Archive for 'Reviews'

Reviews – September 2021

Alpha Maid Chuckle 12″ (C.A.N.V.A.S.)
Read a couple intriguing profiles of London’s Alpha Maid over the past year, and decided to wait until vinyl surfaced to properly investigate. It’s finally here, and she’s pretty phenomenal! It’s not too often that music comes out of the gate sounding so unlike anything else, but Alpha Maid (the solo work of one Leisha Thomas) is cutting a hairy new path, and seems to do so naturally. A song like “Newly Woke & Thought Provoked”, for example, is a perfect fifty-fifty split of Frank Ocean and Jandek to my ears, the sort of eyebrow-raising comparison that Thomas manipulates with ease. Imagine Frank Ocean’s tender bedroom melodies and lyrics presented with Jandek’s supreme avant-awkwardness, and you’ve got weird guitar-pop that feels as though it were conceived in solitary confinement. Thomas takes these songs and wrings them out, layering lo-fi drums over hi-fi guitars, processed vocals and uncomfortable sounds to the point where it feels like Hyperdub artist Klein releasing a record on Kranky in 1999, or June Of 44 dropping a surprise album on PAN in 2021 (check “Mild Weather” to see what I mean). I’m probably getting a bit off course here, because for as fun as it is to contemplate the unorthodox combinations that Alpha Maid’s music inspires in my cute little brain, it’s even more fun to sit back and listen to Chuckle, which really couldn’t have come from anyone else.

CDG Unconditional 7″ (Domestic Departure)
At first glance I thought the band was calling themselves CDC, which would be kind of a funny throw-away provocative punk band name now that I think about it. But no, this Portland-based group is called CDG, and whatever that might mean (including perhaps nothing at all), they maneuver a form of classic groove-driven post-punk no-wave. I’m reminded of multiple generations of artists who’ve worked out this sound, from The Mekons to Emergency to Priests. The drums lock in an uncomfortable funk, the bass is applied accordingly, and the vocals and guitar scritch and scratch in various cool directions, abstract but never too noisy. Some bands sound like at least one member is wearing sunglasses, whereas CDG sound like at least one band member is wearing sunglasses upside down. It’s a stripped-down sound that never gets too fast or out of control and CDG make excellent use of it. My only gripe is that I wish it came with lyrics – I’m gathering the respective gists of “Remove Officer” and “Audiophile” from listening but I’d love to confirm the precise sharpness of the barbs CDG are dishing out.

Come AKA The Come Club 7″ (Chunklet Industries)
The cool thing about having an independent label is that you can literally do whatever you want with it. Sure, most labels generally follow some prescribed genre allegiance, either for the sake of avoiding financial ruin or because it’s simply what the people who run the label like. Chunklet, on the other hand, seems to take great pleasure in releasing fake records by real bands, real records by fake bands, joke records, lathe records, serious critically-lauded albums, ornate retrospectives… it’s like taking a tour of label owner Henry Owings’s mind, for better or worse, generally slanted toward the rougher side of ’90s indie-rock that was enjoyed by the twentysomethings of that era. This new single certainly fits that MO, two Gun Club covers performed by Come back in 1993, transferred from videotape to the record that spins here before me. So very niche, but for the select group of listeners who are devoted to that sliver of rock n’ roll history, they probably already picked up this 7″ on multiple colors of vinyl. “Preaching The Blues” and “Sex Beat” are raucous and loose, a treat for underground insiders and the random barflies who happened to be at TT The Bear’s on November 10th, 1993. And now us, too!

Computer American Digital Prayer 12″ (Skrot Up)
Bay Area miscreants Computer continue to shine a light upon the most shameful hunks of data lurking on our hard-drives with their newest album, American Digital Prayer. Coming from members of FNU Clone and Slicing Grandpa, it should come as no surprise that they’re dealing with a gross and murky form of digital noise and cultural detritus, this album featuring two side-long forays into such. They’ve got other bands if they want to write songs, so they go full-on extended collage here. The sound of bitcoins roasting on an open fire? By my estimation, I’m thinking of Glands Of External Secretion mixed for an American Tapes release as I listen, with cascades of synthetic tones and sampled snippets bubbling up amongst computer voices, clanging gears and terrible YouTube video wormholes. No one seems to get out alive from this one, which somehow reminds me that climate change is an irreversible nightmare even though nothing on this record speaks of any particular cause or sentiment. We all hate our computers and we’re all on them everyday anyway, a fact that Computer is all too happy to remind us.

Darkside Spiral 2xLP (Matador)
Not sure how to explain my fandom of Nicolas Jaar: enthusiastic but wary? There’s at least like three hours of music he’s made that I absolutely love, which is far more than I can say about 99% of the other artists who come through these pages, but I also find myself wondering how much of his allure is based on the cache of cool that buffers everything he’s done… is he really great at denying a beat-drop and patching together dusty piano loops, or is he simply great at presenting as though he’s great at it, chorus of critical acclaim by his side? I’ve been wondering that while listening to the new Darkside album, Spirals. I’ve really enjoyed Darkside’s records this far, but this new one feels like it relies on the established Darkside moves while kind of succumbing to that modern universal indie sound that I find insidious, music that at its base level is meant to be simultaneously ignored and streamed. The little guitar riffs here are more cool variations on Dire Straits and Pink Floyd for the Editions Mego generation, and the various production tricks and percussive elements are mighty nice, but I can’t shake the feeling that this kinda just sounds like The War On Drugs who sounds like Tame Impala who sounds like Toro Y Moi who sounds like Phoebe Bridgers and so forth. Probably a timeless complaint, but I think Nicolas Jaar and Darkside have plenty to offer conceptually and musically, so I want the very most out of them. Spiral sounds pretty sweet, but it’s a casual lap through the neutral zone, not an expedition into the unknown.

