Archive for 'Reviews'

Reviews – December 2023

Blue Dolphin Robert’s Lafitte LP (Post Present Medium / Cleta Patra)
Post Present Medium does a great job of highlighting not only art-minded experimental stuff but down n’ dirty punk as well; I like it best when they find artists who manage to integrate both. I was curious to see that they released this recent-yet-posthumous collection of recordings from Austin’s Blue Dolphin, then, particularly as the group featured personnel from some of my modern-punk favorites: CCTV (gone way too soon!), Mystic Inane and Chronophage. Theirs is an unpolished form of greasy punk, toeing the line between pranksterish hardcore, antagonistic post-punk and even some accidental rockabilly when the mood strikes. I’m reminded of the Dicks, not only from the shared residency but the sly lampooning of cowboy culture, as well as Fang, particularly in the way that both bands often seem completely disinterested in the songs they’re playing. In the case of Blue Dolphin, the drummer just kinda picks a basic beat and sticks with it, more or less overlooking any fills or changes, with guitarist and bassist loosely cycling through their parts and a singer chattering over top. These songs often feel embryonic or unfinished, more like messing around with friends in the practice space than a final product, a sensation that is amplified by the coarse recording. Nothing beats playing music with your friends for the sole purpose of playing music with your friends, but as an outside listener, Blue Dolphin come in second to the members’ other fantastic projects, some of my favorite punk of the ’10s.

Bruce Falkian Bruce Falkian LP (Antinote)
Since the beginning, French electronic music has presented its own tweaked perspective, prone to dark or deadpan humor seeping out of its sweaty pores. Mr. Oizo comes to mind as one of the highlights of outlandishly devious French music, as does DJ Zaltan’s Antinote label, which seems to delight in eclectic, gleeful electronic music as much as good-natured trolling. This new Bruce Falkian project certainly continues that thread, weaving the rough-edged tropical funk of the Principe label with the half-speed skank of labelmates Front De Cadeaux, all with what is my favorite cover art of the month. “Venezia Bienale” calls to mind early MIA rendered in a cough-syrup haze; “First Communion” moves with the unfriendly electro pulse of Crack: We Are Rock. It’s edgy without trying too hard to be edgy, perhaps coming from the sense that Bruce Falkian doesn’t seem particularly interested in selling themselves or hitting any obvious genre signifiers for quick and easy success. Their premise is staunchly weird and uninviting – “Each Step” is like an Instagram story of celebrities fighting with each other, surely by design – but it’s that mix of confusing, unfriendly joking-around, zonked-out electro-house sleaze and euphoric genre-clash that makes Bruce Falkian so appealing.

Cherry Cheeks Second LP LP (Total Punk)
“Portland punk” conjures images of indignant spikes n’ leather d-beat devils in my mind, but Cherry Cheeks exist in a musical realm far from the toxic-dystopian alleys where you’d find Lebenden Toten and Blood Spit Nights lurking. Theirs is egg-punk with a big silly grin, where the lightly-fried guitar tone meets baseball-stadium organ, tambourines, space-laser synths and Little Richard leads, all of which sound like they were played by big puffy Mickey Mouse gloves instead of human hands. It’s at least a little queer and proudly deviant from the mainstream (“DATA” has kind of a Bobby Soxx vibe), yet you could probably let Second LP (great title!) rip at a five year-old’s birthday party and no one would mind (certainly not the sugared-up children). “Bunny Does Ice” sounds like if Home Blitz wrote the theme song for a Cartoon Network show, for example, but you can play it back multiple times without diminished enjoyment. There’s no shortage of this basic style, so even though it’s always the key, in this case it’s especially important to write memorable songs rather than simply fill up the space with an identifiable punk aesthetic. Cherry Cheeks are up to that task: “Pure Power” channels Joan Jett in a DEVO energy dome fronting a band comprised of Heathcliff the Cat and friends. Its dying Casio lead is quick to lodge itself in the listener’s brain, or at least the empty space where a brain would normally be.

Citric Dummies Zen And The Arcade Of Beating Your Ass LP (Feel It)
The only thing better than a parody album title is two parodies in the same album title! In case there are any non-punks reading this, I can clarify that this Minneapolis trio are referencing Hüsker Dü and Nine Shocks Terror with their newest here, and they make it plenty funny in the process. While I’m sure they appreciate both groups, neither seems to hold a strong sonic presence in these songs, which are melodic speed-punk of a particularly fine caliber. Citric Dummies execute their poppy garage riffs with the menace of hardcore, in a way that recalls the first Dwarves records, a real sweet spot if you can get it. Unrelenting even by punk standards! And while all three members are credited with vocals, one of these guys belts out pitch-perfect, irony-free, Danzig-circa-’81 melodic lines with ease – please, go check “On Display” and tell me it’s not the perfect melding of Walk Among Us and Homostupids. I’m smitten with those Misfits-y moments, but I’m just as excited by the tracks that sound more like The Dead Boys, The Briefs and The Reatards (in various sped-up and/or cleaned-up forms). The ‘Dummies could sing total BS and I’d probably still hitch a ride, but they go for the kill with their lyrics too – I’ll let you imagine how the words to songs with the titles “Being Male Is Embarrassing”, “I’m Gonna Kill Myself (At The Co-op)” and “My True Love Is Depression” go. Or you could do the smart thing and include Zen And The Arcade in your weekly Feel It order.

Ryan Davis & The Roadhouse Band Dancing On The Edge 2xLP (Sophomore Lounge)
On his solo-ish debut, Ryan Davis sounds like he could talk his way out of anything, even when caught red-handed with his pants down. We’re talking Matthew McConaughey-level charm here, but instead of making a million dollars selling speculative real-estate futures, he’s chosen the life of a humble musician, previously fronting the indie-country act State Champion and currently as a member of the fantastic Equipment Pointed Ankh, whose members act (at least in part) as his Roadhouse Band. Their songs serve as warm, comfortable seating for Davis’s endless one-liners and quotable turns-of-phrase; for as many lyrics as he’s written (and there sure are a lot), the quality is stunningly high, filled with amusing quips, disarming tenderness and universal truth delivered as rib-tickling punchline. Much like the songs, his voice is plain and palatable, all of it working together as rootsy, indie Americana, a fine-tuned delivery system for his endless ruminations. David Berman’s mind by way of Townes Van Zandt’s heart. Packaged in a hefty gatefold sleeve with obligatory lyric sheet, Dancing On The Edge is prepared to take on the life of a sturdy old friend.

Del Paxton Auto Locator LP (Topshelf)
Someone associated with Del Paxton sent a letter along with this record, preemptively suggesting it probably won’t be “my thing”. Well, if that was a clever reverse-psychology ploy, it worked, because I do in fact dig it! If I’m going to allow any band an extra side of self-deprecation, it’s one that sounds a whole heck of a lot like Braid, from a town where the weather is miserable more than half the year. Who better than Buffalo’s Del Paxton, then? They’ve got that sort of diagonal emo-riffing down pat, with stutter-step drums, active fingers on the bass frets, a satisfying quiet/loud dynamic and a singer who whines without being annoying or off-key. The Braid similarities are palpable, but Auto Locator reminds me of The Jazz June and Rainer Maria as well, if a bit more rowdy, alongside probably a million other bands who came out since 2002 (which is when I more or less stopped spending much time seeking out new practitioners of this sound). I was blessed with an abundance of local bands who nailed this style (go look up Merring on Bandcamp and The William Tell Routine on Discogs if you want to mimic my post-Y2K emo journey), but I’ll passively (and occasionally actively) appreciate this sort of sound probably until the day I die. It feels inevitable that distant-future twenty-somethings will continue to play charming, articulate post-hardcore emo-pop long after I’m gone, Del Paxton another twinkling star in that ever-expanding galaxy.

Emptyset Ash 12″ (Subtext)
No, that’s not a bulldozer collapsing the foundation of your home, it’s a new Emptyset record! Experimental electronics don’t get more brutal than this Bristolian duo, even as they kind of drifted towards high-brow academic experimentalism over the last few years. It happens to the best of us, and while I appreciated the eerie oppressive hum of their site-specific installation recordings, it’s so good to hear Ash, a new six-track EP of Emptyset at their most unrelenting and oppressive. If you haven’t heard them before, this is a great place to start, as it distills the nature of the project – crackling industrial body blows, deployed with machine-like intensity at rigorous, speaker-popping levels. “Ember”, for example, sounds like an automotive fabrication line at full productivity, giant hammers puncturing sheets of steel with vicious precision. If Transformers ever has a robot MMA scene, Michael Bay would be crazy not to enlist Emptyset for the appropriate sound design, that’s for sure. These six tracks are quick – I would’ve been happy if each ran for double the length – but I can’t deny that the EP’s brevity adds to its overall impact. Next week when I’m wondering how I developed all these weird bruises, please remind me that I was listening to Ash.

