Archive for 'Reviews'

Reviews – July 2021

Ilyas Ahmed & Jefre Cantu-Ledesma You Can See Your Own Way Out LP (Devotion)
Jefre Cantu-Ledesma isn’t simply a master of futzing his way through fascinating sonic environments, he’s also incredibly savvy when it comes to choosing his collaborators. His work with Félicia Atkinson is some of the most beautiful murk to arrive in the last decade, and this new one with multi-instrumentalist Ilyas Ahmed is equally as satisfying. The list of instruments here (piano, drum machine, guitars, keyboards) might read as fairly traditional, but the production speaks otherwise. These tracks resemble smudged Polaroids of ambient movement, nearly floating if their toes weren’t still on the ground. It’s very much in line with Cantu-Ledesma’s understood style, a sort of shoegaze-y take on incidental ambient sound that finds beauty in the dust below. Ahmed’s guitar is a welcome conceit, which often results in an answer to the question of “what would it sound like if Loren Connors and Ulla got together for an afternoon?”. ECM meets Kye via exclusive Boomkat distribution is certainly a vibe here. It’s funny, for an album with no discernible center of gravity or obvious sonic cornerstone, I can’t help but wish it was twice as long, so easy it is to softly slide into You Can See Your Own Way Out.

Aquarian Blood Bending The Golden Hour LP (Goner)
The sticker on the cover quotes Rolling Stone describing Aquarian Blood as dealers of “a heavy mind-altering dose of psychedelia”, and I have to wonder, what does Rolling Stone know about being psychedelic and heavy in 2021?? Aren’t they busy compiling the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time for the millionth time, shuffling Jimmy Page, Kurt Cobain and Eric Clapton back and forth for all of eternity? Totally random gripe, of course, and it has nothing to do with husband/wife duo Aquarian Blood, who do, in fact, play acoustic guitars with tinges of electronics, percussion and effects so as to impart a comforting haze. I should say, “psych-folk” is for the most part not my thing, and while I find no fault with Bending The Golden Hour, I can’t say it provides much to really change my mind about the genre either. Pretty typical acoustic guitar runs, vocals that no one would really consider heartrending or virtuosic (nor whiny or sucky for that matter), melodies that do not bend time so much as follow the well-trodden path already laid before them. Is the draw that they’re ex-punks doing a sort of pastoral, non-amplified thing this time around, homesteading their days instead of puking warm beer at a rest stop between Austin and Nashville? Or is this just a sound that some people really like? (It’s probably that.) Still, we can grow up without passively mellowing into our parents’ record collections, which is why I hope the next husband/wife duo record that comes across my path sounds like Bathtub Shitter.

Beneath On Tilt 2×12″ (Hemlock)
How about some tough-as-nails club music? I know I’m ready for it! Been a minute since I checked out anything on Hemlock, which I’ve realized makes perfect sense seeing as they haven’t really released anything since 2017, but I think the break did both of us good, feeling refreshed and ready for some action. Beneath has been making this sort of heavy-duty post-dubstep for a few years now, and I realized I was eager to find myself pummeled by his powerful club constructions before snagging On Tilt. It certainly helps that some of these tracks are enormous, aggressive and pensive, produced with a seemingly stronger gravitational pull than the one we’ve got here on Earth. His work is certainly reminiscent of fellow lads like Untold, Hodge and Chevel, and I wouldn’t go out on a limb and say that On Tilt is a personally distinctive record so much as a muscular serving of expansive bass, sharp claps, acid warbles, dub effects and rich pads. Start with “The Passage”, which has me envisioning a freshly-reopened Berghain with all the ghouls and goblins flying through its front doors like a reverse proton pack.

Blackhaine & Richie Culver DID U CUM YET / I’M NOT GONNA CUM 12″ (Participant)
Art-school power-electronics are on order here from newest Space Afrika member, choreographer and fashion-influencer Blackhaine and his compatriot conceptual artist Richie Culver. “DID U CUM YET” is a satisfying clash of angry spoken-word and harsh analog currents, like Whitehouse’s Birthdeath Experience for the contemporary British streetwear crowd. I find both of those aspects appealing on their own, and they work together nicely here as well, if perhaps mainly because it’s a two-track single and not multiple albums regurgitating the same sonic concept. “I’M NOT GONNA CUM” works a similar template at a slower pace (and twice as long at nearly ten minutes), opting for concussed tones, outerzone ambient drift and, more often than anything else, Blackhaine’s voice all by its lonesome. Both tracks come with music videos, though I haven’t peeped either yet, content to visualize my own black-and-white street scenes they inspire, life at the end of its rope to the point where mania and fear turn to hilarity and ecstasy (and vice versa). A robotic female voice eventually takes over toward the end of the b-side, a breathless recitation that summons an even higher level of drama. If you’re not sold on any of this, go look at pictures of Blackhaine online and then try again.

Jackson Reid Briggs & The Heaters Waiting In A Corner LP (Legless / Drunken Sailor)
Part of being a good workmanlike garage-punk band is to consistently put out records. Melbourne’s Jackson Reid Briggs and his Heaters have been more or less doing that for a few years now, churning out agitated, driving punk music meant for a mature drinking audience. Much of Waiting In A Corner shares the bold anthemic quality of Turbonegro, sans the ridiculousness or (at least overt) cocaine worship. Which I suppose means it sounds a lot like Murder City Devils and Cosmic Psychos, too? I don’t spend too much time listening to those last two groups (and I’m not comfortable aligning myself with Turbonegro fans, for that matter), but I could listen to Briggs & Co. any night of the week, pleasant as their hard-strummed grievances are. “Eaten Alive” feels like an Eddy Current riff subjected to a wall of guitars, calling to mind Deaf Wish with a Ramones fascination or, you know, Turbonegro. Sorry! Time for me to shut off my Critic Brain, sit back with a chilled drink and let the Heaters take me higher.

Burial Chemz / Dolphinz 12″ (Hyperdub)
Kind of crazy to think about how many Burial EPs are out there now! Simultaneously so much and never enough. This new one is, dare I say, not as strong as the majority of his (fantastic) body of work, but still, if there’s anyone who deserves a chance to not blow us away while still sounding like Burial, it’s Burial. “Chemz” arrives in upbeat rave mode, anchored to a suspiciously uplifting vocal hook and chopped up, re-wound and looped in a manner befitting one of those great original UK pirate-radio dance mixes that have been uploaded to the internet in recent times. Plenty of choral ambiance, artificial dust on the needle and Burial’s trademarked sensation of the echoes of a club outside on an empty street. “Dolphinz” takes a bit of a turn, this one essentially an ambient ASMR sound-bath that is pretty much an explicit celebration of dolphins (right down to a woman reciting some of their species stats at the very end). Strange choice, one might say, but if there’s anyone who earned the right to make a track that’s processed dolphin sounds, vinyl crackle and synth drones, it’s not you or I, it’s Burial.