During Birds Of Juneau / Big Farmer 7″ (Chunklet Industries)
Intriguing slice of vinyl here, a 7″ with what appears to be an LP-sized center sticker and a substantial run-in (as opposed to run-out) groove. Turns out there’s a good reason for all that, as this is actually a hand-cut record limited to fifty copies! During are a new trio with members of Brandy, Spray Paint and Ballroom respectively, practically an Ever/Never SXSW showcase package, and if you liked any of the snotty post-punk and in-the-red rock those entities were dealing, you won’t have any problems enjoying During. “Birds Of Juneau” is dance-y and mean, somewhere between Wire, Clockcleaner and Electric Eels. “Big Farmer” is less friendly, with what sounds like an Australian vocal(?) that has me thinking of Lubricated Goat aiming for a record contract with 12XU. I realize that sort of description might only make sense to like fifty people here on Earth, but big deal, there are only fifty copies of this record so it works out perfectly!

Eyes And Flys Anxiety Tools / God’s Management 7″ (no label)
Eyes And Flys are a band, not a record label, but they should consider offering some business advice to all the labels out there struggling to get records pressed, seeing as they continue to release these 7″ singles with speed and quality. The Buffalo group has wavered between garage-rock, the lighter side of hardcore-punk and Flying Nun-inspired indie-pop on previous singles, and “Anxiety Tools” goes straight for the latter, a soft strummer that’s simultaneously uplifting and moody, from the chiming guitars and string accompaniment to the bitter, downward-facing vocal. “God’s Management” (is that a fancy phrase for “angels”?) kicks in with a soaring alt-rock instrumental groove, the sort of thing I’d expect to uncover when digging through bootleg outtakes from Pearl Jam’s Ten sessions (something I need to remind myself to do). Kind of a shame they couldn’t get Eddie Vedder to belt something out on this one, or at the very least, have one of the Eyes And Flys posse give it their best shot. It’s been an interesting band (and occasional solo project) from the start, but I think I like this single the most of all of them, what with the amiable strum of the a-side and the uplifting instrumental on the flip.

The Freakees Freakee Deakee 7″ (Tomothy)
You best be freaky if you’re showing up with this band name and record title, and I am happy to say that Los Angeles’s The Freakees come correct. They play a spastic but not gimmicky form of noisy punk, reminiscent of scrappy ’90s unknowns like Los Huevos, Yah Mos, Old Man Homo and The Mormons, the sort of sound I’d expect to hear on one of the great million-band comp LPs of the era like America In Decline or Wood Panel Pacer Wagon With Mags. (I highly recommend both, which you can pick up together on Discogs for less than ten bucks plus shipping, but I digress.) Three slippery directionless moshes on the a-side akin to FYP covering Red Cross, and one bleary come-down on the b-side, like Sonic Youth imitating the Germs for fun on Halloween or something. A cool punk single that defies contemporary trends, and also brings to mind the trite but sincere statement that it’s a good sounding record by a band who is probably even more fun to listen to live and in person.

Frigate Dreams Of The Deep LP (D.Q. Records T.U.)
Thinking this will be my favorite reissue of the year! Originally released in 1977 on the impossible-to-find tax-scam label C.C. Records, I’m thrilled to be hearing these demented psych-rock tunes now for the first time. No idea who Frigate were, or if that was even their real name (so deep does the intrigue run), but this is kind of the classic rock of my dreams, no pun intended. The album’s theme seems to be loosely based around seafaring heartbreak, which suits these loose and ketamined tunes. I’m picking up visions of Golden Earring falling asleep while attempting “Radar Love”, a classically-inclined Mountain Cult, Randy Holden playing every instrument with his feet, and Speed Glue & Shinki if Shinki quit the band and they ran out of speed. Truly warped music, the bass and drums barely, barely held together with a charming vocalist who sounds like he’s laying down with his eyes closed while delivering his lines. “There She Stands” almost predicts the unhinged hippie meanderings of Moss Icon? I love classic rock, but I love when music goes horribly wrong even more, and Dreams Of The Deep is a shockingly fantastic combination of the two.

Guardian Singles Guardian Singles LP (Trouble In Mind)
Here’s a good case for actually having friends: when I first got this Guardian Singles album, I threw it on once and kind of forgot about it, until a friend of mine who rarely checks into new music asked me if I heard the Guardian Singles album, much to my surprise. He was raving about it, and you know what, on repeated and focused listens, I can see the appeal! They’ve got a cool sound going, one that traverses rain-cloud power-pop, moody emo-rock and traditional punk-derived garage. Guardian Singles spin that all together nicely, not having a garage part or a power-pop part but rather fusing those elements together, so that it sounds like Tweed and Bureaucrats covering The Anniversary and Mineral while The Stranglers look on in approval. A song like “Roll Undead” even has enough of that darkly-chiming, rhythmically propulsive groove that I would expect to hear on the The Crow soundtrack, a high mark of ’90s culture. Even so, the whole thing still sounds punk, or at least punk-informed, which is probably inevitable considering Guardian Singles are from New Zealand, where indie-rock is their mainstream and no one has ever heard of Justin Beiber or Post Malone. Or so I like to believe.

I.G. Isolationsgemeinschaft LP (Phantom)
No, Instagram didn’t put out a vinyl album just yet, this I.G. stands for Isolationsgemeinschaft and this is their debut! They play a very German-sounding form of restless cold-wave, which is reasonable considering the duo’s Berlin residence. Synths and drum machines lead the path forward out of a neon-lit ’80s bunker into, well, a very similar-looking ’20s bunker. I’m reminded of Voice Farm, Vono, and that brief intersection where NDW bands revolving around the ZickZack label encountered the Sky Records synth scene that preceded it, a nice pairing of ’70s synth worship and ’80s post-punk paranoia. I.G. are certainly closer to the post-punk paranoia side of things, with many of these songs sounding as though they’re being tailed by a dark figure shrouded in a long trench coat, even if it turns out it’s only one of those Drab Majesty mimes looking to score party drugs. A genre exercise for sure, complete with some subtle Kraftwerk rips here and there (let the electronic group who has never ripped Kraftwerk cast the first stone), but it’s pleasant enough, or should I say unpleasant enough, that Isolationsgemeinschaft receives a synth-wave passing grade if not high honors.