Evil Sword Basket Fever LP (Magic Pictures)
What’s that racket coming from the kitchen? Sounds like the plumber fighting off a mischievous gang of clowns, but it’s actually the newest release from Philadelphia’s Evil Sword. Besides the bass-guitar, this duo utilizes everything but traditional rock instrumentation, conjuring a rambunctious form of modern no-wave with theater-kid tendencies. Vocalist Kate Ferencz has the unsettling confidence of a young Lydia Lunch, completely at ease with Ben Furgal’s bass-lines, which can shift from disjointed or indignant to circus-like and ostentatious. With the addition of a near-constant burbling of whistles, metal clanks, bells and scrapes, the album can come across like a No New York that existed within the Looney Tunes cartoon universe, or perhaps Kathy Acker’s maniacal prose translated into a sonic format. With such a musical arrangement, Evil Sword could easily fall into the self-fulfilling position of free-improv, but Basket Fever is fully song-based, complete with choruses, call-and-response sing-alongs and repeated musical phrasing. Some of these are practically punk songs, though performed on clarinet, bass and junk percussion, which is perhaps the punkest way they could be played, now that you mention it.

Feeling Figures Migration Magic LP (K / Perennial)
Migration Magic is the debut full-length from Montreal’s Feeling Figures, and it’s taking me back! Not in any sort of forced retro-nostalgia way, but because their music hits a recognizable sweet spot: the mid ’90s underground where the sounds of pop-punk, indie-rock and grunge commingled freely, acting as a staunch refutation of the mainstream. It’s almost funny to think about how fiercely punks cared about protecting the underground back then – is it even possible to “sell out” in 2023, and if so, would anyone even care if you did? – but the sound of Feeling Figures takes me back there, where playing your own handmade songs, recording them in the only available lo-fi manner, playing almost exclusively local shows and making fun of Green Day somewhere along the way were their own reward. Some of these songs bounce or zag in ways that remind me of two ’00s faves, The Thermals and Times New Viking, but more than anything it’s that “unambitious fun local band” vibe happening here that sticks out, inspired by groups like The Vaselines, The Muffs, Eric’s Trip, The Cannanes, Go Sailor… whatever band’s CD you happened to pick up at the time based on its cover art. Feeling Figures feels like the type of group that will be incredibly important to an incredibly small number of people, among them whoever decided to send $2.50 PPD in the mail (cash only!) for a copy of their demo cassette as listed in the Maximumrocknroll classifieds. Mom, can you come pick me up? Grandpa is reminiscing about being a teenage punk in the ’90s again!

Filth Is Eternal Find Out LP (MNRK Heavy)
“Filth Is Eternal” isn’t only what I exclaim when I spill sauce on my shirt, it’s also a newish Seattle band! Theirs is an agreeable mixture of noise-rock, hardcore, crust-punk and metal, all with kind of a pro-tude delivery and presentation. I guess part of my suspicion there comes from the label, “MNRK Heavy”, which judging from its roster of weird Judas Priest and Black Label Society releases seems more business-minded and strategic than, you know, anything Ebullition would carry, not that trying to financially succeed at what you’re doing is always inappropriate. (Just mostly.) Musically, things hurry by, structured with the rapid-fire complexity of metal-core though the riffs themselves are far closer to KEN Mode and Cavity than Botch and Converge, if we want to split those hairs. All of it is wrangled by the capable snarl of vocalist Lis Di Angelo (who, to her credit, also plays in the all-female Megadeth cover band Pegadeth). I dunno, absolutely nothing wrong with Find Out, but there’s nothing that really makes it stand out either, except for the sense that there’s some sort of business-minded presence behind it, the same nagging feeling you might’ve gotten when listening to Trash Talk in 2012. A song like “Body Void” provides a good example, as it sounds one step away from radio-ready nu-metal and is equipped with a song title comprised of underground goth/metal/hardcore signifiers so generic that I’m almost certain a band with the same name already exists. (Editor’s note: I just checked, and yup, a new Body Void album came out on Prosthetic Records earlier this year!)

Flaer Preludes LP (Odda Recordings)
I know, I know, you’re all going through mellow acoustic-ambient piano field-recording album withdrawal, having only had a half dozen or so new ones last month. Fear not, here’s another! It comes care of painter-musician Realf Heygate, straight outta “his family home in rural Leicestershire”. And what do you know, he layers patient and ponderous cello, piano and acoustic guitar over recordings of school-children, room sounds, active weather and the local flora and fauna. It’s becoming as formalized of a genre as minimal techno or grindcore, this rural isolation instrumentalism, and yet as much as I want to tell Flaer that he’s too late, that the doors are closed and no one else is getting in, Preludes is such a charmer that I can’t help but quietly slip him through a cracked-open door. It’s probably because he’s quite good at this, particularly on the musical end of things, his guitars recalling ’90s art-leaning emo (think Very Secretary or Lucky Jeremy) in a pleasantly familiar way, with piano closer to Nils Frahm than Graham Lambkin. This is traditional music first, aesthetic second, which is one of only a couple ways a new one of these projects will stay afloat – you’re gonna need to have some musical expertise, or at least some intriguing technique, to make the sounds of rickety floorboards and your grandmother’s piano stand out. Lucky for Flaer (and listeners of Flaer), he does.

Sam Gendel & Marcella Cytrynowicz Audiobook LP (Psychic Hotline)
The ever-busy Sam Gendel drops his second album of 2023 (and last, unless he squeaks out another in December, which is certainly possible). This one is billed as a collaboration with Marcella Cytrynowicz, the older sister of Antonia Cytrynowicz with whom Gendel already released a collaborative album (and who I believe is his partner; more than I care to personally know about this guy but alas), though the elder Cytrynowicz contributes art, not music, to this appealing package. The music is all Gendel, and as his playing has stretched out in various funky directions over the last few years, Audiobook displays the experimental saxophonist at his focused best. Here, his alto saxophone is colorfully warped over sparse synth triggers, pads and keys. It’s far too busy to be filed under “drone”, though these tracks are as softly calming as the best of them, sometimes leaning into the warped R&B modulations of L’Rain and/or the playful brainiac styles of Tortoise. It feels very modern, very LA, like you’d expect to hear these songs in a TikTok video of James Blake making espresso on a $5,000 La Marzocco, or Alex G and Justin Timberlake hanging out at Erewhon… but in a good way! There’s definitely a vibe at play here, perhaps an annoying one to some, but if you simply sit back and enjoy these freaky instrumentals – from the frantic and anxious compositions to the stubbornly chilled-out interludes – the pleasure to be had is nearly endless.

Gub Gub LP (Sophomore Lounge)
Beau Wanzer wins again with yet another righteous collaboration, this time with fellow Chicagoan Alex Barnett (AKA Champagne Mirrors). Wanzer never fails in the design department either, as the cover of Gub could be the basis for a short piece of horror fiction, a reptilian hand escaping from the puddle of spilled “Gub”, whatever that might be. I recognize the name as Pigface’s first album, and while the sounds of this record do not immediately recall aggressive ’90s Wax Trax industrial, the hometown connection can’t be denied. These tracks, while still as deliriously slow and torqued as any given Wanzer production, are far less filthy than I’m used to hearing from him, far more “something goes wrong at the lonely interstellar docking station” than his usual “sewer tunnel chamber of terrors” vibe. Maybe that’s Barnett’s doing? A few of these cuts actually remind me of instrumentals Kool Keith would’ve wrapped over back in his Dr. Octagon and Analog Brothers days: slow, queasy, irritable and vaguely alien in nature. I tend to like Wanzer at his most polluted, but the oxygen-deprived dread of a track like “Gub 3” comes across like an AI Wolf Eyes in the best of ways.

Helpful People Brokenblossom Threats LP (Tall Texan)
All praise to the underground labels out there who not only put out cool records but also inform us about cool projects we would’ve otherwise never known existed. Perhaps you’re like me, a solid Glenn Donaldson fan who somehow missed that he had a new charming indie duo going with Carly Putnam (of Art Museums and The Mantles; presumably no relation to Seth). I may be fast approaching my personal quota of shambolic low-energy Bay Area twee, but Helpful People are more on the blissful-yet-sturdy indie-pop side of the street, a sound that, much like dessert, I always have room for. Putnam sings clearly and firmly over stripped-down drums, warm bass and guitars that, you guessed it, flutter and chime in that time-tested, ever-popular indie-shoegaze fashion. It seems like these folks have an endless wellspring of songs like this ready to go at a moment’s notice, as if Donaldson could write the first side of his next album in the time it takes him to ride the bus to the practice space, but it all feels more fresh and immediate because of it, rather than over-labored or tossed-off. And thanks to Tall Texan, not only am I aware of Helpful People, I can solemnly sway to “Bugs From Below” anytime I want.

JJ Band Live I Kungsten 12″ (Discreet Music)
Following great full-length releases from his group Monokultur in 2021 and JJulius in 2022, Mr. Ulius takes a quick lil victory lap here on this new four-track EP, spaced out nicely on big 45 RPM twelve-inch grooves. He’s a trickster, so don’t let the title fool you as it did me – this isn’t actually a live record from what I can tell, though it is indeed a full four-piece band. These songs are dapper and lively, the two b-side cuts in particular exhibiting a limber energy adjoined to sweeping melancholic guitar-work… reminds me of one of those great early ’80s Joy Division rip-off groups who grew into their own unique new-wave styles. Shoegaze without being so damned formal about it, maybe even a little grungy in that ’90s 4AD version of it, all delivered with JJ Ulius’s unique sense of timing and performance. The opening slow-dance “500 Spänn” is probably my least favorite cut here, whereas the amusingly-titled “U2” is my favorite, sounding like The Primitives playing Orange Juice in a Swedish noise basement. Is it too late to change my name to Mattias and see if they need an auxiliary tambourine player?