Chai Wink LP (Sub Pop)
Much as I’m susceptible to desserts, I’m also susceptible to songs about dessert. Not since The Go Nuts has a group so easily lodged their donut-themed song in my brain as Chai have with “Donuts Mind If I Do”, a silly-dumb bop of joy that immediately hits the spot. I assumed the rest of the record wasn’t food-themed (which is not entirely accurate), but it inspired me to hear more. I will say, after understanding Chai as a band with fairly standard rock instrumentation, I was surprised by the ultra-slick modern pop that comprises Wink. Guitars and shout-along choruses are swapped out for chilled-out beats, teams of producers and the sort of hipster electro-funk one might associate with the Stones Throw label. Hazy, sunny, carefree alternative electro-pop that, were it to come out of the in-house soundsystem inside a Uniqlo directly following Beck’s “Devil’s Haircut”, might actually tempt me to purchase the lime-green corduroy pants I tried on and was on the fence about. Pretty fun, easily-enjoyable tunes, even if they almost seem focus-grouped for this precise moment in time, with an assumed inevitability that Chai are going to be guest judges on RuPaul’s Drag Race, play Pitchfork Fest Paris in matching costumes and cover Toni Basil’s “Mickey” for an NPR Tiny Desk Concert within this album’s press cycle. Better Chai than anyone else, I suppose!

Clibbus Horsesatelite LP (Clibbus International)
The internet has killed and flattened so many things I enjoy, but this new LP from Rochester’s Clibbus gives me hope that zeitgeist-ignoring weirdos will always spring up like weeds in cement no matter how art-unfriendly the world becomes. This is a “part solo / part full band” led by someone named, you guessed it, Beefus D’Aurelio, and they sound like a mix of, I dunno, Melt Banana, Primus, Northern Liberties, Captain Beefheart and Life Partners? These tunes are decidedly loony, with extended sprawling jams, wacky lyrics, spazz-core explosions and, I’m pretty sure some turntablism? Clibbus sees no boundaries to their musical canvas, with every idea given a fair shake (ie. the whistle-led bridge that shows up like four minutes into “Exploding Child”). They’re clearly talented players, but they more or less throw pies in the face of their talent for however long this booger-colored vinyl LP spins. Comes with a big booklet of gross, immature drawings, because of course it does! God bless Clibbus and all those who dare to be stupid.

Goodbye World At Death’s Door LP (Youth Attack)
Youth Attack continues to exist in its own hardcore reality, one that prefers a noisy re-imagining of classic US hardcore with a darkly cinematic presentation and without the slightest hint of ’90s nostalgia, sonic experimentation or anything besides the meat, tendons and bones of this classic form. Goodbye World is a new band, or maybe it’s a “project” like half of Youth Attack’s roster seems to be, this one featuring Aaron Aspinwall, Mark McCoy and Jeff Jelen (all of the iconic Charles Bronson) switching duties some twenty years later. It pretty much rules! These songs are deliberately non-stop, with cascading, fast-moving riffs – it’s brutal and mean and sure to cause significant wrist pain for anyone trying to play these songs on guitar without warming up first. I suppose by that measure, it could be considered “technical hardcore” (they pretty much refuse to ride on any given note for a full four count), but nothing here feels technical; it feels more like getting your head punched from behind, over and over, until you stumble down a rocky cliffside. Some of the rhythmic phrasing calls to mind the unschooled excellence of Septic Death, like opener “Blood And Bone” for instance, though I’m equally as reminded of Failures, Negative FX, Wretched and Cult Ritual as At Death’s Door plays out. Hard to ask for much more than that!

Headroom Rubber Match 7″ (Petty Bunco)
Long-form CT psych rockers Headroom return with… another seven-inch record? Who do they think they are, Spazz? This is the sort of band that should be pressing thirteen-inch mega-LPs, so extended and deep are their multi-guitar heroics, but it actually works here as well, seeing as Rubber Match celebrates not the locked-in groove so much as free-form guitars howling at the moon. Very PSF in nature, “Rubber Match” appears to be one track spread across two sides, a heavenly explosion of guitar strings pulled and stretched beyond capacity. No percussion, no bass guitar (I don’t think), just a handful of guitars reaching up into the sky until torched by the sun’s rays outside our protective atmospheric layer. For as much as I enjoy groove, there’s something particularly nice about the vibrant squall happening here, which, oddly enough, feels appropriately contained on this 7″ vinyl. Which of course begs the question: does Headroom have the guts to release a five-inch picture disc? Do they?

Hypnotizing Chickens (I’m On) Time 7″ (Petty Bunco)
Here’s a warped transmission from the deepest darkest days of the 2020 pandemic care of the only two members of Watery Love to play in that group from beginning to end, Richie Charles and Max Milgram. With seemingly no intentions beyond swatting around their guitars as a means of passing the nights, these two assembled as Hypnotizing Chickens to deliver these drain-clogging hairballs in indie-rock’s otherwise clean plumbing. With each member on guitar and the vocal duties shared, the vibe is frazzled, far more frazzled than these two relatively calm gentlemen ever exude in person. I’m reminded of Danny & The Dressmakers, Richard Youngs, Maher Shalal Hash Baz, and more than a little Reynols, particularly on the Milgram-led “Buttoned Down Assholes”. Much like Watery Love, there’s the lingering presence of the Headache Records back-catalog buried deep within, even if it’s mostly blasted to smithereens here by Sun City Girls and Dead C anti-rock / anti-pleasure behavior. No idea where the name “Hypnotizing Chickens” comes from, but I’m going to wait for somebody else to ask them first.

Whitney K Two Years LP (Maple Death)
Let’s face it, everyone wants to be Lou Reed. I want to be Lou Reed too! He’s the coolest. So I’m not entirely surprised that Canadian cowboy Whitney K also very much wants to be Lou Reed. That seems to be the case he’s laying out here on Two Years, though I can only speculate as to his personal intentions. In any regard, Two Years is a smart record for the cause, dipping into lonesome ballads, drunken country shuffles, Velvets-y chug and hyperbolic rock drama ala The Walkmen with relative ease. It’s outsider-y yet highly self-aware of what coolness is and should be… I’d file Whitney K a little closer in aesthetic to Cindy Lee and Dirty Beaches than Orville Peck and Father John Misty, mercifully. Very old-sounding music, which was surely by design, but it suits these simple songs that seem geared more to showcasing Whitney K’s wordplay and personal character than providing dazzling melodic invention. If there’s still room in your life for a new one of these guys to show up and charm you, Whitney K might very well be the one to do it.

