Archive for January, 2013

Good Throb

Of all the artists I’ve interviewed, I truly believe Good Throb might be the one I’d
like to hang out with the most. They’re like if Beavis and Butthead somehow went to
grad school and started an angry, fumbling punk band along the way. Their 7″ hit me too
late to make my 2012 year-end lists, but shame on me, as this one is full of fire and
venom, sophisticated and stupid and mind-numblingly awesome. They’re a London group,
with members who’ve done time in more successful, “serious” bands, but who cares about
that when you’re as good as Good Throb? All four of the band’s members were nice enough
to answer a few questions for me, and while I am reticent to have them crash at my place
were they ever to tour the US (I’m no longer truly punk I guess, if I ever was at all),
there’s no way I could ignore their knock on my door.

How did Good Throb get started? You’ve mostly all played in other bands before, right?

Ellie (vocals): We were all mates through music and mutual friends anyway, and originally
started with the idea of people playing instruments that are new to them. The first practice we
did in Bryony’s garage, we did “Drink 2” and a Weirdos cover which I warbled along to, being
quite embarrassed and not knowing what to do.
Bryony (guitar): There was the vague idea of doing a band where we all play the instruments
we’d never played before. I had sung in a couple of bands before (one called The Sceptres
which Louis played bass in) but never played an instrument. Moving to a house with a garage
where we could play loud together without time pressure (which is very unusual for London,
which doesn’t really ‘do’ punk houses), I finally managed to break the seal on my endless
“fuck this it’s too hard” attitude towards guitar with said one-finger “Life of Crime” cover.
Ash (bass): Yeah, I think at first the main idea was to just try it out. I’d always wanted to
do a band, but figured i I was perhaps a bit too shy/inept for the whole process. A good
amount of peer pressure from these guys later, I caved and now have the best fun with these losers.
Louis (drums): Just want to say that I came up with the name! The band me and Bryony did before
was quite technically accomplished, and I think we both felt the drag of talking everything
to death in practice, which was certainly counter-intuitive to me and my idea of punk. I knew
Bryony had a guitar she wanted to learn how to play, and I was eager to have a go on the drums,
so doing a band that was constrained by ability but liberated to play whatever we could manage
seemed like a good antidote to past experiences of over-thinking the songwriting process. We
weren’t trying to ‘do’ a style, and certainly didn’t have a sound in mind, we just had a go
one afternoon and then enlisted two other enthusiastic individuals.

I’ve seen Good Throb described as “noise” or “stupid”, both meant positively, but I kinda
just feel like you’re a true punk band. Am I right or am I wrong? Why do other people think
Good Throb are particularly noisy or crazy or whatever?

Ellie: Haha, I guess the “stupid” thing comes from the simplicity and lowest common denominator
lyrics. Especially when we first started, we would turn up to practice and someone would say
“Let’s do a song about being wasted”, and we’d all be like “hur hur yeah that’s amazing” and
we’d just have loads of fun making really idiotic songs. We still revel in the vulgarity of
having cocks on our artwork and stuff like that, but actually all of our songs are also about
something – usually being fucking angry or feeling like sick people.
Bryony: For me, there’s an interesting line to be trod between taking pride in lacking any sort
of “technical” ability, to eschew the rockist tendencies still latent in a lot of punk, etc.,
while still harbouring a desire to be taken a little bit seriously (well, as seriously as any
other shitty punk band), or at least not having what you’re doing defanged as a cute or endearing
spectacle. We’ve not suffered too much with this, although it’s there, but getting described
as “sloppy / inept / basic / stupid” on flyers is always funny when it’s not necessarily sloppy
through choice. Overall I’m not too bothered, and if people say it’s noisy then at least I know
my pedal is plugged in! To follow on from what Ellie said, I didn’t actually think twice about
our collective love of innuendo and toilet humour when we starting playing, it’s only been
people’s shock or weirdly strong reactions to it that have highlighted the radical potential
of having refs to fucking, wanking, pubic grooming or other bodily functions in a couple of our
songs, which have probably egged us on to the brink of self-parody, ha.
Ash: Yeah, I think it always seems to say more about other people when we’re being described. We’ve
been called lots of nice things and a fair few nasty ones – I think we’d be happy to be called
stupid and noisy, those are easy obvious things to say. But yeah, I’d agree we aim to be punk,
and I think the way we sound probably best describes our collective definition of that. Of course
we enjoy the lowest common denominator, but we’ve got a conscience and that’s there for people
to hear if they want to; if not, it’s cool punk songs to dance to.
Louis: To be fair, I think we’re partially responsible for these sentiments as we’ve peddled a
self-image (through the Internet or flyers or record art) of being horrendous morons who
play terrible music! The truth is that pound for pound, this is the most highly educated
band I’ve ever been in, so make of that what you will. I like your idea of “true punk”
though (who doesn’t?). I think there has always been a cheeky playoff between clever/stupid
in the punk aesthetic, and maybe we happily continue this tradition: in as much as a bunch
of university graduates making songs about wanking and shopping can.