Neon Leon 1979-84 Singles Collection LP (HoZac)
It’s comforting to know that, for as much as I’ve dedicated my life to seeking out underground rock music of the late ’70s and early ’80s, I’ll never come close to knowing all that’s out there. New York City alone has such an abundance of the stuff, which is why I’m excusing myself for having been previously unaware of Neon Leon, a mover-shaker in the prime era of Max’s Kansas City, CBGB’s and the Chelsea Hotel. He released an album in 1983, but this is a collection of his various singles from the previous years, all of which immediately bring to life the sound of that era, one where The Rolling Stones hung out with actual punks, Debbie Harry flirted with Paul Shaffer, reggae was infatuating the hipster cognoscenti and new-wave was just starting to evolve into a recognizable thing. Neon Leon’s music fits right in, very Johnny Thunders-ish yet smooth enough to connect with audiences who loved to rock but weren’t fully sold on the whole “punk” thing. There’s a blues song, a few proto-new-wave bops and plenty of party rockers, all delivered with Neon Leon’s commanding voice. Crazy to think there was a time where you could just run around the big city, trying not to get stabbed while hopping between clubs where Survivor and DEVO performed in equal measure; now I’ve got a new soundtrack for that irresistible daydream.

Omnibadger Famous Guitar Licks Vol. III LP (Cruel Nature)
Back in the pre-digital age, Omnibadger would’ve been giving off strong “private-press weirdo” vibes, but nowadays it’s more of a “Bandcamp obscurity” sensation. This British group (or sole guy?) makes music with proudly limited appeal, but one way or another found a vinyl home on Cruel Nature, skipping right to their third volume for their first public release. Omnibadger sticks with a primal and noisy style, one of overly-affected guitars and pounding percussion. The guitar rumbles, reverberates and drones more than it riffs, and with the sparse Crash Worship-style drumming, it gives what would otherwise be a hovering grey cloud some sense of motion. Make it long enough through this album and eventually you’ll hear some screaming over the din, though it feels incidental, like a by-product of the heavy noise rather than a predetermined vocal accompaniment. But wait, is that a headbanging electro-punk song at the end of side one? The whole thing makes me think of a nonexistent CD-R by Bill Nace and Dylan Nyoukis, still fresh with Sharpie ink and limited to less than a dozen, or an unearthed Sightings demo from one of their earliest sessions. That’s the era between private-press vinyl and Bandcamp, the Y2K CD-R underground, and it left us too soon, even if there are artists like Omnibadger whose music carries on that sonic legacy.

Optic Sink Glass Blocks LP (Feel It)
Like a black hole, Feel It Records eventually pulls all worthwhile underground punk-related music into its orbit one way or another; Memphis’s Optic Sink are a recent acquisition, having released their debut on Goner. Everyone is into everything these days, of course, but Glass Blocks makes a little more sense on Feel It than Goner, I suppose, as the group’s garage-rock roots are less evident than ever before. This album is more about rhythm, funky synth tricks and post-punk hooks, in similar spirit to Dark Day, Fad Gadget and DAF to name but a few. “Summertime Rain” is one of my favorites here, which squares off a couple electronic rhythms, a one-string electric guitar lead and a persistent background burble – throw in Natalie Hoffmann’s disaffected vocals and it almost feels like they should be signed to Dais instead, opening a leg of Adult.’s next tour. It’s not a shiny, professionalized album though – there’s still a sense of punks exploring the gear-room here, perhaps reminiscent of the first Naked On The Vague album (which I hold so dear). Punks are terrible at dancing to this stuff, so watching their audience flail about is the cross that Optic Sink has to bear.

Paranoid S.C.U.M. 12″ (Beach Impediment)
The Sorry State email newsletter is crucial punk reading – even if it’s ultimately coming from a place of commerce, the love they demonstrate for music is undeniable and sincere. So, if you’re like me and you read it every week, you’re probably used to being bludgeoned by months of ads for Sweden’s Paranoid. It’s like the Diesel Queens in ’90s Maximumrocknroll, a group whose constant advertised presence psychically wore me down, so I didn’t peep Paranoid until Beach Impediment dropped this new EP. These Swedes clearly wish they were Japanese, from the kanji song titles, OBI strip and design (as well as mastering by Ippei Suda in Osaka), which, when this overt, can get a little weird depending on how much leeway you personally feel is reasonable for the co-opting of foreign aesthetics by any given hardcore punks. Musically, the heavy-yet-noisy d-beat hardcore comes as no surprise, clearly aping the legends of the genre that we all know and love and staying within those boundaries. As a sound, this EP is sharp and serviceable, but there’s never been more Japanese- / Swedish-sounding d-beat hardcore to choose from than there is right now in late 2023, so unless you demand a constant flow of new fabrications of the genre, S.C.U.M. might hit as good, not great. It was apparently released as a seven-inch in Sweden earlier this year, and I have to say, the b-side etching of this twelve-inch slab might be my favorite vinyl etching I’ve seen in forever: artist Oik Wasfuk contributes a truly staggering design of serpents, weapons, and, you know it, one very gnarly skull.

Quade Nacre LP (AD 93)
AD 93 always has its ears open for the newest new things brewing in the digital underground, unafraid to throw an unexpected artist in the mix. If it works, it works, and this album from Quade is a glorious surprise. For one, this Bristol-based four-piece are basically a “rock” group, or maybe they aren’t a rock group, but they really aren’t a techno project in even the most tenuous sense, so it’s already an unusual fit for AD 93. Maybe it’s the ever-creeping influence of Moin, infecting the British electronic scene with a post-hardcore fever, but Quade have assembled an entirely novel vision of post-rock. Their sound veers in traditionally psychedelic and folk realms, gathering threads of safe-space drone, krautrock jamming and acoustic black-magic and braiding them together. Imagine a psych-rock version of Dirty Three, or Godspeed You! Black Emperor jamming with Loop, or if Shackleton’s mysterious rhythmic constructions were performed in the style of Slint, Agitation Free and Comus. Quade make a variety of musical connections that weren’t there before, and they do so with ease, even if I get the sense that they labored over every sonic detail, from the warm reverberations of the synth to the booming live drums. A magnificent debut, and another friendly reminder that I need to check out every single thing AD 93 releases on the slight possibility of a gem like Nacre slipping past.

Quarantine Exile LP (Damage United / La Vida Es Un Mus)
Ominously forming mere months before 2020’s Covid outbreak, Philadelphia’s Quarantine follow their debut full-length with their bone-crushing sophomore effort, Exile. They’re a band designed to rage at the highest possible caliber, featuring all-around good guy Will McAndrew (also of Poison Ruïn), Jeff Poleon on bass, top American hardcore drummer Chris Ulsh, and the monstrous presence of Jack “Jock” Barrett on vocals. As a Philly native, I had to wonder where he came from, and my intel came back with reports that he is a revered vegan chef, perhaps the most prestigious of punk occupations. (Poleon is no culinary slouch himself, as peddler of beloved local vegan-donut chain Dottie’s Donuts!) Anyway, it goes to show that these are no part-time lightweights, and their music rampages accordingly. I swear the songs average out to longer lengths than that of their debut, but they never feel bloated or over-reaching; any “songwriting growth” is purely in service of authentic hardcore-punk. Blessedly, Quarantine still sound like Mob 47 playing Autistic Behavior and State Of Fear songs at twice the speed, covering a wide range of brutal hardcore styles (a little Talk Is Poison here, a little Hoax there) stamped with their own unique recipe. The first time I ever ate Dottie’s Donuts, they were serving booze-soaked “margarita donuts” out of a laundry basket(?) at a DIY punk show, and while that memory will probably remain the most righteous association I have with Poleon, Exile comes awfully close to topping it.

Rejekts Manmade Hell 7″ (No Norms)
I feel like that Vince McMahon meme while perusing this EP: the band is called Rejects… but they spell it “Rejekts”… and there’s a skeleton on the cover… wearing a leather jacket… torturing another skeleton in some capitalist machinery?? Truly, what else do you need on this planet. S’pose I should actually listen to it as well, and it’s anticipated conclusion: this Boston hardcore-punk group is A-OK. They play hardcore-punk that leans on the punk aspect, recalling not only Minor Threat (check the riffage in “Manmade Hell”) but also the first-wave boots n’ braces UK punk that seduced Minor Threat way back when. It’s tough but not too tough, more like the crazy little guy known for disrespecting authority than any sort of big bruiser meathead contingent, and even when they slow it down (“Violence”) it hits that street-punk / hardcore sweet spot. There’s simply no way each these guys don’t have at least a dozen Necros and Negative Approach songs memorized by heart… that’s the kinda ‘core we’re dealing with here. Plus, I appreciate the singer’s commitment to wearing big glasses – you just know they’ve gotten smashed off his face at least a couple times now during live shows, but for the best punks, style has always taken precedence over safety.