Mitchell Keaney Head, Gut, Heart LP (Gilgongo)
Kind of an unexpected and cool full-length debut from Brooklyn artist Mitchell Keaney (which, I should clarify, is not unexpected because it’s cool, just not the usually noisy Gilgongo fare). There are two basic forms on Head, Gut, Heart: the first and more arresting of the two comes in the form of long-form repetitive electronic patterns. I’m reminded of a techno-fied Steve Reich, Errorsmith, that great Oren Ambarchi album Hubris and, to a lesser degree, Manuel Göttsching’s E2-E4. Fast-paced pulses slowly shift in tone and texture… very Editions Mego-friendly in aesthetic but I say that as an affirmation, not a slag. Besides these captivating long-form electronic passages, Keaney enlisted Inky Lee to read poems, and she does so quite softly. For my experience, going from ultra-repetitive trance pulses to hushed recitations of poems is jarring, and not particularly in a great way; I get absolutely lost in these rhythms, and now I’m expected to pay attention to a hushed poetry reading with nary a split-second break in between? Perhaps that is the point, and it’s certainly not a bad thing; I’m just saying, I want the staccato chop of “Gut, Pt. II” to echo behind my eyes for an extended period of time.

Leopardo Malcantone LP (Feel It)
Feel It continues their global outreach program with the warped strum of Switzerland’s Leopardo. Not sure I’d file this one under punk at all, at least in a sonic sense, as this group flop and sway through their outsider jangle-pop with the carefree fun of anyone who gets to claim Swiss citizenship and its assortment of quality-of-life benefits. It’s nicely bent but always melodically pleasant, recalling a disparate assortment of singularly-minded rock auteurs like The Rebel, Cheveu, The Clean, So Cow, Jennifer Gentle, George Harrasment… pretty much anyone with their own set of ideas who take the Velvet Underground’s uplifting chug and fidget with it. It’s fun, fuzzy music, the sort of jovial big-band style where a banjo is as likely to appear as a synth, with long-hairs and short-hairs commingling in the band happily side by side. It’s all pretty charming stuff, but I’d recommend going right to “Throwback In The Snow” if you want Leopardo at their hopped-up, catchy best. Not a care in the world for these folks besides wondering if they accidentally left the tambourine on the bus, or so it seems.

Lewsberg The Downer 12″ (Bergpolder)
Still loving that Lewsberg album from last year, the absolute pinnacle of undiluted Velvet Underground strum to come from contemporary young people, so seeing that their 2017 self-released cassette was recently reissued on a stately one-sided 12″ record I threw it on the turntable as soon as I could de-sleeve it. Three songs, all of which ride different emotional directions on the same basic template, which of course is directly VU derived. Is it heresy to say I’d rather listen to Lewsberg than the Velvets at this point? They have such a knack for finding the perfect lighthearted strum, locking it in, and allowing the vocalist to speak in his affable and assured tone, be it spoken-word storytelling or pop-song verse. No crazy tricks or wild moves, which of course might be their best trick of all: high-quality reliability. The title track is probably my favorite of the three, a song so pleasantly slow that it makes me feel happy to feel sad. Looks like there’s a few other Lewsberg EPs floating around out there as well, so hopefully by the time I snatch all of them up a new album might be on the way. Never change, Lewsberg!

Nusidm Hatred Of Pain LP (no label)
Doubt I’ll find a heavier avant post-punk album this year than Nusidm’s Hatred Of Pain, and I mean that literally – packed with thick glossy inserts, posters and writings, it’s massive! I should also clarify that Nusidm is more or less the work of Glen Schenau, a musician whose work with Bent and Kitchen’s Floor I’ve enjoyed as well as last year’s 7″ single under his own name. After wading through the numerous laminated, hand-scrawled and pro-printed inserts (whose frenetic and colorful style is redolent but not a direct lift of the prevailing Fort Thunder aesthetic), I found the vinyl LP (which is also quite heavy) and put it on. While I’m not surprised that I love the music of Hatred Of Pain, I’m surprised by what it is. These songs are fairly similar in structure, which generally involves a guitar (or sometimes a bass) picked wildly with abandon, just absolutely flailing while the percussion slugs along and Schenau recites his words with conviction. Is this the world’s first free-dirge record? The playing is often quite out of control, in a sort of post-Harry Pussy freakout mode, but rather than mirroring that intensity in the rhythms, Nusidm lurches along slowly. It’s immediately appealing to fans of no-wave, great terrible music or outer-limits post-punk such as myself, but it’s without easy comparison as well – the closest comparative description I can render is Slugfuckers’ “Deaf Dub” and live Public Image bootlegs soundtracking those scenes from Fitzcarraldo where they push the boat up a mountainside, but that’s not really too close to anything, now is it. I should also mention that Nusidm stuck a DVD inside this too, but I’m saving that for a rainy day when I’m in need of some freaky inspiration.

Predator Spiral Unfolds LP (Total Punk)
Total Punk’s singles series may be done, but if that means I get to enjoy twelve inches of Predator instead of a mere seven, it sounds like a good deal to me. This Atlanta punk group comes from the same camp as GG King and Nag, and they certainly sound like it, offering razor-sharp downer riffs through a bleak and tightly-buttoned demeanor. Gloomy yet energetic, Predator might be my favorite of the Atlanta bunch, as they are more traditionally hardcore-punk sounding (read: no keyboards) and their songs pack more of a punch than the Urinals-indebted Nag records (which I also enjoy). The songs here tend to waver between frown-faced first-wave melodic hardcore ala The Adolescents (“Howl” being a shining example) and the earlier Total Control singles, before synthetics supplanted their hard driving riffs. Spiral Unfolds can feel like a sci-fi strut into an unwelcome sanitized future, at least until you remember you laced your boots with barbed wire and are ready to kick your way out. Told you it was Total Punk!

Qlowski Quale Futuro? LP (Feel It)
London-via-Bologna’s Qlowski first crossed my path a couple years ago with a single that struck me as fairly unremarkable lo-fi new-wave post-punk, but how can I not trust Feel It at this point? It didn’t take me long to notice the musical maturation Qlowski have undergone since that time, leaping out into their own brew of anthemic, synth-driven post-punk here. The keys power things forward throughout, much in the manner of a classic Gary Numan song (but with a working knowledge of a more DIY-minded post-punk attitude). Surely they are fans of Total Control’s most recent efforts (I hate to keep mentioning them but can their contemporary influence be overstated?), in the way that the electronics help run punk music through a colorful prism, though Qlowski’s most prominent vocalist (a few members share singing duties) has such a Robert Smith-like warble that it kind of takes over. I think I prefer when the other vocalist sings: “A Woman” in particular has me thinking of post-rockers like Trans Am and Stereolab realigned to fit inside a La Vida Es Un Mus distro box, and it’s probably my favorite tune here. With such comfortable and solid guidelines in place for anyone wanting to play minimal-wave or vaguely-gothy post-punk, it’s always nice to hear artists who push on those boundaries – even if it’s a slight nudge in an under-utilized direction versus an absolute shattering of convention – which is what Qlowski deliver here.