Lysol Soup For My Family LP (Feel It)
Last I heard, Lysol had to change their name, but in that same way that I guess Tyvek had to change their name (where they went by “TYVK” for like one record and then just quietly went back to “Tyvek”), as the band is listed as “L.I.” on the cover. Is that how the law is written, you just can’t use it on your record cover? Anyway, this Seattle trio has been clouding up the basements of Olympia, Seattle and associated boroughs for a few years now, claiming a coveted Total Punk single along the way and not releasing much besides that in the past five years. Good thing that punk isn’t a race, then, as they’ve come around with their debut full-length here, Soup For My Family. It reveals the band as I knew them to be, leather-clad and raucous with the severe attitude of fellow Pac NWers like Gag and Electric Chair but choosing a looser, rawk-ier path. They’re a four-piece, so even though the singer can roll around on the floor all he wants, he prefers to hold things together, punctuating every line with a saucy “yeah!” or “woooow!” in the classic bad-news rock n’ roll tradition. Can’t tell from the lyrics if the song “Blessures Graves” is supposed to be a straight-up diss track against Blessure Grave, but considering the sassy attitude of this crew, I would be disappointed if it wasn’t.

Bill Nace One Note (Solo Guitar 2) LP (Open Mouth)
Last year’s solo album Both was a remarkable entry into Bill Nace’s already deep catalog, notable for its lack of collaborators and stark, hypnotic tone-burn. Now he’s turning the pages back to 2007, the time when he recorded this suite of tracks on his lonesome in Bennington, VT, surely within close proximity of a Ben & Jerry’s outlet. While his oeuvre has certainly grown in the thirteen years that have followed, it’s nice to get back to his formative days with this stately vinyl reissue of what was previously a 2008 cassette release. Reminiscent of many of the live performances I’ve witnessed, One Note has Nace lacerating his amplifier, with squalls of harsh noise more reminiscent of Macronympha than any improv guitarist, astringent frenzies of hiss and what sounds like metallic pebbles dropped into the bottom of a well. The noise scene was harsher and less nuanced back in 2007, and while I appreciate the wider variety of sounds that basically everyone is making these days, there’s something to be said for sheer sonic bludgeonry. Nace’s guitar is eruptive more often than not here, and if that Bennington cabin is still standing to this day, I’ll be impressed.

Onion Engine Bulbs 7″ (no label)
The first time Pete Warden released an Onion Engine 7″, I found it to be a beguiling curiosity worth holding onto, and as far as this new one is concerned, that sentiment has returned. Like the first, the songs on here are mild and woozy excursions, a musical sensation akin to finding out the steak you just ate was actually venison, not beef as ordered. Trumpet and simplistic drumming waltz out of the speakers, sounding as if Warden had some extra studio time at the end of one of his sessions as a part of Michael Beach’s band or with his other group Brain Drugs and decided to give the Onion Engine its due. Seems like something the Careful Catalog would like, presuming they aren’t afraid to get a little musical once in a while. Cool single, but the best part is certainly the lavish art prints that come inside: I count at least ten richly-detailed pencil drawings of bulbs from alternate realities, as if Nick Blinko completed a fine art degree while only listening to Wolves In The Throne Room or something. Tempted to hang all these up down my hallway, but I don’t want my house-guests to assume I’m rich.

Bill Orcutt A Mechanical Joey LP (Fake Estates)
National treasure Bill Orcutt has kept himself particularly busy over the last decade, and it’s been a joy to behold. His distinctive guitar playing continues to develop in inventive and strange ways, but we can’t forget that he knows his way around a mouse, too. Orcutt’s computer music first came into the world with Harry Pussy’s Let’s Build A Pussy, a split-second snippet of a scream stretched across four painful LP sides, and now he’s offering A Mechanical Joey, an equally ridiculous yet significantly more listenable (relatively speaking) full-length album. The concept here is thus: Joey Ramone counts out the numbers one through six and they’re relentlessly chopped up and spit out in rapid formation. Hypnotic and downright paralyzing, this sounds like Joey Ramone put through one of Evol’s sonic experiments, or the closest thing we’d ever get to Philip Glass working with The Ramones, or a more accurate piece of music for the title “Blitzkrieg Bop” than the actual song of that title. The patterns (and numbers) change throughout, even as the pace remains unbroken, resulting in a perfectly maddening piece of experimental computer music. It rules!

Kuzma Palkin Stadion Sever LP (ГОСТ ЗВУК)
The cover of Kuzma Palkin’s new album reminds me of the labeling of a dangerous new energy drink, which is a suitable analogy to his music. It’s energized and highly synthetic music with addictive properties, and as someone who has had nary a sip of Monster Energy in his life, I’m glad this Saint Petersburg-based producer is filling that void. His beats are rigid yet textural, snapping into place like a Transformer with what must be dozens of tiny parts flawlessly in place. Stadion Sever bears a similar sonic signature to works by Objekt and Upsammy, a fresh combination of neck-snapping electro (ala Dopplereffekt) and modern updates on the Rephlex aesthetic. Even at its most dizzying, I can bob my head to any track here and feel deeply connected to the groove no matter if my brain is only comprehending thirty to forty percent of it at any given time. Yet another reason for me to take a lengthy tour of Russia post-pandemic!