Theee Retail Simps Rubble 7″ (Goodbye Boozy)
I’ve heard some of you talking, saying stuff like “hmm, these Retail Simps seem like cool rock n’ roll maniacs, but aren’t they actually kind of clever people? Don’t some of them listen to Stockhausen and Fairport Convention instead of KISS and Electric Eels? Is this whole belligerent garage-rock thing kind of an ironic put-on?” Well I say to you, oh noble doubters, that tha ‘Simps are coming correct with the most authentic of dumbo garage-rock co-signs, that of the world famous Goodbye Boozy label. You don’t get one of these flimsy, low-quantity forty-fives on this notorious Italian label by being smart, that’s for sure! It all but guarantees that these guys got kicked out of high school, or whatever the Canadian equivalent of high school is. “Rubble” is particularly gruesome, reveling in its overt lo-fi quality with a guitar that never stops soloing and a singer that never stops screaming, the song that gives the bar owner no choice but to pull the plug. Great stuff! The b-side, unfortunately, is a John Cage-inspired take on… just kidding! It’s a gobbly piss-take of “Jumping Jack Flash” re-titled “Jumpin Jack Off”. Maybe once upon a time these guys had some sort of adroitness about them but any brain cells within a mile radius of this single are at risk.

R.M.F.C. Club Gits LP (Urge / Anti Fade)
As egg-punk continues to dominate the nerdy, anti-machismo, art-inclined side of underground punk, it has expanded and solidified as a (relatively-speaking) popular style. Usually that includes a goofy, larger-than-life irreverence: see the on-stage props of Uranium Club and the massive paper-maché finger puppets of Snooper, inspired not only musically by DEVO but by their creation of a bizarro aesthetic world unto themselves as well. Sydney’s R.M.F.C., however, take a different tact, as their entire existence seems to be predicated on the magic of the guitar and the transcendent riffs they’ve created. They’re fully in service of the guitar here, with no room for pranks, crude drawings, gags or even any overt personality – the guitar of singer-songwriter (and drummer?) Buz Clatworthy eclipses any other aspect of the group. And by god, it’s the best egg-punk I’ve heard since Coneheads bestowed it upon us! Clatworthy’s riffs are immaculate, frantic yet precise, downright genius… I have to wonder if he was raised on Eddy Current and Mozart exclusively, as there’s no other explanation for his idiosyncratic riffs. “Access” appeared on an earlier single and remains his masterwork, but tracks like “Spectrum”, New Diversion” and “Human State” operate on the same elite stratum, not bearing the alluring level of identity as Buzzcocks and Wire but dare-I-say as technically dazzling. Most seriously recommended!

The Serfs Half Eaten By Dogs LP (Trouble In Mind)
Another unflinching dispatch from the Cincinnati underground, mysteriously not released by Feel It somehow. Also mysteriously, The Serfs, who share personnel with The Drin, Crime Of Passing and Motorbike, operate in a sinister electronic dance format, even if you know they’re punk rockers first and foremost. Nothing wrong with punks throwing on a little eyeliner and dancing at goth night, though, and The Serfs are a capable soundtrack for such a moonlit evening. Their music has ties to Chris & Cosey, Cabaret Voltaire and modern counterparts like Cold Showers and High-Functioning Flesh, though I can’t help but hear their ties to punk rock buried in there too, even when there isn’t a guitar in sight. Reminds me a bit of the harsh electro new-wave acts that Subterranean would promote back in the early ’80s, or some of Total Control’s forays into full-on electro-wave, two styles I find highly appealing. Unlike the many cold-wave groups who want to affect you via their own absolute disaffection, The Serfs have some bite, not quite the snarl of Skinny Puppy but somewhere close. If there isn’t at least one Serf with a severe chunky goth mullet, send them to their local tarot-reading stylist ASAP!

Sextile Push LP (Sacred Bones)
Hadn’t checked in with Sacred Bones in what feels like quite some time… it felt like much of the actual music was becoming secondary to promotional special limited-edition collector’s club celebrity-worship nonsense, you know? There’s too many killer bands out there for me to get excited over like, Jim Jarmusch’s cousin’s documentary soundtrack being reissued on ten colors of vinyl. But that’s just me! And here I am, checking out a band called Sextile, from LA, who seem to put in an extensive amount of effort for their look and presentation. I could’ve gone on my merry-hating-way without them, but I’m truly glad I checked out Push, because it’s actually fantastic American electro-punk that commands a wild party atmosphere. This is absolutely the type of band I want to see posing in fancy sex outfits with each other! Their songs are quick and potent, reveling in the same sweaty debauchery as Atari Teenage Riot and Lords Of Acid, enhanced by the heft of acid-techno and the danceable trashiness of electroclash. There’s something magic about a band whose fans dress up to go see, and Sextile certainly have that aura, that their music offers an ecstatic, dirty and participatory portal into something exciting and urgent. “Contortion” is a righteous opener, but “LA DJ” might be my favorite, a talking-techno cut that sounds like something I’d hear in a Seth Troxler set once the clothes are starting to come off. I started off an ignorant hater and now I’m planning my outfit for the next time Sextile come to town!

Something Is Waiting Absolutely LP (Learning Curve)
Chicago is the most creative noise-rock metropolis, right? I feel like there are more weird, one-of-a-kind underground rock acts that have called the Windy City their home than any other American city – for better or worse, of course – and you can add Something Is Waiting to that teetering stack. I can’t tell if this group is confusingly appealing or simply confusing, though more and more I crave the sense that the music I’m listening to doesn’t make sense, if only because so many bands out there make the most obvious sense all of the time. Something Is Waiting apparently used to be a five-piece, now shrunk to a studio-based trio, playing a creeping form of nu-metal sleaze-rock, I’ll call it? Imagine if Buckcherry and Limp Bizkit collided on the highway, had the blatant misogyny knocked out of them and only Dimebag Darrell’s tablature from which to craft their songs. (I’ll go on record as a Buckcherry fan (DM me for a deep-cuts playlist) and disinterested in Limp Bizkit, lest this be interpreted purely as diss.) It’s groove-oriented post-hardcore with a glammy boot-cut flair, geared more for someone that looks like Johnny Depp than a member of Turnstile, though anything is possible. You’d think if FM rock radio had its finger on any sort of underground pulse, they’d stick “Unholy Alliance” inside a Velvet Revolver / Tool / Disturbed rock block, but nah, we get stuck with stupid Dirty Honey and The Struts instead.

Subsonics Subsonics LP (Slovenly)
Did you know about Subsonics? I certainly didn’t, though this Atlanta trio has apparently been rocking since the early ’90s through and including this very moment right now. Slovenly recently reissued their first two albums on vinyl for the first time (Subsonics being their debut), and I dunno, if you’re not familiar, I can’t blame you if you’re already thinking that this is probably some rightfully-unheralded generic garage-punk group taking up more space in the universe. I had my prejudices just looking at the cover and band name, but shame on me, because this debut is nothing less than incredible! They play a very direct form of blues-informed garage-rock, but do it with such fine distinction here that I can’t believe no one turned me onto them sooner. The bass and drums lock into fundamental patterns, but guitarist/vocalist Clay Reed elevates these songs through his outrageous guitar performance and classically-snotty vocal delivery. He plays so fast, it’s ridiculous – his guitar is going sometimes three times as fast as the rest of the band, and as it’s electrified but undistorted, it sounds absolutely crazy. Subsonics feel like the missing link between The Victims, Jon Spencer, The Starlite Desperation and The Strokes, coming from the same Nuggets/Velvets ancestry but writing outrageous classics with the ease of tagging a bathroom stall with a Sharpie. I thought I’d heard all the classic garage-rock I’d ever need, but now I can’t live without “It’s A Long Way Suzy To New York City” and “Do You Think I’m A Junky?”. Are they still this good? Do I dare find out??

Sunwatchers Music Is Victory Over Time LP (Trouble In Mind)
Sunwatchers seem to answer the question of “what if prog-rock prioritized feeling good over virtuosic feats of talent?”, and this newest one is a particularly pleasant trip, like walking into a surprise party filled with friends you haven’t seen in years. They’re mostly instrumental (there’s at least one or two group yells), a holy trio of guitar/bass/drums with a fourth auxiliary member (sax, keys and vibraphone), and they comfortably balance the strenuousness of their music with a sense of unfiltered joy. They’re versatile, too: opener “World People” is feeding me Mahavishnu Orchestra vibes, but “Foams” features the majestic, non-Western guitar soloing I’d associate with the Bishop brothers, whereas “Tumulus” hypnotizes with a very Natural Information Society-sounding sax loop. It’s all in that sort of mysteriously-spiritual / experimental-rock camp, I suppose, but there’s plenty of open space within those confines for Sunwatchers to try most anything without losing their internal script. They certainly seem capable of pulling anything off, like they could back up Terry Riley or Rosali Middleman at a moment’s notice with equal aplomb, though these dazzling instrumentals are headliner-material no matter who else is on the bill.