Schwefelgelb Der Rest Der Nacht 12″ (n-PLEX)
It’s only a matter of time before the dark and pounding techno of Schwefelgelb returns to the inner sanctums of Berlin’s rave halls. This new one from the Berlin duo delivers four hard-hitting cuts designed for physical interaction, as sturdy and rugged as one could hope. Opener “Impulskörper” is a solid industrial-techno headbutt akin to Ancient Methods and Kerridge with its grimy bass kicks, intermittent furnace blasts and echoed vocals. “Lichtenberg-Figur” moves in an EBM direction, with choral rave chords and an uplifting sense of space. “Wie Viel Haut” is a mind-warping mechanical process seemingly designed to echo through the concrete walls of Tresor, and “Horizont” wraps things up with a powerful thwack, like Blawan curating a mix for a Muay Thai gym. No ambient pauses, no big builds and drops, just rigorously slamming techno for the all-black-clothes crowd prone to wandering metropolitan alleyways shortly before the sun comes up.

Slow Mutants Slow Mutants LP (Radical Empathy / One Percent Press)
Writing and performing a form of indie-rock from at least two bygone eras ago, Buffalo’s Slow Mutants did the financially-irresponsible thing and released this album a couple years after breaking up. I suppose it’s not like they were missing out on a heavy touring schedule in 2020 anyway, so if they’re proud of these tunes, might as well! Their sound is very much indebted to that classic guitar-centric indie-rock of the ’90s, bands like Sleater-Kinney, Jawbox, Superchunk, Imperial Teen, that sort of popped-up (yet anti-rock star) indie style. Presumably a good chunk of the twenty year-olds of the ’90s are the forty and fifty year-olds of today who still love this stuff, while their teenage children prefer to make viral dance videos to Lil Uzi Vert remixes. Anyway, Slow Mutants sounds like a record produced by J. Robbins, which is fitting since it was in fact produced by J. Robbins. Perfectly fine behavior, but to be honest, as this record spins, I can’t help but notice some teens out on the street outside listening to music on their phones and find myself wondering if it might be a little more cutting-edge and exciting than the time-worn sound of Slow Mutants.

Josiah Steinbrick & Sam Gendel Mouthfeel / Serene LP (Full Bloom)
Sam Gendel sure keeps himself busy these days, and I can’t say I’m surprised. Avant-sax players are surely in their highest demand, and with a bevvy of collaborators ready to go, Gendel keeps the new material pumping, like this highly pleasant LP with multi-instrumentalist Josiah Steinbrick. The title had me thinking it was two tracks, which is incorrect, as there are multiple tracks on each side, the five “Mouthfeel” cuts the more diverse selection of the two. I’m not overly familiar with Steinbrick’s music outside of this collab, but I’ll say that these songs sound a lot like the Sam Gendel I know and love – his wet and wiggly sax runs all over the room, often sounding as though it’s being played backward, or like he’s sucking air through the horn of the instrument, past the reed and into his lungs. Very distinctive, highly chill and always a pleasure. Accompanied by subtle slurps, drippy beats and electronic bass, it’s Gendel where I like him, at his loosest and most exploratory. The two tracks on the “Serene” side take that title to heart, an ambient soundbath of glistening tones and reverberating drones. Sounds like Gendel put down his sax and started playing one of Harry Bertoia’s metal sound sculptures instead, though I’d assume all the instrumentation used here could easily fit inside a small bedroom. Wind-chime sounds for the new generation, one that I hope will accept me if I continue to wear enough streetwear in public.

Sweepsculp Sweepsculp 12″ (Nous’klaer Audio)
Thessa Torsing generally produces electronic music under the alias of Upsammy, whose Words R Inert EP remains one of my favorite techno records of the last few years, and whose subsequent releases have failed to grab me as passionately. Fast forward to right now: Torsing released this new EP under the alias Sweepsculp, and it’s a highlight of 2021 for me thus far. Her process is still very much based in the viscous, glass-edged moves of IDM, but Sweepsculp centers acoustic guitars of all things. It really works! Multiple tracks of guitars chime, strum and noodle, with only the essential rhythmic underpinnings at hand – a pudgy kick, some fluttering percussion or elastic pangs. Reminds me of Jim O’ Rourke and Fennesz, of course, but with a stronger nod to the ECM catalog and less of a high-minded composerly distinction. I’m also thinking of that unusual Khidja collaboration with BalabaÈ™ from a couple years ago that attempted to infuse jazzy acoustic guitar into a forward-minded electronic framework, but I think I enjoy it best the way Sweepsculp does it right here. Spacious, weird and non-linear, unless you’re John Fahey Junior I think this is the way we need to approach the acoustic guitar from here on out.

The Uptights It Is For Them That The Lights Twinkle LP (Diger / Keep Secret)
Normally, the garage-based guitar music I encounter out of Oslo (and Northern Europe in general) is formulaic, professional and somewhat typical, the sort of skinny-tie, funny-sunglasses take on poppy punk rock one could set their watch to. Not so for The Uptights, a beguiling Oslo-based group in many ways. Apparently having only previously released a live cassette in 2011, they’re now back with this monaural full-length debut, full of cloudiness, distance and an unwillingness to meet the listener halfway. At times, it seems like they’re trying to play big-room power-alternative songs like The Killers or The National or something, but with a recording so encased in grime, it feels more like a lost Merchandise demo tape (though not nearly as affecting). And then there are other songs that churn and brood like the dirtiest that the ’90s emo scene had to offer, somehow recalling Constatine Sankathi (yes, a guest horn plays pops up on occasion) or I Hate Myself. And then there are the ones that sound like the ghost of Hamilton Leithauser’s piano being tossed around… like I said, nothing that can be neatly placed in a box. I suppose that’s ultimately a good thing, but these songs almost always find a way to be difficult to listen to, either from an unexpectedly emotional vocal outburst or, quite literally, just difficult to hear. Toward the end of the b-side, there’s one song that I’d best describe as “Radiohead meets Ceramic Hobs”, ensuring I remain firmly, and not entirely unamusingly, confused.

and felt like… compilation LP (Knekelhuis)
Please excuse the unenticingly vague lowercase title of this new compilation LP, because I’m here to give it a strong recommendation! Amsterdam’s Knekelhuis label has been responsible for some of my favorite hard-to-categorize (but very much electronic) music of the past few years, and I wholeheartedly support them releasing a compilation album, a format as crucial as it is maligned in modern times. This is what we had to do before playlists, kids, and it sure is nice when it’s well curated by someone with vision! Knekelhuis scanned the globe for like-minded sonic travelers, from Sweden and Australia to Azerbaijan and Jordan (and, completely reasonably, no American stops), offering a varied yet cohesive sampling of what is going on out there right now. Ambient synths, spoken-word, acoustic guitars, radio static, pianos, they all swirl together throughout and felt like… in an anything-goes “forth-world” melange of meditative and discomfiting electronic music. Standouts are the bizarrely plaintive Treasury Of Puppies (whose album is already too expensive on the secondary market for me to personally justify), Michel Banabila’s avant-noir and Bashar Suleiman’s autotuned Egyptian emo-rap, though there isn’t a dud in the bunch. Like all great compilations, the individual tracks are strengthened by how well they all go together as the sense of a cohesive yet varied scene emerges.