Pigeon Deny All Knowledge Of Complicity LP (Adaio830)
Loved that Ostseetraum LP that rolled through a couple months ago (Berlin group doing a punky minimal-synth thing for those who don’t instantly recall every band discussed here), and it turns out they share a member or three with Pigeon, a post-punk band who favor live rock instrumentation. This record sounds like a mix of where the indie-leaning post-punk underground is at today: Total Control, Wire, Iceage, Blitz’s Second Empire Justice and Moaning all enter my headspace as I spin Deny All Knowledge Of Complicity. Dark, brooding and slick-ish post-punk that aims to highlight the fact that we’re slowly becoming digital automatons through both the feel and rhythms of its sound. Not bad by any means, but certainly typical, perhaps extremely typical if I want to take a tough stance on this innocent band. This sound has been co-opted by a lot of bands with managers and agents and an eagerness to sell out in a scene that doesn’t even acknowledge sell-outs anymore, but to Pigeon’s credit, they seem to be not that. Either that or I’ve got a weak spot for any band that still puts a photocopied lyric booklet inside their LP.

Snooper Snõõper EP 7″ (Goodbye Boozy)
How do you like your egg (punk)? I realize it’s a dated term, but Snooper go hard on the egg sound here with these four cuts. The recording sounds physically sped up, which is a funny trick if true and an even funnier trick if they managed to simply play their instruments this speedily and high-pitched. The guitar is twangy and direct, the drums sound as though they were fashioned out of cardboard, and the vocals are spoken with the rapid-fire delivery of a little green martian asking the first human they see to take them to their leader. It’s got Coneheads written all over it, which at this point I’m ready to hear again, seeing as Coneheads stopped existing before Trump was even a viable presidential candidate. Snooper don’t take themselves too seriously, but they make good on this sound, un-serious as it may be. A suitable direction for the timeless Goodbye Boozy label, whose history of flaming dice “aWOOga!” punk rock is better left in the past.

Spllit Spllit Sides LP (Feel It)
If you can’t trust Feel It, who can you trust? I love the fact that I am familiar with barely a quarter of the bands they release, and find something to appreciate in all of them (some of whom I certainly appreciate a lot). I was excited to see that Spllit are from New Orleans, following my ongoing love affair with the last New Orleans punk record Feel It released, Waste Man’s masterful debut. To their credit (and as per my expectation, thanks to the wildly creative New Orleans punk scene), Spllit sound nothing like Waste Man. Rather, this feels more like a conceptual punk record, as much devoted to mood, attitude and recording trickery as to actually being a punk band. (This is predicated on the idea that they are in fact a punk band, which seems to be the case, but in this time of uncertainty, nothing is a guarantee.) Anyway, they’ve got a very quirky, semi-nerdy post-punk thing going on, full of dance rhythms, funky bass, weird sound effects and assured vocals. I’d compare it to the whole Kansas City / Ian Teeple / Uranium Club / Suburban Lawns strain of intellectual punk weirdness that’s taken off in the past couple years, and it’d be a reasonable comparison, but somehow Spllit seem less dorky about it. Maybe New Orleans simply has less room for dorks? Spllit still use altered high-pitch voices and xylophones in sparing ways, but the delivery and overall sentiment makes it clear: Spllit are doing a cool thing, not a nerd thing.

The Tubs Names 7″ (Trouble In Mind)
Might just be an exhausting time of year, slogging through the tail-end hottest days of the summer, so forgive my lack of immediate excitement over some new band with a “The (some basic item pluralized)” name, though I found the artwork (either inspired by, eerily similar to or actually created by James Vinciguerra) appealing on first glance. This was the perfect no-expectations setting for me to throw it on, as I can say with confidence that this is probably the best power-pop EP I’ve heard all year! Blew me away from the first note, a calmly confident spin on the sound of Protex, Purple Hearts and Jimmy Edwards, scruffy but firmly polished. Perhaps The Tubs are doing for first-wave UK jangle-pop what Chubby & The Gang seem to be doing with pub-rock and oi, which is to say cherry-picking the genre’s winning attributes and leaving the corny, dated aspects on the cutting room floor. As is often the case with this style, the vocals make it or break it, and whoever is singing here (no performance credits are listed) has a beautifully distinctive voice, masculine but delivered with a feminine flair on par with The Housemartins’ Paul Heaton. “Illusions” and “Names Song” are my favorites, more worthy of a hand-cranked mixtape than the inevitable Spotify playlists that will find them instead. Regardless of the media format, these are wonderful songs that everyone should hear.

Reviews – August 2021

Agents Of Satan The Final Set LP (Rescued From Life / Nuclear Ass / 625 Thrashcore / Rotten Scum / Carnalismo)
Praise the dark master below (and the five labels responsible) for pressing up Agents Of Satan’s final live performance, a KFJC radio set from November 2011. Were Agents really still active as late as 2011? I had no idea, but considering the fact that this West Bay grind band lives in my heart eternally, actual marked time doesn’t seem too important of a concept. Whatever the case, they sound pretty great here, running through classics like “Goat Core”, “Red Impulse”, “Crust = Glam” and perhaps my favorite if I had to pick, “Vomit Tar”. Lord Balsakk’s vocals are as juicy as ever, and Ramon Salcido’s bass playing is particularly inspired, with aggro runs recalling the power-violence godfather himself, Eric Wood. Interestingly, they even added the same samples that attended the studio recordings of these songs to The Final Set, perhaps more integral to the Agents Of Satan listening experience than I would’ve thought. Probably a pretty niche record for an already niche band (’90s power-violence adjacent Satanic dirge/grind)… I’m not sure what it would be like to hear them for the first time in 2021, but they were always one of my favorite first-wave 625 bands, and their character is well preserved here.