Surveillance Less Than One, More Than Zero LP (Celluloid Lunch / Various Palatial)
Halifax looks like a hip coastal city in reasonable proximity to other hip coastal cities, but man, it’s out there! Montreal is closest and it’s what, twelve hours by car?? That unique sense of sophistication slash isolation is palpable in the songs of Surveillance, a scrappy four-piece rock band who tackle their angsty guitar songs with maturity and commitment. Their music has a mid SST / early Twisted Village feel, like a pre-Nirvana alt-grunge sound with punk and college-rock as equally functional antecedents. Cool guitar leads, aggressively mid-tempo songwriting and vocals from a couple members, Rachel Fry’s impassioned delivery calling to (my) mind Tanya Donelly and Sandra Barrett in Major Stars. The whole thing feels impassioned really, especially when checking out the insert, which has a picture of a house captioned “the house” and a brief passage explaining that the group has “grown together, lived together, and died together”, giving the impression these four spent a whole lot of time hashing it out in their own private zone, making their songs as best as they possibly could because there’s clearly no other reward awaiting them. I hope they haven’t actually died together! Surveillance clearly don’t need us, but we might need them a little bit.

Reviews – November 2023

An-i Rabble EP 12″ (Cititrax)
The almighty An-i returns after an eight year solo hiatus with Rabble, released by Cititrax in the same manner as his prior EPs: on contaminated neon vinyl. Since the last solo An-i outing, the underground techno zeitgeist has moved on from ballistic techno-industrial, but thankfully An-i hasn’t softened with the trends; this EP picks up right where he left off and even manages to steps up the intensity, which is startling considering the heft of his previous work. “Rabble” arrives on a morse-code speed bag, consistently hulking up into a roid-raging industrial clamor. That same rhythmic pattern persists with the properties of liquid steel, operating in a similar manner as Objekt at his ugliest and Regis at his most antagonistic. “Rubble” is a minimalist redux of “Rabble” – still quite stirring, if offering a little more breathing room – and “Chapel Perilous” takes that same sound palette into the galactic nightmare zone, like an astronaut realizing his cord to the docking station somehow came untethered. Very tense stuff, perfectly suited to a graphic fight scene in some blood-soaked metropolitan catacomb, or you can dance to it with your eyes rolled in the back of your head as your phone battery dies. I didn’t get to setting up a haunted house for the neighborhood kids this year, but you can rest assured I blasted Rabble out my window on multiple occasions to much the same effect.

A.S.O. A.S.O. LP (Low Lying)
The debut album from Berlin-based duo A.S.O. has me wondering, can a project be both fully-formed and a total pastiche? I think that with A.S.O., it can! This self-titled debut is unabashedly retro trip-hop, almost over the top in its sonic caricatures, and that’s also partly why it’s been so much fun to listen to. Melbourne-raised house producer Tornado Wallace provides the beats, all of which pay direct homage to Portishead, Tricky, Massive Attack, Air, Jamiroquai’s track on the 1998 Godzilla soundtrack, JNCO jeans with an alien on the back pocket, seeing The Matrix in the theater in baggy PVC pants… you know the vibe! When I first heard “Rain Down”, I could hardly believe the gratuitous theft of that unmistakeable synth-line from the Sopranos‘ theme, but like anything sweet that’s unhealthy, I immediately developed a taste for it and wanted to hear it all the time. Aussie-born vocalist Alia Seror-O’Neill has a fantastic voice for the job, appropriately chameleonic in that she can channel Hope Sandoval, Stevie Nicks, Beth Gibbons or even Evanescence’s Amy Lee when feeling so inspired, and it comes in handy as these songs conjure different downtempo moods throughout, extrapolating on the theme rather than repeating it. I’m busting on the extremely pinpointed nostalgia of it all, but A.S.O. back up the aesthetic with some highly-repeatable tunes. Of all the ’90s subcultures that haven’t already been picked clean, why not trip-hop, and why not A.S.O.?

Cheval De Frise Fresques Sur Les Parois Secrètes Du Crâne LP (Computer Students)
There’s no shortage of reasons as to why a digital-only listening experience is depressing, but the fact that all songs are packaged the exact same – basic band/title information with a tiny digital square of “album art” – feels like a particularly important loss. When everything is flattened to the same smartphone interface, you lose out on the chance for an experience like this, the insanely lavish and thoughtful reissue of French math-rock duo Cheval De Frise’s 2003 compact disc release. With this package, you get a heavy-duty gatefold sleeve, art booklet, inner sleeve with more art and even a glossy 8×10 photograph of the band(!), all wrapped up in a Computer Students-trademarked electro-static oversized foil bag. The quality of care and attention to detail is overwhelming, and as such, positions the music of Cheval De Frise to be taken with utmost seriousness, as if this is the best post-Flamenco math-rock reissue you’ll hear this year (which it is, of course). Much like the Computer Students reissue of Cheval De Frise’s debut full-length, Fresques Sur Les Parois Secrètes Du Crâne sounds like the ’90s Chicago indie-outré scene transposed over a Renaissance-era European piazza, somewhere near Gastr Del Sol, Hella and Slint but carving its own space entirely. Presented as one of the many Bandcamp Friday pay-what-you-wish offerings, I’d gloss right over it, but sitting here with it spinning on my turntable, my table covered in its various bags, booklets and sleeves, I’m enthralled.

Collate Generative Systems LP (Domestic Departure)
More of that Y2K-era dance-punk redux here from Portland’s Collate on their newest full-length excursion. The office clip-art, ’70s-looking kid on the cover and chipboard-with-pasted-on-image design elements all reek of Troubleman Unlimited, Gravity and the various labels that found similar inspiration in the earliest of aughts, right when disco beats and Gang Of Four records were coming to prominence for a new, younger audience. That’s the clear vibe of Collate, and their music fits it to a tee, with fundamental post-punk drumming, a bass-guitar to drive the melodies, a guitar to punctuate and exclaim, and disaffected vocals bemoaning the many bemoanable aspects of our current societal mess. It’s a queasy funk sound, clearly influenced by punk while ensuring that their skeletal beats and restless moans are inhospitable to moshing. Maybe it’s because I just finished reading that excellent retrospective Black Eyes zine, but Collate seem to embody that same sort of out-punk spirit, seeking community via DIY engagement and scrappy, loose-limbed post-punk music. Had Collate been around in 2003, they probably would’ve played together, but now that Black Eyes are (kinda) back together in 2023, maybe it’s still in the cards?

Consec Wheel Of Pain LP (Not For The Weak)
Rollin’ with the gosh-darn Wheel Of Pain over here! Consec might not be the greatest hardcore-punk band from Athens, GA of all time, but they also very well might? This is my first experience with them and it’s really fantastic, A+ no notes, hardcore that rages at an incredibly high level without respite. Imagine the meanest and scariest that the ’80s had to offer, stuff like Mecht Mensch and Die Kreuzen and Septic Death, infused with at least an awareness of power-violence and the speeds that can rightly be obtained through it, the oily grossness of Cult Ritual and at least a few obvious pile-on crowd pleasers. (“Quick To Forget” in particular has me up and out of my lounge chair, ready to Goldberg-spear the first person in my line of vision.) The bass-line to opener “Powder Keg” is pure neuroses-as-music, way too fast and furious, like if DRI were on X-Claim! or something. See what I mean? This is top-shelf stuff, not sloppy but not tight in a technical sense either, invoking that same thrilling sensation you had when you first heard hardcore-punk this fast and visceral. Apparently a good number of the LPs came on “random color” vinyl, and I swear my copy matches the vibe perfectly, a polluted-pond yellow with some chunky brown glops, not looking like one of these annoying typical “limited colorways” so much as a naturally abhorrent mess. The music is a perfect fit!

Anla Courtis & Vomir Sin Comentarios LP (L’Eau Des Fleurs)
Two high-ranking names in the international bizarre-noise circuit collide here, the sort of collaboration that seems both randomly pulled out of a hat yet also a savvy pairing. You surely know Anla Courtis from his work in the legendary genre-exploding group Reynols, and Vomir is the French noise guy who plays unwavering walls of harsh static while wearing (and urging his audience to wear) a black bag on his head. What could go wrong! Two side-long extended noise-scapes are on offer here, the first side favoring a high-end, bristly scrape. It’s a constant, extended sound, though there’s activity to be found in the overcast static, with feedback-y tones whistling through a corroded tunnel. Courtis is credited with “electromagnetic sources, objects, tapes and wind field recordings”, and I don’t doubt it for a second, as this certainly sounds like an electromagnetic wind storm. Vomir is curiously credited with something called “acousquantics noise” – his own proprietary blend? – and alongside Courtis, his constant pummel takes a little longer to enter the low-visibility swirl of the second side. There’s more of a rumbling hum to it as well, almost as if you’re listening to the toxic storm-system of the a-side through the unfinished concrete walls of a below-ground bunker. Appropriate (non-)music for our times played by two gentlemen of high regard.