Welcome To Pittsburgh …Don’t Move Here compilation LP (Cruel Noise)
Two great compilations in one month?! Be still my heart! I truly never thought I’d see the day when Pittsburgh freakin’ Pennsylvania had one of the strongest (if not the strongest) hardcore scenes going, but this fourteen-band, fourteen-song album is about as killer as a hardcore collection can get, even when held alongside the first-wave classics. While styles vary as wide as crusty d-beat and snotty punk, there’s a consistent level of raging urgency throughout, clearly indebted to the Neon Christs, Necroses, C.I.A.s, Die Kreuzens and White Crosses that came before (without ever sliding into pastiche or tribute). It’s an absolute whirlwind, honestly – four songs in, my glasses were already fogged up, but not before I could read that it was Peace Talks who sounded like Ohlo Seco covering Unit Pride, and that it was Rat Nip who delivered their angry Antidote-inspired ‘core following a pleasingly wacky intro. I was certain at least one track would dip in quality, but by the time S.L.I.P.’s “Daddy’s Little Girl Part II” wrapped it up, with its sleazy Angry Samoans ‘tude delivered with panache, the title’s caveat made sense. Anyone else suddenly get the urge to rent that $80 room in Braddock that S.L.I.P. vocalist Dave Rosenstraus listed online? Maybe there’s a bunk bed and we can share?

Reviews – June 2021

Michael Beach Dream Violence LP (Goner / Poison City)
So this guy comes up and asks me, he says “any plans to go to the beach this year?”, so I say to him, “yessir, I’m gonna spend plenty of time at the Michael Bea-” – actually you know what, scratch that, this newest album from Melbourne’s Michael Beach is too cool and serious for terrible jokes. I’ve been enjoying his music for nearly ten years now, and Dream Violence has gotta be his best yet. So much stylistic ground is covered, from brooding post-punk to loose-limbed psych to piano ballads and so on, but it’s the quality of the work that really stands out. In the past, Neil Young was the closest ancient white-guy rock-icon relation I would place upon Beach’s music, but this time it’s feeling closer to Lou Reed, specifically the disturbed, angrily-partially-queer, starting-to-age-out-of-relevance Lou Reed of The Blue Mask era. There’s a real downtown NYC paranoia to some of these songs, the dark side of blazer-sporting power-pop sorta vibe – listen to “Spring” and tell me you can’t hear the members of Television waking up from the natural sunlight in their roach-filled loft circa 1980. Beach has gotten deep into the mental state where madness inspires hope and vice versa, songs pumping hard with the blood of a wounded heart that refuses to stop beating no matter how many uppers and downers course through its aortas. A lot of rockers try to take you there, or at least want you to think they’re trying, but Michael Beach really takes you there, if you know what I mean.

Christos Chondropoulos Athenian Primitivism 2xLP (12th Isle)
My knowledge of Greek electronic artists is somewhat limited, but I tend to really love the ones I do know, like Jay Glass Dubs and Lena Platonos for instance. You can go ahead and add Christos Chondropoulos to that short list, a producer I had not previously known whose work I now feel a strong familiarity towards. A lot of ground is covered within these two LPs, most of which falls in that sort of vaguely new-agey analog house and dub style that’s quite popular these days. I’m reminded of the gauzy, esoteric grooves of Yu Su, the Mediterranean strut of Alek Lee and the semi-throwback digi-funk of Juju & Jordash, alongside a “home-recorder no one heard of in their time” feel that one might associate with the private pressings that Séance Centre and All Night Flight continue to unearth. Very enjoyable stuff, seemingly at no rush to fit in or please a certain constituency so much as channel the swirl of influences in Chondropoulos’s mind into musical form. Things get even wilder on the final side, where the vocals of Sofia Sarri take over (without the support of any synths or rhythms!), a fully avant deconstruction of the voice that has me thinking of a particularly inflamed Meredith Monk or Tamia’s 1978 self-titled head-scratcher. Sky’s the limit with Chondropoulos!

C.I.A. Débutante Pier 7″ (SDZ / Officine)
Here’s a charming three-track EP from France’s finest merchants of murk, C.I.A. Débutante. They’re the duo of chameleonic songsmith Nathan Roche and Paul Bonnet, and this record follows their Siltbreeze album nicely (among many low-quantity cassettes that I will almost certainly never hear). Rhythm boxes and errant noises seem to emanate from the basement beneath the basement, with occasional warped guitar tones and spoken vocals that are alarmingly slow and insubordinate. Their pal Nicolas Roggy adds bass-guitar to b-side “Kessler Syndrome”, but does so in a way that’s appropriately unmusical for the matter at hand. Remember when Breathmint Records would secretly record the noise groups that stayed at their pad and then release the sounds of them sleeping as tapes? Pier has me thinking of Sightings right before they completely nod out, devoid of aggression or feedback. Or maybe Mosquitoes covering Cabaret Voltaire with Graham Lambkin handling microphone placement? However you want to slice it, this is top-shelf avant-DIY on black 7″ vinyl.

CZN Luxury Variations 12″ (The Trilogy Tapes)
Valentina Magaletti is a London-based percussionist and composer, someone whom I had never heard of until just recently, at which point I’m seeing her name constantly. Kinda feeling like I should’ve known about her earlier, as she’s been making some incredible music over the past few years, in ensembles like Tomaga and UUUU and duos with Julian Sartorius and Marlene Ribeiro, all records I recommend you seek out immediately! Her newest work comes from CZN, a trio with João Pais Filipe and Leon Marks, and it’s a wonderfully dark, heady trip. Magaletti’s percussion binds it together, cyclical riffs of what sounds to be mostly hand percussion (though not entirely). Her rhythms are mesmerizing enough on their own, but with the rich bass tones and vaporous synths and electronics of Marks and Filipe, the whole thing turns into some sort of foreboding hypnosis, like industrial techno made with neither industry nor tech. “Brace Positions” in particular sounds better suited to the moniker “Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement” than the project it actually is, with tumbling percussion, creeping synths and an ominous bass pulse daring you to step foot into its murky waters. Recommended!

Dropdead Arms Race EP 7″ flexi Armageddon Label / Peterwalkee)
Alright, I’ll admit it: I’m a little scared to check out that new Dropdead album. They’re hardcore-grind royalty, one of those few groups who can somehow skate by on re-releasing the same twenty songs in various formats over multiple decades simply because it’s legitimately essential hardcore, firmly underground and unable (and unwilling) to be cashed in upon by scene leeches or the indie mainstream. They’ve already cemented their legendary status as far as I’m concerned, and I’ve heard that Bob Otis’s vocals have reclined from a high-pitched throat-shred into something less intense, so I dunno, can’t I be content with the self-titled LP, self-titled 11″ and splits with Crossed Out and Rupture? Perhaps this one-sided 7″ flexi featuring two hardcore covers is a reasonable way to dip my toes into modern Dropdead, even if it’s about as superfluous as a record can get in any band’s discography. They blow through BGK’s “Arms Race” and Poison Idea’s “Give It Up” in record time here, with Otis indeed singing less forcefully, albeit aided by gang vocals on the choruses. Wasn’t sure if blaster-master Brian Mastrobuono was going to try to grind-ify these songs at all, but nope, he sticks to a comfortable (if unchallenging) fast beat throughout. Regardless of the sonic necessity of this flexi, all proceeds are donated in support of immigrant youth, confirming that unlike Otis’s vocal cords, Dropdead’s righteous progressive politics have not dulled with age.