Anika Change LP (Sacred Bones)
Sacred Bones offers many examples of the various things that irk me about the modern indie-label industry, but they did the absolute right thing here by signing Anika and putting out her new album! Kudos for that. British-German singer Anika has one of the most distinctive singing voices of the previous decade, and her disaffected (yet passionately engaged) post-punk dub is top shelf, no doubt. This new one has her more or less on her own (or rather, without Beak> as her backing band once more), which results in a wider range of sounds, from pulsing dark electro to the trap-kit dub of her debut. I still prefer Anika at her most pessimistically cool, doing a stripped-down post-punk requiem as opposed to some of the upbeat electronic new-wave tunes here, but it’s clear that her oddly-commanding voice could unify even the most disparate of styles. She even goes in kind of a indie-folk direction (but only kind of) with album-closer “Wait For Something”, which has me thinking she shouldn’t exclusively dwell at the vanguard of dour post-punk; she is equally as suited to leading the Fleetwood Mac sound-alike revival and blowing all those empty-headed indie pretenders out of the water.

Hélène Barbier Regulus LP (Celluloid Lunch)
Another new transmission from Montreal’s Celluloid Lunch label, who once again keep things local in scope and punk in spirit if not in sound. Hélène Barbier is new to my ears, though her sound is pleasant and familiar, hearkening back to the earliest post-punk artists who tried to write pop music, even if it didn’t necessarily work out that way. These songs are naturally wonky though they go down smooth, like a non-funky take on Lizzy Mercier-Descloux’s Press Color or three parts Marine Girls’ Beach Party, one part Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures. I feel like most artists who mine this sort of vaguely seductive, even more vaguely goth, and overtly-weird underground pop music opt for synths and electronics as the music’s driving force, so it’s cool that Barbier opted for a rock band instead, playing mostly all the instruments herself (and aided by a small crew of auxiliary musicians to provide keyboards, additional percussion and backing vocals where necessary). If you’re looking to sample, I’d start with “Get A Grip” and “Carpet” (available on Bandcamp of course because where else would it be), two of Miss Barbier’s finer moods.

Beex The Early Years: 1979-1982 LP (Beach Impediment)
Beex’s debut single Beat Beat is one of those great punk singles that always managed to fly under the collector-scum market somehow, a killer two-song picture-sleeve 7″ that could be obtained for twenty bucks or less. I just took a look out of curiosity and that seems to still be the case, which warms my heart, though the smart shoppers out there might want to take that twenty and throw it towards The Early Years: 1979-1982, a nice little compilation of Beex’s first two studio sessions, instead. “Beat Beat” remains a must-hear punk single, a stellar combination of first-wave punk, pub-rock tendencies and the casual cool of The Anemic Boyfriends, the sort of tune Iggy Pop would crawl like a dog towards while passing through town. Though undisuptedly not as strong as “Beat Beat”, the rest of these tracks kick plenty of butt too – “Butch” honestly sounds a lot like recent underground faves Vivienne Styg, except Beex were toiling it out in Richmond forty years earlier, before the myriad sub-genres of punk were dissected and categorized. Guitars ring out and solo frantically, vocalist Christine Gibson is tough as nails, and the rhythm section maintains just enough structural integrity to push the party forward. Punk is an attitude, sure, but it’s also a hell of a sound, which Beex demonstrate here.

Blank Gloss Melt LP (Kompakt)
Surely there have been one or two other Kompakt artists to prominently feature traditional guitars in their music, but even if it was a guitar-centric label, new signees Blank Gloss would still stick out. It’s a good fit, as Blank Gloss scratches that Pop Ambient itch with distinction, a very soundtrack-y style with light-as-a-feather ambient drift and guitars that unfurl in slow motion. I enjoyed Blank Gloss’s debut from last year, and I like this one more, as it carves out a more distinctive slot in the crowded field of peaceful ambient music. Tangerine Dream is an obvious reference (in particular their early ’80s soundtrack run), as is Gaussian Curve, Suzanne Kraft, Bill Connors’s solo albums from the ’80s and so forth. I really enjoy the way Blank Gloss do it though, teetering on the edge between tasteful guitar/synth improvisation and soft-throbbing ambient without fully giving way to either side. There are even some moments on here that recall the subliminal spaces within Dark Side Of The Moon, though I’m a little hesitant to pull that one up and check. No need to suffer through bloated rock-opera cheese when Blank Gloss gets right to the good stuff.

Canal Irreal Canal Irreal LP (Beach Impediment)
If you had to point to a single person as a means of summing up all that is good and noble about punk, Martin Sorrondeguy would be a wise choice. As vocalist of the equally legendary Los Crudos and Limp Wrist, his dedication to and enthusiasm for hardcore-punk hasn’t wavered for decades, plus he just seems like a really nice guy. He’s also the singer of new Chicago band Canal Irreal, and I have to admit that his presence in this group strongly colors the way I hear it… which is perhaps a roundabout way of saying that I like the band more because it’s Martin Crudo singing. They play hardcore-punk with a clear death-rock influence (you know precisely the guitar tone I’m talking about), lurking in the mid-tempo range with chipped black nail-polish and a semi-functional fog machine puffing fat clouds intermittently. Not a whole lot for me to get especially excited about (or turned off by) here, though to be fair I personally don’t find goth-y hardcore-punk to be as exciting as, well, pretty much any other version of hardcore-punk. I am excited, however, to know that Sorrondeguy continues to build hardcore community well beyond “hardcore kid” age, pushing forward as opposed to recycling former glories, a trap so many other living hardcore legends fall into. Can you say that you started your first goth-core band in your mid 50s?

Aaron Dilloway & Lucrecia Dalt Lucy & Aaron LP (Hanson)
Incredibly satisfying duo collab here from the needs-no-introduction Aaron Dilloway and Colombian sound-artist / vocalist Lucrecia Dalt. Dilloway’s tape loops are about as good as gnarly analog noise can get, both as a stunning visual performance and a downright gruesome sonic experience. Kings of the noise scene as they are, Wolf Eyes have never really been the same without him! Anyway, Dilloway’s loops are rightly gurgling and hiss-filed here, and aided in their motion by the severely-modified vocals of Lucrecia Dalt. Often playing out like a haunted house at the bottom of a swamp, the mix of vile tape manipulation, groggy synths and inhuman/non-human/human vocals (which often provide unexpectedly melodic hooks) is deliriously good. I’d probably have enjoyed it if they opted for two side-long explorations, but I definitely prefer that there are twelve individual tracks here, each of which investigates its own particular nook of the Lucy & Aaron universe. It keeps things lively and fresh, even if many of these tracks emulate backed-up sewer drains rupturing from compacted gas. Which rules.