Cuticles Pavlova EP 7″ (Wormwood Grasshopper)
It’s gotta be a great feeling for a shambolic indie troupe to receive a Siltbreeze co-sign – any of these groups that would aspire to anything higher probably aren’t to be trusted, anyway. Cuticles come from Oamaru, New Zealand, a place that we probably all wish we were from on some level, and they do a great job of dressing up the difficult behavior of Mad Nanna with the chutzpah of Swell Maps on this Wormwood Grasshopper EP (released more or less simultaneously alongside a Siltbreeze full-length). Which is to say, they are playing fairly straightforward Kiwi-pop in a roughed-up way with plenty of oddball personality. And you can sing along to it! “Mattress 2” opens with the impassioned line “I think I’m slowly / falling in love with a mattress”, sounding like Kitchen’s Floor on ecstasy – still on suicide watch, but with a big wet grin on their faces. I love(d) The Trendees, another fairly recent New Zealand indie group (who shares vocalist/guitarist Matt Plunkett with Cuticles!), but whereas their unhinged etiquette bled over into the song structures (or lack thereof), I can see more people sticking around to the end of a Cuticles set. The Trendees were too good for this messed-up world anyway, but seeing as Cuticles have me singing along to loving my bed, perhaps it’s their time to shine.

Dragnet The Accession LP (Spoilsport / Polaks)
I’m cautious to say “hey, heard your new album, it’s great!” to any given Australian punker, as it seems likely that anything older than two months will have already been followed-up by an even newer one. Okay, that’s probably not entirely true, but it sure feels that way! In this particular case, we have the newest full-length from upbeat indie / post-punk group Dragnet, featuring vocalist/guitarist Jack Cherry (who also sings for Vintage Crop). I’m trying to discern a clear stylistic distinction between the two groups, and I suppose Vintage Crop are a little more aggressive, with maybe a tad more brutishness to their riffs and drums, but from a macroscopic view they are two poppy, garage-y post-punk groups with the same singer singing the same way. Dragnet are a little more likely to turn on a synth here and there, but Cherry’s vocal recitations maintains the same level of grievance for both groups; Dragnet get a little feral here and there as well, in that same descendents-of-The-Fall way. It’s alright! There is clearly no shortage of this stuff happening in Melbourne, bands with overlapping members putting out new records in one form or another at a near-constant pace, so if you’re a big fan you’ll have endless fun connecting the dots and collecting ’em all, but if you’re only looking for the cream of the (vintage) crop, you’re gonna need some extra caffeine to sort through it all.

Christopher Alan Durham & The Peacetime Consumers Kicks Or Macabre LP (Soft Abuse)
First vinyl album from Chris Durham under the name printed on his birth certificate, backed up by an affable band of easy-rockin’ pals, The Peacetime Consumers. You might know his appealingly-fried guitar music from groups like Roachclip and The Bibs, and Kicks Or Macabre certainly exists within that same musical universe, laid-back dirt-guys hitching rides to wherever. It kinda sounds like proto-punk without the punk, as if the late ’70s arrived and everyone just kinda flopped back down onto the couch instead of shaving their heads and safety-pinning their noses. Very Acid Archives in that way, though Durham’s music falls on the, um, peaceful side of things, never getting out of hand or remotely heavy. I sense ties to weirder stuff like Vertical Slit or even Television Personalities, but at the same time, it occasionally sounds like the absolute earliest KISS demos from before they even considered picking up a tub of greasepaint. Weirdo city-rat music from before all the sub-genres were so codified and strict, and you could just kinda screw off with your friends and not think too hard about the future. Sounded nice then and Durham & Co. make it sound nice now.

The Gabys The Gabys 7″ (Fruits & Flowers)
The Fruits & Flowers Bandcamp pages describes The Gabys as an “almost totally anonymous UK duo”. Ahem, we already clearly know their first names at least! Anyway, they’ve got that DIY amateur dream-pop thing going on: one lightly-fuzzed guitar strumming open chords seemingly beamed in from some distant radio station, and vocals as polite as they are mellow harmonizing over top. No sonic variation, just that downy bliss-out guitar-fuzz and a tender voice to accompany it. I hope they’re actually a Sleaford Mods-style duo, where one person sings and plays guitar and the other simply vibes out, maybe sipping some Yorkshire tea and looking through ’70s decor magazines while her friend performs her bedroom songs, though only a scant few are bold enough to consider themselves a member of a band without contributing a sound. (It’s something to consider.) Theirs is a distinctively throwback style we’ve all heard before, from Fruits & Flowers as well in fact, but if you love this stuff (and many do), I don’t see how you could avoid falling for the rudimentary charm of The Gabys. What if it turns out they were actually Daft Punk all along?

Gee Gee Decorator Gee Gee Decorator LP (Coq Au Vinyl)
“Unhinged” doesn’t begin to describe the madness within this sole long-player from something called Gee Gee Decorator, originally released sometime in the early ’80s (specific date unverified) and now once again on this grey-market reissue. Sleuths placed the group somewhere in the Newark, NJ area based on the original pressing’s center labels – no cover was ever issued – and little else is known about the people involved in this cuckoo recording. Surely it was little more than a few non-musicians making a mockery of music in a studio back when it occurred, but I’ll be damned if this sort of zero-talent noise-rock madness isn’t an absolute hoot. Drums, percussion, noise-guitars and vocals conjure some sort of mangled funk, like a Meters record discarded on the subway tracks, on par with the grimiest Danny & The Dressmakers material and flimsiest ESG rhythms. Ideas are conjured in the moment, repeated, and probably forgotten, thankfully surviving the last few decades in a scant number of thrift-store copies until now. It’s so gloriously inept and wild that I’ve seen accusations online that Gee Gee Decorator are a new project masquerading as an old band, an account that has been more or less disproven by the existence of the original pressing. Such is the caliber of this forgotten trash-rock masterpiece, on par with the very worst (best) of Demo Moe, Menstruation Sisters, Pussy Galore, Instant Automatons and Mountain Cult.

Goat Joy In Fear LP (Nakid)
No, not that Goat – or the other Goat – this Goat is the mind-melting Japanese one. If you’re not familiar, and understandably so as there’s only so many Goats a person can be reasonably expected to know, I’m excited to tell you about them! “Math-rock” is often a lacking term, but if we want to work on those terms, this isn’t algebra or even geometry, this is PhD advanced calculus dissertation defense level stuff, with the “rock” aspect left far in the rear view. If you told me their music was completely crafted on Aphex Twin’s laptop, I’d still be impressed, but the extreme levels of pointillist precision on display here are the product of human hands on drums, bass, guitar, saxophone, percussion and flutes. It’s the final-boss composite of gamelan, Zach Hill, Zs and Moin, enthralling not only for the Japan’s Got Talent!-level feats at hand, but also the fact that this nearly-impossible music is captivating on a sonic level, even when ignoring the physicality necessary to produce it. Listeners aren’t as siloed in their individual musical genres as they used to be, so fans of Emptyset and Autechre would find as much to enjoy here as Damon Che or Tortoise obsessives. I am starting to think that this Goat might be the GOAT Goat.

Gruuel Nobody’s Daughter / Dust With Legs 7″ (Trevor)
Beau Wanzer collaborating with James Vinciguerra of Total Control is one of those things I’d daydream about, and yet here we are in late 2023 and the dang thing happened! That’s what Gruuel is, with Wanzer lending some of his crabbiest drum machines and Vinciguerra providing the absolutely demented vocals. Props to Vinciguerra, as you’d think such a deft master of rhythms would want to pursue something a lil more complex, but nope, this is extremely uncomplicated sewer-electronics with unnerving spoken word. I’m not sure what Vinciguerra does with his voice on “Nobody’s Daughter”, but it sounds like maybe he spoke extra slow, sped it up and then pitched it down, or modified the decay in real time? It truly sounds like he’s a drunken comb-over uncle whose face is slowly disintegrating (aka the Beau Wanzer official logo), so bravo. Wanzer’s beat for “Dust With Legs” is even more sparse, and Vinciguerra’s recited story is only lightly dub-affected, so that it can be more or less followed by anyone willing to pay a reasonable amount of attention. Kinda feels like the whole thing was done in three seconds, and yet I can’t stop spinning it – what does that say about them, or me?

Chris Korda Not My Problem, I’ll Be Dead 12″ (Yoyaku)
How about some minimalist techno… filled with unbridled, righteous hate?? Chris Korda has been a transgressive genius for decades now, pushing uncomfortable truths and a sincerely nihilist perspective (please read up on her Church of Euthanasia) alongside patented techno grooves. This new one, if the title wasn’t a hint, skewers the carelessness of our aristocrats with a political viciousness that exceeds the majority of what’s happening in the allegedly subversive subculture of hardcore-punk. Quoting real-life business-psychos on “Baby Batter Bingo”, the track sounds like a stripped-down tech-house track until you realize what’s being said by the disturbingly-neutral cyborg voice. RuPaul meets Rand Paul? It makes me think of some sort of Google murder-robot that comes to your door to carry out your termination, calmly unaware of the terror it brings. The other three tracks work in similar ways (though not as savagely as “Baby Batter Bingo”), with “Awesome On Mars” making another fine argument as to why Elon Musk’s neck should be first on the guillotine. And you can dance to it! With other releases on Perlon, Mental Groove and International Dee Jay Gigolo, you know her pedigree is top-notch from a technical perspective, but as an artist of political agitation, she’s unparalleled.