So would you say the basis for your lyrics are either stupid/gross humor, or anger towards
legitimate oppression? Do you ever worry people might not take you seriously when you are being serious?

Ellie: I guess they’re both; I certainly don’t see the two things as being mutually exclusive. Like,
it’s nothing new to say that a lot of the most fucked-up elements of society are also the
most surreal or hilariously idiotic. Like with the song “Bag” – for me and Ash, working in
retail at the time was shit and inane, so it seemed completely appropriate to make music about
it which is also shit and inane! There are obviously things that make my blood boil and get
me down, so I guess it’s good for me to shout about them and fuck those feelings off with
songs about sweaty collars and shitty pub toilets, but which also have an actual bite to them
in terms of stuff that matters. I’m not that bothered if people take it seriously or not, I
feel like the lyrics are mostly pretty self explanatory (maybe?!).
Bryony: Totally, there is crossover. I’m a big believer in the power of the snide. I also think
our delivery is reasonably straight, even when the subject matter might be less so, so perhaps
it balances out in a way it wouldn’t if we were a costume-wearing grindcore group, or hell,
I don’t know, a ska band. I also like to oppress people with my “creative” approach to tuning.
Louis: I agree with Ellie in that the two aren’t mutually exclusive – I don’t think our
band has a particular agenda, but we’re all fairly like-minded, and approaching legitimate topics
with a sense of humour allows (to my mind) a depth and credibility whereas sloganeering can seem
like a pose. I don’t particularly care about being taken seriously.

Photo Credit: Owen Richards

You bring up sexism within the punk scene in your lyrics… do you feel that most punk guys
don’t get that sexism is still an issue? Have you gotten much criticism for being so outspoken?

Ellie: I think, yes, there is an element of people rolling their eyes like “not this shit again”
when it’s brought up, and I think yeah, a lot of people have no sympathy or understanding of
how sexism effects people in small, everyday ways all the fucking time. That’s what the song
“Feminazi” is about; standing there on the periphery whilst blokes talk about who’s fit and
who’s not, and being made to feel like a killjoy arsehole for raising objections to bullshit.
As a band, we haven’t really had any specific criticism about our feminism but we have had some
amazing comments about being a “lesbian” band (none of us identify as lesbian, least of all Louis
who happens to be a man), and about how we’re generally terrible, haha, which may or may not be
related to gender. Obviously we’re not exactly breaking boundaries here, but I guess some people
do find our crude attitudes distasteful.
Bryony: I don’t know if you could call “that bitch needs a firework shoved up her cunt” criticism,
but it’s the tip of the wanker-iceberg, really. While there are those who might deny that
sexism still exists here, I’m just as if not more concerned by those who do claim to grasp
the issue, but are willfully blind to the fact that it’s their issue, too, rather than, I
don’t know, a fringe concern for lady lunatics and the queers. There’s also a particularly
British “don’t rock the boat” culture that is rife within UK punk, so a lot of heinous bullshit
goes unchecked usually in the name of “banter”. So yeah, it’s not something that Good Throb
came together to tackle or anything, but it is a thing I spend a lot of time/life thinking
about, and working on outside of the band, so personally I love that we do touch on it.
Ash: Yeah I think we get criticism and applause from men and women on both sides for bringing up
sexism and inequality within punk, and that’s generally a bit of a frustrating thing. To
me we’re just a punk band and feminism being a point of interest within our lyrics and attitude
is no different to any other topic we broach. Sexism’s obviously fucking dumb, and that
pisses us off so we talk about it. I find it shocking that people are awkward about it to
the degree that they give us this label and dismiss us so easily because we’ve brought up
this thing that can exist in bigger society but not within the punk scene.
Louis: I think it’s maybe a bit much to say most punk guys don’t get that sexism is still an issue.
I would say that by and large the scene (as I know it) is more switched on and PC than the
outside world, but it’s pretty depressing to me that it is so predominantly male. There are
naturally a variety of attitudes on this issue that range from the pretty fucked to right on.
I find it difficult to know how to actively challenge that – like it’s important to me that
more women play in bands, but as one of the people who put this band together, it honestly
never occurred to me that I would be in a predominantly female band, I just wanted to start
a group with my friends.

Are there any groups out there today that you haven’t personally met, but feel a sort of kinship
with? Any modern bands you’re listening to that you feel like share a similar wavelength as
Good Throb, even if not necessarily musically?