John Duncan And Stefano Pilia Try Again LP (Maple Death)
Perhaps one day John Duncan will give himself a break, but the confrontational noise artist has been ruffling feathers since the late ’70s without respite. Pretty fascinating guy if you’re not familiar, and although his more deviant works seem to be behind him, settling more into edge-of-perception field-recording / drone-work since the early ’00s, he’s always up to something intriguing. Try Again pairs his spoken-word with the fluttering bombast of Italian artist Stefano Pilia, whose synths and “processed recordings” resemble furious helicopter blades, the churning winds of a mountain’s peak, synthetic drones of the occult and, I dunno, Philip Glass interpreting a Hijokaidan composition? With the cover photo of a blurred astronaut mid-mission, one can’t help but think of vast emptiness, lonely technology and the smell of burning wires while listening. Duncan’s voice goes great over it, hoarse and weary and a little higher-pitched than I would’ve imagined him to sound today. If you told me he recorded his utterances on a doomed Russian spacecraft, presuming no one would ever hear, I’d say you’re being dramatic, but I’d do a Google search later just to make sure you were only kidding around.

Maxine Funke Seance LP (A Colourful Storm)
“The voice of Funke is a distinctive instrument”, says the press release for Maxine Funke’s fourth album. It rings truer with Seance than ever before, another tender song-suite from this fabulously reclusive New Zealander. If you’re not familiar, her work fits comfortably in the realm of acoustic-guitar singer-songwriters, but there’s a disarming casualness to her music, somehow harmoniously breezy and bracing. Unlike a similarly skilled folk singer such as Meg Baird, Funke’s songs tend to play out like private conversations, flowing at their own pace and without the firm boundaries of verse-chorus folk-song. Previous records might include a shocking blast of high-volume noise or lo-fi production values; it’s understandable when one considers her proximity to the lathe-cut noise scene even if her music is as far as it gets from labelmates like Taiwan Housing Project (Independent Woman) and Egg, Eggs (Feeding Tube). Obscure, domestic sounds of the minutiae find their way under her guitar here, often in rhythmic patterns (ie. the lustrous “Quiet Shore”), providing an intimacy of the mundane one might associate with the work of Graham Lambkin. Funke’s visionary approach certainly calls to mind Nico as well, and I can’t imagine a single Belle & Sebastian fan ever asking to turn the volume down on Seance, either. Considering myself lucky that such wonderfully private music as hers is continually offered up to us in the public sphere.

Gay Tastee Ex Machina Shook LP (no label)
Honestly, gimme one good reason why you shouldn’t name your band Gay Tastee Ex Machina! Never been a better time to make zero sense than right now, as this Albany-based trio seems to firmly grasp. Their sound is suitably kooky, but not in any sort of performative or trendy manner; rather, their loopy tunes recall The Flaming Lips and Meat Puppets at their most frizzle-fried, back when it seemed impossible to imagine that artists like that would ever find a foothold in the mainstream. How naive we were (or maybe it was just me). Vocalist “Steve” is constantly searching for the right note and he rarely finds it, but the charm is in the attempt – some people have terrible voices that are more enjoyable to listen to than “good” voices, and I’d rank him accordingly. The songs are casual and long, ending in the nearly fifteen minutes of “Space Ghost – Nagasaki Sky” which sounds like Doc Dart covering Neil Young for a Twisted Village release in 1993 alongside copious amounts of slide guitar. Trippy Americana for those that have long since aged out of worrying about looking cool, which may in fact be one of the coolest dispositions to have anyway.

Gemstones Novel Of Nothing 7″ (Celluloid Lunch)
The sound of Gemstones is really taking me back, in a nice way. This debut four-song EP has all the markings of something that would’ve shown up in a cardboard distro box at a VFW-hall punk show in 1996, back when the underground was bubbling with the success of Green Day, the failure of grunge and the ways in which they intersected. Gemstones are from Nova Scotia, but this rough recording (it must’ve been either from a four-track or a straight-up boombox) has me thinking of groups like Buglite and Sticks And Stones, moody pop-punk indebted to Gern Blandsten and Lookout! Records or, perhaps more accurately, the local bands that surrounded them who listened to Lookout! bands. Amazingly, Gemstones allegedly feature a member of Eric’s Trip, an unexpected stamp of credibility (not that these four plucky songs need any). A greater fidelity might eventually benefit the group, but as far as creating an out-of-time indie-punk nostalgia rush without directly aping any particular band or handful of bands, Gemstones don’t require clarity to shine.

Gravel Samwidge Complaints LP (Swashbuckling Hobo)
Brisbane trio Gravel Samwidge have a potent ’90s vibe going on, but not the aspects most likely to be emulated by today’s youth. I’m talking pixelated art on the front cover and a fish-eye lens shot on the back, and brooding, plodding grunge-punk riffs. It’s the sort of thing I would’ve expected to be played by people that seemed like old men back then (probably in their late 20s, early 30s?), released on Sympathy For The Record Industry or Amphetamine Reptile among dozens of other like-minded acts, and in spite of the lack of stand-out qualities or exceptional tunes, still sell 5,000 7″ picture discs. The glory days! Gravel Samwidge clearly aren’t going for any particular style – this music seems to be a precise representation of who they truly are, which means dirt-under-the-fingernails styled rock, though the group is content to menacingly pace in circles rather than rip out a traditional upbeat garage-rock riff or rhythm. These songs have titles like “Pink Eye”, “Hole In My Head”, “Waste My Weekend” and “Hangover”, and well, you can just tell they mean it.

Liquor Store Scumbag 7″ (Almost Ready)
Nice to see that NYC’s Liquor Store are still alive and kicking, as they’ve been purveyors of upper-crust (pizza pun intended) garage-punk for a number of years now, led by the irrepressible Sarim Al-Rawi. As I remember them, their sound was wild and crude party punk, but they’re demonstrating a more refined songwriting style on these two songs, even on a song called “Scumbag”. Moody and melodic, this one works both guitars in a downright respectable manner, reminding me of The Victims’s Real Wild Child record or something equally punk grounded in early glam-rock grooves. “We Buy Gold” is even more traditionally rock, the sort of thing I’d expect weathered Reigning Sound fans to request during music-hour at the Aging Punks Adult Resident Community wherein they reside. Not much in the way of wild energy or snottiness, “We Buy Gold” in particular is a mature sound more in line with The Replacements than Jay Reatard or even King Khan. Nice tunes, though I truly hope Liquor Store haven’t aged into polite gentlemen or, God forbid, gone sober.

