least a smidge of Neil Young. For a recording project, it certainly feels like a “real” band, one with a strong predilection for loose and expansive grooves, content to pleasantly loiter for as long as they like. Wherever you’re headed, No Island is a ride worth hitching.