Lewsberg Out And About LP (12XU)
Lewsberg, the hardest working band in Rotterdam, continue their outstanding run of full-lengths with Out And About. They’re a testament to the practice of making rock music with obvious and glaring precedents and growing it into its own beautiful thing entirely. In this particular case, The Velvet Underground is the obvious bedrock, but as I listen to Out And About it’s so clearly the work of the one and only Lewsberg, far from one of the numerous indie VU clones that have come and gone. I loved Lewsberg before, and I love them even more now! These songs are maybe a little more introspective and low-key than previous outings, though this was always a bookish group, deploying their precious and significant little tunes with only the most necessary of parts to keep it running – a floor tom, a solid bass-guitar melody, one guitar to chime and another to jangle. These songs are some of their strongest, and the album is perfectly sequenced; the soft confessional of “A Different View” leads right into “Going Places”, whose skip-step bass-line you’ll be humming in your sleep. Lewsberg just completed a lengthy US tour (and, having witnessed them, am happy to share that these songs sounded fantastic live), playing small (or “intimate”) rooms, and I hope for their sake that the gobs of Jens Lekman and Belle & Sebastian fans seeking some new form of sophisticated-yet-humble guitar pop get hipped to Lewsberg sooner than later.

LLL Sunda School III 12″ (Porridge Bullet)
Been loving the weird techno emanating from Estonia’s Porridge Bullet label, particularly the “Sunda School” series of which this twelve-inch is the third installment. Certain Porridge Bullet releases conjure an aesthetic connection to the Wah Wah Wino crew over in Dublin, favoring slowed-down grooves and a playful, kitchen-sink omnivorousness. LLL’s contribution to the Sunda School series is ‘floor-oriented but it never loses that adventurous spirit. “Friday Rituals” features my favorite trick – a rollicking tech-house groove with some distorted voice talking over top – and it’s followed by the half-time dub of “92”, splashing like a particularly fat and oily seal on the shore. The b-side opens with the lo-fi hardware dance-chasm “Yyyeah Exactly” and the even more nocturnal “Valu-e”, both tracks as grotty and underground as Ron Morelli’s recent Heart Stopper album with the mischievousness I’ve come to expect from the label that brought me a project based on an imagined sequel to a 1961 sci-fi film (that’d be Amphibian Man II). Expert stuff from folks that don’t act like experts… these porridge bullets don’t miss!

Monolog Jern 12″ (I Shall Sing Until My Land Is Free)
Long-running Danish-born, Berlin-stationed techno artist Monolog contributes to the Ukraine benefit label I Shall Sing Until My Land Is Free with an EP full of hard-edged contrasts. For me, it’s all about that the opener “Trailing”, as I simply can’t get enough of the commingling of doom-metal guitars and modern sound-design, particularly when it comes from the electronic camp. This track sounds like Black Mayonnaise and Thrones inside an art gallery on the moon, doing their impression of heavy metal crushed by elephants. It’s kind of a tease, really, as “Trailing” is the only track that sounds like that here. “Decent Of Ares” and “Drinking Tea With Killers” exist on the opposite end of the tempo spectrum, two ripping drum n’ bass tracks full of grey-scale distortion with the occasional sound of cryogenic chambers opening. Someone with the dated moniker of “Kid Atari” reworks “Drinking Tea With Killers” to more cinematic ends, and “Forgotten Circle 10” offers a soft-yet-desolate finale, a mood piece with the sound of war in the distance, made all the more unsettling by the circumstances of the responsible label.

Mother’s Milk Render Void At Gate LP (State Laughter)
Can’t go wrong with a trio that looks like slight variants of the same person. Hanging on the cover of their album, Atlanta’s Mother’s Milk look like triplets with slightly different hair and glasses, and I appreciate the physical unity. A strong bond between band members will surely help fend off the repeated question of “did you name your band after the Red Hot Chili Peppers?”, a question that would tear down a weaker band, though the songs of Render Void At Gate certainly help dispel any freaky-styley behavior. On further investigation, the group appears to be led by one Crane Fortune (of GG King, Glittering Insects, Wymyns Prysyn and so on), and Mother’s Milk is his chance to explore the moodier side of post-grunge art-punk. These songs are heavily indebted to Sonic Youth, as the guitars vacillate between 120 Minutes grunge-pop and noisy pedal-chain deconstructions, often in the same song if applicable. It clearly comes from a hardcore-punk background, rather than a commercial/indie mindset, which is probably why it’s more cynical- and tough-sounding than the many moneyed college-graduates who have attempted a similar sound as of late. Apparently in the wake of Render Void At Gate, the group has ballooned into a septet, though I’m not sure what those other people are doing – more guitars, maybe some electronics? It’s ambitious, negative and vaguely druggy, a combination which has served underground rock extremely well throughout the years.

Nurse Nurse 12″ (State Laughter)
Fine new twelve-inch slab from Atlanta’s Nurse, a sinister hardcore group who take their time with things. This is the first we’ve heard from them since their excellent 2017 seven-inch, and I can’t help but assume they’ve been busy lurking in the shadows and writing blood-stained ransom notes (or, maybe just playing in other cool bands, as it seems like all of Atlanta’s punk musicians are in at least three bands). They’ve got a cool thing going, a vibrant combination of negative-mindset aesthetics: the vocalist sounds like Jake Sayles of Filth trying out for a black-metal group, the riffs are spindly and evil, and the tempos are fast and/or menacing. Rikk Agnew melodies meet No Trend inside that big waste pipe on the edge of town where some kids allegedly died years ago. It hits a real sweet spot for me, but I can see how a larger form of underground popularity might elude Nurse, as the songs here that behave similarly to Gag and Gel are too weird for your average hardcore Zoomer, goth kids might be turned off by the aggressive hardcore-punk songwriting, and the whole thing is too visceral and screamy for any garage-rock turkeys who might otherwise appreciate the jumpy riffs and leather-jacket attitude. If you are less inclined to seek out by-the-numbers punk, however, Nurse extend their hand to you, wrinkled and grey with long pointy nails.

OK EG Rivulets 2xLP (Kalahari Oyster Cult)
Nothing but straightforward techno quality from the Kalahari crew, though I associate the label with twelve-inch singles, not double-LP full-lengths. They must’ve liked what they heard from Melbourne duo OK EG, and I’m right there with them, as Rivulets is an impressive collection of pristine techno construction. Go ahead, give it the white glove test and you won’t find a single dust mite on its glossy surface, so thoroughly sterilized and slick are these spare trance grooves. Even the microscopic traces of ASMR in “Flow Regime” feel like they were freshly unwrapped from a laboratory desk. OK EG’s sound borrows heavily from ’90s progressive-rave culture, the sort of mind-melding synth-lines that are inherently psychedelic with or without a pill on your tongue, with the less-is-more attitude favored by much of the seminal dub/minimal tech-house contingent. Hard not to picture Wolfgang Voigt, PSI and The Orb up in the booth, reducing track after track to their most essential parts with a contemporary range of software. It can be hard to make a style this established sound fresh, but as I sit here with “Rivulets” on full blast, it feels as timelessly exhilarating as standing under a waterfall, even one of those little man-made ones in an overpriced spa resort.

Pharma See? 7″ (Big Neck)
Pharma had one shot at using this pun-based title, and I’m glad they took the opportunity here on this fairly blistering five-song EP. I associate Big Neck with bloozy garage-punk of varying levels of quality, so I was surprised to hear that Pharma are firmly hardcore-punk, not far off from quintessential (and fellow Detroit-stationed) ragers Negative Approach. These songs hit that sweet spot of too fast for comfort – drummer Krystian Quint sounds like he’s whooped just from playing the intro of “End Of Days”, yet he presses on, getting even faster on “Blasphemy”. The level of bile raised by Pharma reminds me of one of my anti-social NYHC faves, Nihilistics, with vocalist Charles Stahl penetrating drywall with his throat and the rest of the band pushing each song to its meanest possible form. The guitar seems to be fueled by a hatred of its enemies, squealing out very active forms of feedback at any moment the main riff isn’t being hammered into the floor. Refreshing to find some brutal, speedy, no-nonsense, untrendy hardcore-punk when I wasn’t expecting it! It’s like walking into a pane of glass you thought was empty space.

PLO Man Anonymousmaterial 12″ (Acting Press)
Berlin’s PLO Man sets phasers to stun on this righteous new EP of uncompromising dub-techno. While Anonymousmaterial makes no attempt at uncharted territory or some exciting new path forward for electronic dance music, it does provide four ripping cuts of cloud-parting techno. His general move is to lock a rhythm into some sort of airtight container, then jostle it about, sometimes chopping up the pavement with bulldozers, sometimes applying a fresh smooth layer of cement. The sonic properties are very much dub-techno, but more aggressive and active than that label can sometimes infer; “Fig. 001” volleys multiple interlocking patterns and “Fig. 015” opens with a few minutes of pure “crash cymbal in a washing machine” bliss. I fondly recall going to the Hardwax site, reading some sort of barely-coherent description and taking a chance based on an appealing project name or some connection to a label/artist I already dug, and nearly blowing my speakers on the rich German grooves I purchased, as finely engineered as a Porsche. PLO Man is taking me to that special place once again.