LSDXOXO Dedicated 2 Disrespect 12″ (XL)
Probably an unpopular opinion, but I’ve always thought electroclash came and went too quickly. There were some hits in there! This new EP by the Philadelphia-bred, GHE20GOTH1K-raised, Berlin-based DJ/producer LSDXOXO has me thinking that it’s possible electroclash never really went away, or is due for a resurgence (in a different outfit and under any other name). LSDXOXO’s music is fiercely club-oriented, energetic and raunchy and fun. Clanging tech-house rhythms are abetted by chopped sex-moans and LSDXOXO’s lead vocals taunt and tease every ex-lover in the room. I’m imagining Mount Sims as remixed by Seth Troxler, though unlike the first wave of electroclash’s general hetero/cis-normativity, LSDXOXO is part of the TikTok generation that serves latex mini-skirts, bulging muscles, pigmented eyeshadow and bondage straps in equal measure. If it wasn’t implied, go listen to “Sick Bitch”, which opens with “I’m a sick bitch / I like freak sex” and goes on to rhyme “hurt” with “squirt”. For me personally, I enjoy some subtle innuendo, but LSDXOXO bludgeons their sexuality from center stage to the back row, and it works pretty marvelously all the same. Hard to listen to this and not get excited at the prospect of returning to in-person, non-digital clubbing!

Nick Melody Joyful Fantasy LP (SDZ / Officine)
If you’re gonna go with the name “Nick Melody”, you better be ready to either back it up or swing in an entirely different direction, putting out harsh-noise tapes or something instead. This Nick Melody backs it up completely, rocking out in a timeless fashion redolent of Big Star, The Apples In Stereo, The Shins, Teenage Fanclub, The Modern Lovers and so forth. His songs not being classically-established hits, however, has me thinking that he’s got the sound that those rare record collector guys who post little clips to their Instagrams favor so strongly. Only this isn’t a tax-scam pressing of a band that existed for six months in 1975, Nick Melody is alive and walking amongst us in Ypsilanti right now! Charming guitar leads, colorful bass-lines and harmonious vocals are in perfect working order, resulting in a sound that’s nostalgic without pretense. I don’t often find myself reaching for this style on purpose, and yet as I sit here listening to the charming chords of Joyful Fantasy as they spiral out of my speakers, it kind of feels like the greatest form of music to have ever existed on this planet. A Joyful Fantasy indeed!

Natural Information Society with Evan Parker descension (Out Of Our Constrictions) 2xLP (Eremite)
Say goodbye to your remaining stimulus dollars, there’s a new Natural Information Society double album! Their last one, the fabulous Mandatory Reality, was my favorite album of 2019, so I was eagerly awaiting this one. It’s a live recording from a Cafe OTO performance back in July of 2019 (not that you’d know from the pristine, warm audio quality), and it features British cyclically-breathing improv-sax legend Evan Parker out front. What a crew! There’s really only one musical concept happening here, a single seventy-five minute piece spread across four sides of 12″ vinyl, but like previous Natural Information Society pieces, it’s downright transcendent. Joshua Abrams plucks his guimbri merrily, Mikel Patrick Avery plots the time on drums, Jason Stein flutters and Evan Parker downright freaks throughout this long, unhurried journey. Parker’s minutes-long runs are absolutely hypnotizing, like a kaleidoscopic seagull calling out for world peace, but it might actually be the subtle churn of Lisa Alvarado’s harmonium that brings the whole thing together for me, filling in the cracks with those delightfully psychedelic tones. They bring it up and bring it back down throughout, and only until side D runs down and the (strangely edited) applause kicks in am I reminded that this music was somehow made by regular people, just like you and me.

Ostseetraum Ostseetraum LP (Adagi0830)
Sometimes I think it’s best if sullen German cold-wave was left to the Germans to write and perform. Case in point is Berlin’s Ostseetraum, who conjure the desperate artistic creativity that managed to grow in the cracks of the Berlin wall in the early ’80s. The Zickzack label certainly comes to mind, care of the throbbing bass pulses, rudimentary drum machines and gloomy vocals, though Ostseetraum don’t seem to have any day-glo new-wave sheen to them, not even ironically. I’m trying to pick out any signs at all that this is a band from today (nods to harsh noise, ambient or Weather Channel funk, maybe?), but this is by-the-books NDW, strikingly similar in fidelity and approach to groups that developed this sound decades ago like Sprung Aus Den Wolken and Kosmonautentraum. Ostseetraum’s songs are often tough and unfriendly – good luck shaking hands with the nerve-racking “Träume” for example, a frantic escape down unlit city streets. On first listen, it did feel like somewhat of a genre exercise, but on second listen, third listen and so on, these songs stand on their own two feet, distressed and tangled in aux cables though they may be.

Preening Dragged Through The Garden 12″ (Ever/Never)
The Bay Area’s Preening come correct with this new nine-song EP, the best tangentially-punk record with the word “garden” in its title since Pink Reason’s underrated Shit In The Garden. To be honest, I didn’t expect Preening to stick around as long as they have… they have an explosive quality, the sort of thing that’s normally short-lived, a band for a specific moment rather than a legacy. Maybe Preening are on their way to a legacy? This new EP is the first nine-song EP I’ve reviewed in a minute, and they do well with these succinct jolts of no-wave inspired guitarless punk-funk. The vocals seem to imitate the sound of the sax, and the sax imitates the vocals, while the bass and drums hold things together (albeit with a loose grip). It’s not the first time I thought of Minutemen and Impractical Cockpit and Mecca Normal while listening to Preening, but they seem particularly inspired this time around, or at least even more naturally comfortable with their unorthodox instrumentation. They are probably incapable of writing a normal song at this point, which is a good thing as far as I’m concerned – hell, if there’s one band out there right now I’d want a Ramones tribute album from, just because of how screwy and wrong it’d end up being, it’s these folks right here.

Sarushibai The Melancholy Of The Social Outcasts LP (SPHC / Japan Support)
For most people I know, one of the most attractive qualities of Japanese hardcore is its ability to tirelessly rage. Obviously there is as wide a prism of hardcore sounds out of Japan as anywhere else on the globe, but when I think of legends like Gauze and Confuse and Warhead and LSD, they seem to possess the same monumental will of spirit that’s found in Tour de France cyclists and professional free-climbers. Anyway, what Sarushibai’s new album seems to presuppose is… what if hardcore wasn’t actually that raging? They still play fast, and the vocals are still screamed and shouted, but even at their most frenetic moments, I can’t help but notice the lack of power exhibited. Even when I consider less-but-still-raging hardcore groups like Toast and Idol Punch, they’ve managed to find ways to innovate, or at least differentiate their sound to a positive effect. Could be a million reasons why (the recording, my personal prejudices, the songwriting, etc.) but Sarushibai’s music seems to exist in that murky middle territory between hardcore-punk, hard rock and indie-rock, and they don’t manage to strike gold in any of those configurations.