Dom & The Wizards The Australian Cyclone Intensity Scale LP (Tenth Court / Walking Bird)
You ever have to participate in like, “funny hat day” at your school or place of employment or whatever, and wonder who actually enjoys this? I don’t know Dom or his Wizards personally, but I bet my lunch money that they relish any sort of opportunity to show up in a light-up fedora or feathered tricorn, as their jovial, mildly-zany tunes have led me to believe. Their music recalls bands who took The Beatles’ cheery psychedelia as a jumping-off point for sillier and perhaps more inebriated versions of that sound, like Dr. Hook for example. I’ve gone this long without having to hear King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, but maybe there’s some similarity there too, both being Aussie bands with “wizard” in the name and all? At its best, I’m reminded of a chunky mix of Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci and Psychedelic Horseshit (“Outlaws & The Cops”, for example), but nine times out of ten music this unabashedly child-like and goofy isn’t for me, which I’d say is the percentage here. Of course, if you are someone who owns at least two of the three following items – a top hat, devil sticks, a unicycle – Dom & The Wizards might deliver the sonic potion you’ve been seeking.

Sam Gendel Fresh Bread 2xLP (Leaving)
Sam Gendel keeps my summer bright with not only his still-fresh Josiah Steinbrick collaboration but this new double album of odds and sods. Honestly, this might be how I enjoy him the most, dipping into his big bag of wild ideas, jams, loops and improvisations and condensing the best of the bunch into a reasonably tidy double album (especially when considering the digital version of Fresh Bread is a whopping fifty-two tracks clocking in at over three hours). Electronic arpeggios encountering jazzy bass-guitar brush up against live session ensemble jams, kosmische ambient and wonky home-edited loops, all with Gendel’s sax either colorfully in the forefront or obscured through his distinctive set of effects. I love the drum machines he uses, sounding tiny and weird, and I love when a vocal unexpectedly pops up, like on the unsurprisingly feel-good “Sometimes I Feel So Good”. So many angles and positions are employed here, all presented with a personal, diaristic feel that I find particularly alluring in the hands of Mr. Gendel. Consistently playful and richly melodic, even the wrong notes feel like right ones on Fresh Bread.

Jivestreet Revival First 7″ (Slackersound)
After hearing and enjoying Jivestreet Revival’s debut album, and now listening to this pretty killer new 7″ EP, you’d think I might be able to get past the name, but nope… it’s on the level of “Steakdaddy 6” when it comes to a wince-worthy band name. Which is kind of a shame, but also kind of cool, considering how much I dig their tunes – maybe they know it’s bad and are simply too bad-ass to care! Heavy duty sleaze-rock riffs are beaten and bruised by this German group, to be nestled somewhere between Black Flag and St. Vitus in SST’s 1986 catalog. Unfakeable mean-spirited hard rock that also has me thinking of L7 and Fang, real bad-news blues for stolen guitars. Speaking of, the guitar really takes center stage, an unhurried chug that seems like the sort of thing that would be playing in the background while Kilslug’s living room gets raided by the FBI. On second thought, maybe “Jivestreet Revival” is meant to signify that this group really don’t give a you-know-what about anything, rather than just another regrettable moniker? On the strength of these stanked-out tunes, I’m willing to consider it.

Eli Keszler Icons 2xLP (LuckyMe)
It should be evident that I love a good percussionist, and Brooklyn’s Eli Keszler is in the upper echelon of that category right now. I loved 2018’s Stadium for its mix of cascading-yet-dry drum patterns over thick clouds of chords, and this new one delivers in a similar fashion without offering a simple replay of past events. Though the approach feels a bit more varied this time around, Icons is still a prime-time showcase of Keszler’s brilliant trap-kit wizardry, enhanced by deeply resonant sound fields of seemingly acoustic origin. I enjoy it best when he’s running through virtuosically-precise fills at hyper speed over the chimes of pianos, vibraphones and a Fender Rhodes, and while there’s a good bit of that here, Keszler seems less interested in technical razzle-dazzle this time around and more intent on establishing heavy, heady moods. The B-side of this double LP is probably my favorite quarter, opening with flashy runs on the kit, then moving towards a blurry disorientation of sound, a peaceful elegy and finally some sort of pretty (yet undeniably creeping) jazz. This is music that understands that the dystopia isn’t coming, it’s already upon us, but it manages to find meaning and artistry in the wreckage, complete with unexpected (to me) liner notes from Keszler’s girlfriend and noted online political agitator Anna Khachiyan. It makes one wonder, where do New York’s jazz buskers go now that the subway is constantly flooded?

Moin Moot! LP (AD 93)
There’s a seemingly infinite number of ex-hardcore kids making techno, and while that can work out alright a lot of the time, I’m particularly intrigued by the rarer inverse: techno kids who try to rock. That’s the confusing case of Moin, who were initially just UK experimental duo Raime under a different moniker, now joined by genius percussionist Valentina Magaletti. I want to play this record for all my rock-minded friends so they can also marvel at what a weird production it is too. Imagine all the slow parts of bands like Fugazi, Hoover, UOA, Shellac, hell even 311 and Incubus – the parts before the bombastic choruses kick in – and extend them, with vocals replaced by spoken-word samples, for four or five minutes, no payoff to the build-up. “An Utter Stink”, for example, sounds like the isolated guitar and drums tracks from any given mid-’90s Snapcase song. Weird, right? To Moin’s credit, their sound is pretty unique no matter what the scene. Emo bands would never maintain this sort of tension without a release, and no other avant-electronic heads are touching post-hardcore emo, that’s for sure. And while it took a little bit of mental processing and adjusting, even after already being familiar with earlier Moin records, I think I kinda love Moot!, someway somehow.