Pretty Sneaky Koldd LP (Marionette)
For some people, extended atmospheric drones provide soothing ambient comfort, but when I’m seeking that sort of sonic weighted-blanket feel, I reach for soft-touch arpeggios, of which Pretty Sneaky’s Koldd is chock full. This is slow-motion ambient electronica that navigates the drift while hooked to delicate synth patterns, like a seahorse with its little tail wrapped up in some kelp as the tide pushes it back and forth. Almost all of these tracks open with some sort of bird-song or natural sounds (the third track references wind in the title and definitely ends on the sound of it), but it’s the plush synth pads and unhurried pace of the melodies that has me coming back to it over and over. A track like “Entering Theme” picks up the pace in a manner redolent of Yu Su, but falls back to serene, soothing mannerisms on the next cut, “Desert Theme”. The sounds are varied but the vibe is all early-morning hygge, the afterlife of a rave when only the sleepiest, most turtle-paced harmonies are still out lingering on the grounds.

Puffer Puffer EP 7″ (Roachleg)
Hard to go wrong with boutique Brooklyn hardcore-punk label Roachleg, so while I am unsure if this new Montreal-based group is referencing coats or fish with their name, I’m down for a spin. They carry a pretty contemporary aesthetic mixture on their debut, a future where punks and skins have finally attained unity (sorry herberts – it’s just not your time) and it’s not only okay to like heavy metal but actively encouraged. Which is to say, their music is like 70% Riot City, 20% NWOBHM and 10% Chiswick. The vocalist has a gorilla-throat in the same genus as Steve Clark of 86 Mentality, with the benefit of songwriting that values hooks over attitude; these are songs for a crowd well into advanced drinking age. The b-side tracks are my favorites: “Sister Marie” sounds like The Damned if they crash-landed on Headache Records in the early ’90s and were forced to share beer with Wretched Ones, whereas “Hard Way To Go” sounds like that great first Vanity album if it was co-produced by Fizzy and Ace Frehley. In this time of fractured social networks and general insanity, anything is possible, especially in New York, and probably even Montreal.

Salenta + Topu Moon Set, Moon Rise LP (Futura Resistenza)
We all know what Brooklyn sounds like now (Olivia Rodrigo playing out of a bluetooth speaker attached to a food-app delivery bicycle), but this fine release from the Brooklyn-based duo of pianist Salenta Baisden and cellist Topu Lyo has me imagining the Brooklyn of my great-great-grandparents on a particularly boozed-up, candlelit night. The piano sounds pre-World War One, what with the creaky room sounds, and Lyo’s cello adds a tentative pluck or mournful rub even when Baisden is feeling particularly jaunty. These songs seem to be improvisations, or at least very loosely structured, but Moon Set, Moon Rise is clearly rooted in melody, both playful and exploratory, as opposed to wild atonal scuffles. Not sure if “domestic-spiritual” is a thing, but I’d feel comfortable filing this album into that micro-genre in the record store that lives in my head. For as inquisitive and conversational as it is, there’s a richness to these songs that burns late into the evening, perhaps in part to the clear intimacy happening between the two players. Feels lucky to be a silent voyeur peering into their proceedings, because I’m sure the floorboards in their Bedstuy walk-up would be groaning the moment I opened the door.

Sharp Pins Turtle Rock LP (Tall Texan)
Intriguing find here from Tall Texan, the solo / plays-all-the-instruments-himself project of Kai Slater, perhaps best known as a member of up-and-coming indie trio Lifeguard. He’s young enough where you can do a full-time, going-for-it indie band and record an album yourself of fully-realized songs, which is the case of Turtle Rock. Lifeguard I’m lukewarm on – no hate, just haven’t really connected with ’em – but Sharp Pins is pretty ace! As I listen, I’m picturing Homosexuals if they had the advantage/disadvantage of existing with the knowledge of ’90s alt-rock. Which is to say, the songs themselves are splendidly lo-fi and odd and reach for some sort of Big Star / T. Rex glamour in spite of their sonic limitations, but they also sound like they could’ve come from the Elephant 6 collective in 1994, or within the lost demos of The Shins or Jay Reatard. Even a Siltbreeze connection would make some sort of sonic/aesthetic sense! The songs themselves take precedence to style, but Slater’s appealing vocal warble and the shaggy recording add to the overall charm. A sleeper hit, the sort of record that has annoyingly sold out by the time you find out about it from reading those end of the year best-of lists, so go on, beat the holiday rush!

Shela TV Songs LP (Discrepant)
I don’t think that when I started this website back in 2008 that I expected to find myself surrounded by records of solo piano with random household noises some fifteen years later, yet that’s one of the many joys of music – no one’s personal journey is set in stone. Shela’s TV Songs is yet another entry into this ever-growing field, one that I am certain I will eventually find myself exhausted by (and, like all sub-sub-genres, probably will have some obvious shark-jumpers that we’ll look back upon head-scratchingly years from now), but I keep not reaching that point. Or maybe TV Songs is just a pretty record, trend or no trend? Lisbon pianist João “Shela” Pereira recorded these songs at home with the television on, and unlike many of the other domestic-ambient artists who use the piano as another found-object to poke and prod, Shela’s music is more song than sketch. These melodies are mournful and romantic, veering on sleepy jazz or rain-dappled classical, and their inherent beauty (alongside the very light coating of TV sounds) shines through, succeeding on the strength of their melodies and progressions rather than the boldness of messy avant-garde collage. Imperfect and noble enough that I’ll probably tolerate lesser examples of this genre for at least a little while longer.

Slutavverkning Levande Charader LP (Feral Cuts)
It’s sometimes a little embarrassing to only speak or really understand English, but at the same time, I’m able to enjoy a record like Levande Charader by Swedish noise-rockers Slutavverkning in my state of quasi-illiteracy. Just look at that saw-blade on the cover and imagine what it’s like to say “Slutavverkning” out loud and you won’t need a mastery of the language to pick up the vibe. Their songs are both brutal and brutalist, built like squares and rectangles of repetitive rhythmic thud, a proud dearth of melodies and a vocalist who seems to be screaming beyond his capabilities, the sort of throat-scorch that only Junko of Hijokaidan can sustain for years. Taking that Swans Filth template and juicing it with the energy of hardcore, Slutavverkning would sufficiently damage ears based on their rhythm section alone, but they take it a step further with the frequent saxophones and clarinets, deployed in a perpetual squeal. The “free jazz” tag might be used, but this doesn’t feel free so much as an intentional act of savagery. The result sounds like Brainbombs at twice the speed (and as far as I can tell, none of the depraved sexual violence), or if that recent Oxbow collaboration with Peter Brötzmann was in perpetual full-on attack mode instead of smoker’s lounge jazz.

World I Hate Years Of Lead LP (War)
You’d think the experience of listening to great new hardcore would get progressively less exhilarating over time, and while that’s probably true in a general sense for me, Years Of Lead fired me up instantly. World I Hate are a Milwaukee hardcore band, but rather than doing the trendy beatdown thing, they clearly take inspiration from the burliest of fast-core / power-violence ragers. I’m hearing Infest, Mind Eraser, Vile Gash and Think I Care (whose band name and typeface they resemble) in their sound, a cavalcade of stop-on-a-dime blasts that grind up against grueling breakdowns and furious (yet precise) thrash. There’s a tasteful hint of crowd-killing in some of their mosh parts – as is the parlance of the day – but the music errs on the side of blazing hardcore-grind. The recording is clean without surface shine, never feeling too “pro” without the diminished heaviness that a lo-fi aesthetic can bring. You can get by on this style without a noteworthy singer, but I really love what vocalist Hal Crossno brings to the table here, a rapid delivery somewhere between Ban Reilly and Bob Kasitz of Lack Of Interest. He goes absolutely bananas on “Safer In Jail”, like a grindcore Twista going buckwild before the riff even kicks in! Not sure I can get off the couch without using my hands these days, yet I have the violent urge to catapult myself over a stranger’s shoulders when Years Of Lead comes on.

Yellowcake Can You See The Future? 7″ (Not For The Weak / Suicide Of A Species)
It’s not often that a hardcore band-name makes me hungry, but I’m over here having Betty Crocker visions as the pitch-perfect d-beat warfare of this Phoenix group explodes from my speakers. Turns out the name references some sort of nuclear by-product, but I don’t care, I’m still appetized by both the name and their true-to-form, classic Swede-inspired hardcore-punk. The drums and bass are locked-in and fluid, even in these high-tempo situations, the guitar is an agitated hornet’s nest, and the vocals are delivered in brief sentence fragments in the precise manner that Discharge and Shitlickers taught us. There’s even a metallic edge to some of these tunes, but they work that into the stew nicely, never entering crossover territory so much as fancying up their impressively menacing d-beat sound. It’s funny, I’ll get other genre-conventional records and be bothered by their uniformity and lack of imagination, but in the case of Yellowcake, who don’t remotely deviate from their established d-beat genre, I love it. Could be that d-beat just rules in general, or that Yellowcake are particularly adept, but I’m thinking it’s a little of both.