Schiach 2 LP (Phantom)
I decided to look up the English translation of German punk band Schiach’s name, having suspicions it translated to “Shock”, a suitable if not entirely creative moniker for their electro-punk sound. Turns out “Schiach” has no Google-understood meaning, and the German translation for “shock” is just “schock” anyway, which I suppose I should’ve seen coming. Contrary to the old adage, I don’t learn something new every day, but I did today. Anyway, this German group expound upon their sour electro-shocked punk sound here on 2, their (you guessed it) second album. Unlike many groups who use synths and drum machines alongside shouted vocals and buzzing guitars, Schiach take the tempo down a bit, kind of mechanically plodding through these songs in a manner close to Men’s Recovery Project or Danse Asshole. As astringent as their sound may be, most of these tunes favor rhythms suited for sloppy dance parties, not DEVO-styled discombobulations. Not a particularly fresh style, one could argue, but this isn’t a bakery, it’s a band, and they do throw some unexpected violin(?) in on “Zuagroasta”, so there! (I threw “Zuagroasta” into Google translate for the hell of it too, and that just came back as “Zuagroaste”, which seems to be a term referring to Bavarian immigrants. Turns out I actually learned two things!)

Shirese Three Going On Four LP (C/Site Recordings / Gnosisocial Progress)
I’ve gotten so accustomed to seeing the same usual suspects released by C/Site that it was surprising (and nice) to see an entirely different set of psych-damaged CT rockers receive their first vinyl LP care of the label. From what I’ve been able to uncover online, it seems that Shirese is the project of a guy named Matt Paolillo, joined on this record by five of his pals, presumably in different formations based on the varied stylings we’re hearing here. It’s a very American take on classic underground indie/rock/psych, bearing sonic resemblance to Sebadoh, Spacin’, Vermonster, Mordecai, and Headroom, though by no means an exact match for any of them. It’s more of a shared spirit, players who love guitars and all the usual guitar behavior, but write and record their music free from narrow genre confinements. A weepy ballad leads to a rapid-fire rocker reminiscent of Wishbone Ash, and the final track is something different entirely, a warped tape edit that does not seem to take the listener into consideration, like some hand-dubbed tape you received from the Blackbean & Placenta Tape Club alongside the Yak Brigade 12″ you sent five dollars (postage paid) to receive. The prices may have gone up, but the sentiment remains the same.

Paul Snell Come Monday / Dream 7″ (Altered States Tapes)
Limited to a scant thirty copies, this is a 7″ lathe of archival material from unknown-to-anyone Australian musician Paul Snell. Apparently an “old friend” of the parents of Altered States’ Cooper Bowman (or if not him, someone else directly related to Altered States’ affairs), this is as personal a release as it can come, complete with a lengthy interview in hand-assembled zine form, a wonderful accompaniment to these two songs. A breeze could easily knock over “Come Monday”, a lightweight strummer that saunters around soft as Egyptian cotton. “Dream” brings in some drums, bass and lead guitar, a very fragile take on later new-wave / proto-college rock, surprisingly not particularly Australian sounding, though I guess it’s not-not Australian sounding either. Plain enough of a sound that you could convince me it came from any predominantly Caucasian culture. If this record didn’t have the zine, I don’t think the memory of these songs would last more than five minutes in my busy little brain, but the overall package is tender and personal, successful by metrics that don’t include monthly playlist visibility or likes and shares.

The Stools Live At Outer Limits 12-28-19 LP (Big Neck)
Detroit delivers house and garage-rock with such passion and quantity that it’s hard not to get a little misty-eyed if I think about that city’s musical contributions over my lifetime. The Stools fall very much in the latter category, a newish garage-punk trio of whom I was previously unfamiliar that decided to release a live album as their second full-length. A corner stage with beer-soaked carpeting seems like the perfect environment to experience a group like this, and they perform these somewhat unexceptional songs with an exceptional vigor. I’m reminded of Supercharger, Bassholes and Teengenerate, but The Stools manage to flail through these tunes with a potent level of energy, really bringing some tried-and-true garage progressions to life. They must’ve either had a terrible Christmas and needed to blow off some steam or had an excellent Christmas and wanted to celebrate, but whatever the basis for their vigorous performance, only a true Scrooge could thumb their nose at the enduring glory of trashy drunken garage-rock and this fine example thereof.

Struggling Harsh Immortals 4 æ­» Death LP (Relapse)
One can only appreciate the recent Relapse reissues of G.I.S.M. and Zouo, but I’m particularly pleased that it also led to them releasing the sophomore album from Japan’s Struggling Harsh Immortals (aka S.H.I.). Featuring Cherry Nishida from Zouo (as well as other personnel from Zouo and Outo), S.H.I. refuse to pussyfoot on 4 æ­» Death. Pure hard-chugging industrial-metal relentlessness! I love L.O.T.I.O.N., and consider them to be the real deal when it comes to modern industrial-punk, but I wouldn’t blame them if they quietly sneaked out the back door when S.H.I. entered the room. Their music fuses modern WWE entrance themes with the moves of Ministry, Motörhead and Tetsu Arrey, the sound of a thousand motorcycles storming into Hell and whipping Satan’s pointy little tail. Live drums add the traditional hardcore-thrash power, but tracks like “Theme 2”, which favor piercing noise and electronic percussion, truly give the album the doomed techno-apocalypse vibe that I’m quite frankly living for these days. I’m completely behind the abolition of the police with one exception: the members of S.H.I. granted full punitive authority, armed with swords and allowed to wander the earth doling out justice as they see fit.

Fletcher Tucker Unlit Trail LP (Adagio830)
The crackling embers of a dying fire give way to keyboard drones, which eventually recede far enough that a sullen acoustic guitar and hushed vocals might emerge from the shadows. Fletcher Tucker’s music is heavily indebted to this well-established aesthetic, clearly in the shadow of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Six Organs Of Admittance, Mount Eerie and the like, offering vague yet eerie portents in a natural / spiritual sense. If there’s a centuries-old instrument capable of droning, it appears Tucker got his hands on it, from singing bowls to dulcimers to leaf rattles (yes, leaf rattles). It makes for what must surely be a fun practice or recording space, but Tucker more or less does exactly what one would think a person would do with these instruments, sounding exactly as one might assume them to sound. If dark-folk was a bigger part of my life, I’d probably get a little more mileage out of Unlit Trail, but my dilettante ears find it to be mostly a surface-level experience, with all the aesthetic parts in place but lacking in creativity. That said, I did a little research, and can confirm that Tucker is no poseur: the man is a dedicated naturalist, and an actual teacher of trail-craft as per his bio on the webpage for Esalen, the Big Sur educational institute / nature retreat of which he is a faculty member. Maybe I’m simply too far gone as a decades-long grease-stained city-dweller to sufficiently connect with the whispers of the pines and babbling of the brooks? I sure hope not.