Mope City Within The Walls LP (Tenth Court)
Much like The Psychos and Death, Mope City are a band whose sonic imprint perfectly suits their name. This Australian group likes their rock songs to be loose, moody and rainy, basement indie-rock for when you can’t go outside. Thankfully, they’ve clearly got a self-awareness of their mopery – their debut EP was titled Boo Fukin’ Hoo, after all – and the songs of Within The Walls are comfortable to be themselves. Which, to my ears, results in a sound somewhere amongst Bedhead, Pavement, Pink Reason and Arab Strap. Mope City don’t inject much energy into these songs, and it works in their favor, adding a sense of stupefied hypnosis (particularly in the drain-circling “Within The Walls / My Advice”). Reminds me of something Kurt Cobain would’ve listened to at the height of his terrible fame, some unheard K Records band that broke up way too quickly because as we all know, that’s what the greatest bands do. With this being their third album, Mope City have already existed for too long, but let’s face it, a crucial unspoken element of moping is perseverance.

Psico Galera Le Stanze Della Mente LP (Beach Impediment)
Jonah Falco is really one of the unsung workers of modern hardcore. He’s pulled the power move of being in a popular band the underground hardcore scene has long since dismissed (Fucked Up) while still somewhat quietly popping up in all sorts of undeniably great (and undeniably underground) bands and recording sessions, from London’s Game, his solo project Mad Men and now, drumming for this new and otherwise-Italian group called Psico Galera. (I’m still not convinced that he’s not a member of Chubby & The Gang, too.) Anyway, to no one’s surprise, Psico Galera’s debut long-player is a rotten ripper of its own right! Not sure if it’s because I knew their nationality before listening or what, but they certainly sound Italian, recalling the underappreciated 1985 Indigesti album, the horror-core of Nerorgasmo and the fist-pumping fury of early Raw Power. It’s fast but not out of control, preferring rather to bob and weave through these grimy riffs like a rat finding its way back to the sewer. The cover really seals the deal, with a variety of robotic limbs offering fresh pepper to the shirtless lobotomized stooge who appears to be moments from consuming a miniature version of himself in a fresh bowl of soup. Abbondanza!

Research Reactor Corp Live! At Future Techlabs LP (Sweet Time)
Lots of punks these days try to emulate the punksploitation society-menaces that get gratuitously murdered in Robocop or Repo Man or something, and I don’t know, I can’t blame them? We all are feeling the weight of society being held together by frayed threads at this point, so why not wear a Predator mask while riding nude from the waist down on a stolen motorcycle blasting Chronic Sick. Anyway, Research Reactor Corp deliver that vibe excellently with songs that offer a particularly unhinged take on ’80s delinquent punk. I’m reminded of GG Allin once he started barking instead of singing, Chain Gang, Buck Biloxi, The Child Molesters, and a lil’ Lumpy & The Dumpers when it gets particularly frothy (though Research Reactor Corp remain firmly punk, not hardcore, to my sensitive ears). This was apparently recorded live in December of 2020, but more of a “live in the studio with occasional banter” thing, as December 2020 was very much still the heart of the pandemic (and not even mutated punk monsters like Research Reactor Corp were willing to stoop to the level of bringing in a live audience for deathly viral transmissions). There are a number of players in this strain of punk, but Research Reactor Corp do it so well that I was thinking less about the crowdedness of the scene and more about how satisfying it can be to blast rabid unruly punk music out of my stereo.

Rexxx Pure Pleasure II LP (Big Neck)
Based on the name and glitzy cover font, I was preemptively wincing that “Rexxx” was going to be some sort of jokey ladies’ man persona, another party-punk Har Mar Superstar that no one asked for. Fear not, though, as Rexxx is apparently just the name of this Milwaukee band, whose upbeat and classically-molded power-pop songs are more or less fun for the whole family. Kind of amazed at how nonexistent hand-claps are on this record, considering that every bop-along chorus is ripe for a hearty clap along. The melodies are about as typical as they can get, but honestly I don’t want to be dazzled by a new tuning configuration by a band like this, I want to hear mid-paced glammy pop-punk with “whoa-oh”s over the choruses and verses that lead right back into ’em. On a micro level, there’s nothing particularly special about Pure Pleasure II, which could reasonably be described as a less nuanced and more pedestrian take on The Exploding Hearts, but if we’re looking for something to blast in the background while we do flips into our friend’s above-ground pool as the sun slowly goes down, there’s no denying this album’s appropriateness.

Ripatti Fun Is Not A Straight Line LP (Planet Mu)
I first saw Sasu Ripatti’s new album described as relating to hip-hop at the same high and groundbreaking level that his classic deep-house album Vocalcity (under his Luomo alias) related to house, so sign me the hell up! That’s a bold comparison to make, and sadly, it falls incredibly flat for me here. Rather, I’d say that Fun Is Not A Straight Line is simply Ripatti’s footwork record, a genre that Planet Mu has both promoted and gentrified since first releasing DJ Nate and DJ Rashad back in 2010. This is an album full of way-too-fast pads and chopped-up-and-chipmunked vocal samples, the same general concepts used by footwork’s originators quickly rendered once more. Nothing new is gleaned, and without the surrounding footwork culture relative to that scene’s active participants, I find myself disconnected, bored and even sometimes irritable while listening to this. It’s a shame, seeing how Ripatti is responsible for some of my favorite electronic music ever created (from the aforementioned Luomo to Vladislav Delay and even his earlier EPs under the Ripatti name), but it would also be weird or at least a little suspicious if I loved everything any artist with decades of activity under their belt has ever done. It’s strange to hear Ripatti sample Rick Ross’s “Hustlin'”, and not in a good way.

Claire Rousay & More Eaze An Afternoon Whine LP (Ecstatic)
Been meaning to pick up something by avant-oddball / free-percussionist Claire Rousay, but her discography seems to be riddled with tricks and traps. I’ll hear one incredible minimalist percussion improvisation of hers somewhere, but then it turns out that was only on a sold-out split tape or something, and her new LP that I’m considering buying is a computer voice reading her emails instead (and it costs like thirty bucks, of course). I appreciate and applaud the way in which she’s carving out her own niche, reflecting the contemporary frazzled/sick/maddened times through barely-there sound art and conceptual trickery, and I think this collaboration with More Eaze is the perfect solution for me wanting something of substance alongside Rousay’s playful non-musical imagination. No instrumentation is credited to either artist here, of course, but I can’t help but assume More Eaze played a not-insignificant role in establishing the musicality of An Afternoon Whine, fractured though it may be. Indeterminate desktop rustling, snippets of conversation and room sound are filled in with synths, a hefty supply of overtly AutoTuned vocals and even some shoegaze-ready guitar. It sometimes feels like a new song made from only the memories of old songs, like a conversation about a Slowdive tape that your car stereo ate while driving through a windstorm. I feel like Rousay can be a proud patience-tester when it comes to her recordings, but An Afternoon Whine is engaging, pleasant, oddly emotional and compelling the whole way through, so maybe she will need to counteract this with a record that’s the sound of her rice boiling recorded on iPhone Voice Memo from across the kitchen. Which I’m already considering buying.

Strapping Fieldhands Across The Susquehanna LP (Petty Bunco)
Normally I’d sling a phrase like “jolly minstrels” pejoratively, but when it comes to the ever-enduring Strapping Fieldhands, it feels like praise. This Philadelphia institution are around even when they’re not around, and their recent recording activity has been a welcome respite from the city’s grim-reality-based non-psychedelic music. If you’re willing to let the Fieldhands guide you, Across The Susquehanna is a sweetly sleepy trip, replete with cello, flute, keys, sax, harmonica, and plenty of sideways guitars. Reminiscent of the Elephant Six Collective’s weirdo peak were it geared toward a mature, beer-drinking working-class, let’s say. Apparently down to a duo for this recording, this album does feel a bit more intimate and relaxed, a musical sensation similar to watching your oars disappear into the lake below, realizing you have no choice but to float around until someone else passes by. Crazy to think the Fieldhands did a split 7″ with Mudhoney in the latter’s stadium-filling heyday, yet they somehow seem to be having even more fun twenty-five years later. What better fate!

Thought Control Shock To The System 7″ (Not For The Weak)
Sorry to any weaklings who may be reading this, as this new 7″ EP from New Jersey’s Thought Control simply isn’t for you. Shock To The System originally received a cassette release last year, but these five songs sure seem ripe for the vinyl documentation that takes place here. I presume this is a new group (it’s their first release), but they’ve clearly got a handle on what makes hardcore work: unfailing energy, aggressive delivery, relevant social commentary. By my ears, they remind me most of the vastly underappreciated Philly group Leather, as both bands play raging American hardcore of the early ’80s variety with a clear Age Of Quarrel influence (through both the excitable vocal delivery and stage-crashing mosh breakdowns). I can hear John Joseph’s voice (and mercifully, not his personal views) in “Clorox In The Water”, and the title track pays off all that speedy riffing with a breakdown that will have you slugging your best friend in the side of the head if they come within range. Been wondering which band will receive the honor of my first post-pandemic mosh, and Thought Control, through raging tunes and geographical proximity, are a contender.

Ulla Limitless Frame LP (Motion Ward)
Mysterious Boomkat sensation Ulla follows last year’s full-length vinyl debut with Limitless Frame, a most suitable companion. Similar to Tumbling Towards A Wall but by no means a rerun, Limitless Frame expands Ulla’s bed of instrumentation in unexpectedly natural ways, while still maintaining an impenetrable veil of mystery. (Ulla is allegedly a Philadelphia resident yet I don’t know a single person who’s ever seen her or met her, and judging from the otherworldliness of her music, I’ve often wondered if she is even a real human being at all). The a-side is full of gaseous ambient drift, a dub-techno with the spacial behavior of dub and the absence of, well, techno. Just dip into this sonorous sound-bath and forget literally everything, I say! It’s on the b-side where things take a turn, with tracks that feature untreated pianos and horns, plaintive “illbient” vibes perfect for rainy windowsills and still-lifes of undisturbed bowls of fruit in low natural light. If Ulla is actually playing the piano and horns herself, I’m doubly impressed, but part of Ulla’s talents lie in their unknowability, the manner in which what is real and what is imagined and even the slightest shred of narrative all alluringly obscured. It’s a simple trick, to include absolutely zero text on your record sleeve and center labels, but Ulla’s mastered the art of it.

Vacant Gardens Obscene LP (Tall Texan)
Never one to rest on his laurels, Glenn Donaldson somehow squeezes in a sophomore Vacant Gardens album amongst so much activity with The Reds, Pinks & Purples. I’m so glad he did! Along with vocalist Jem Fanvu, it’s safe to call Vacant Gardens his shoegaze project, but that seems like an unfairly flat way of describing Obscene. I mean, it is indeed very much a Cocteau Twins-inspired dream-pop shoegaze record, there’s no denying that, but they absolutely nail it, bullseye after bullseye. The recording quality manages to find a way to be rough and personal without sacrificing the wide, room-filling sound necessary for any given shoegaze record to truly connect. And Fanvu’s vocals, mostly unintelligible behind the wall of guitars and plodding beats, shine like a lighthouse, the perfect foil to Donaldson’s soft sonic upholstery. Very, very Cocteau-esque, as if the Twins put together a hidden demo recording with Billy Corgan sitting in on occasional guitar solos fresh from Siamese Dream. Maybe that’s the “dream” that goes into dream-pop? No matter how inventive or traditional we decide to declare Obscene, it’s a deeply soothing album from which I wish to never wake.