Ellie: I dunno about that, but I am eerily drawn to the brutally guttural vocals on the new
Atentado 12″; this is a woman I want to meet.
Louis: The quick answer for me is no, but that’s not to say I don’t find inspiration from people
I personally do know. For example, I feel that we share affinity with local bands like Hygiene
and Woolf, who take a scrappy and humourous approach to making simple punk that still sounds
thoughtful, unique and weird. I don’t feel like we’re a particularly popular band, but people
who I feel are repeatedly vocally supportive (at least to my face) include Nuria from Las Timidas,
Nick from Logic Problem and Matthew from Black Time/Wake Up Dead. It’s nice that these people
in bands I like like us too!
Bryony: For me, there’s definitely a lot of killer bands happening right now that I feel kinship
with, in that they’re doing punk feminist realities outside of all the tired old riot grrrl
paradigms… bands like Hysterics and Weird TV from Olympia, Displeasure, Livid, and Index from
San Francisco, Dark Times from Norway, La Otras from Barcelona. Pottymouth, Household, etc. etc.,
the list goes on. I went to a practice of one of these bands, called In School, from New York,
and can attest that they share our deep sense of the cruciality of arse/ass/butt/bum/bottom-related
jokes, which is obviously an ultimate priority.
Ash: I recently met The Splits from Finland and felt a bit of a kinship with them with the way
they said they started out just practicing together in order to learn and are now playing
simple, killer punk songs.

Have you played shows outside of England? Any plans to come to the US?
Ellie: We haven’t toured much at all. We’ve played in Scotland, but nothing outside of the UK
unfortunately. It’s something that would obviously be amazing to do if we pulled ourselves
together. Touring England and Scotland a few months ago with Hunger was fucking great.
Ash: Yeah, we would love to do a US tour (right?). I think it depends currently on whether or not
we get to practice a bit more, write some new songs, sort ourselves out with records, etc…
Then hopefully, fingers crossed.
Bryony: It’s been a big ambition of mine to play in the US ever since tagging along on one of
Louis’s other band’s tours there – it’s not something a lot of British bands do (unless
you’re in Hard Skin) but we’ve had some awesome, kind offers already, so as long as we can
put out a bunch of records that make it over, we’ll make it happen!
Louis: For some reason I can’t imagine us going down particularly well in Northern Europe, and I
think we would have difficulty booking a tour. I would really like to go to Spain though, and
playing in the US seems a lot more like a possibility at the moment.

How far can Good Throb go? Do you see the band existing a couple years from now, or is
it more of a lark?

Ellie: Good Throb is pretty much hard-wired into my brain like a relentless parasite, so I hope it
will continue for the foreseeable future! Everyone is pretty busy with doing their own thing
though – we don’t even get to practice as much as we would like, sadly. I’d like us to be the
cock-rock band of the future, continuing to play pub back-rooms to no one!
Bryony: Good Throb: The Terminal Lark.
Louis: Don’t we already play pub back rooms to no one?

Reviews – January 2013

aTelecine Entkopplung (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) LP (Dais)
For all those who’ve been watching their Entkopplung DVDs and wishing they could bring the soundtrack to their stereos, that dream is now a reality! My prior experiences with aTelecine teetered between intrigue and boredom, as they tended to push the limits of “no actual music” further than most modern experimental noise groups are willing. Their Entkopplung soundtrack changes that, as this is an album filled with actual sounds, in particular those created by tape loops and an ARP 2600 synthesizer. Lots of lonely astronaut sounds, with bleeps and bloops splintering off from one another in some sort of molecular process known only by the synths that created it. Reminds me of some of the earlier Emeralds material at times, but orchestrated more succinctly and without too much underlying murk. Not a bad trip, even without the movie, but I’ll be really impressed if and when aTelecine decide to take on Encino Man or The Legend Of Bagger Vance.

Banditas Save The Rats LP (Hard To Kill / Ride The Snake)
My initial excitement for this album diminished when I found out that the band isn’t named Save The Rats, but Banditas… I had really started to dig Save The Rats as a band name! Maybe someone else can use it. Anyway, it wasn’t a major disappointment, and this band really does sound like they should be named Banditas – these are three outlaw ladies, pounding out some serious greaser honky-tonk blues with a heaping of sunburned country leather. If Banditas was already taken, Daughters Of Anarchy would’ve been a good fit. Lots of pedal steel, some faster barn-house stompers mixed alongside slower, tear-stained prison ballads, and some beautifully wounded voices to sing these songs. If Banditas dressed like they stepped out of Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, Jack White would probably be hounding them for a three-album deal. Hell, he probably is anyway. I dare Mount Carmel to play “Real Women” around Banditas and see what happens!

Bill Bondsmen Nineteen / Things Fall Apart 7″ (no label)
Hadn’t heard Bill Bondsmen before, just seen their name around, but these two self-released 7″s make a good case for further investigation. This one comes on a suspicious-looking maroon vinyl, and it kicks off nice and meanly with “Nineteen”, a song that would probably sound like The Monorchid or Wrangler Brutes or something if the Bill Bondsmen singer didn’t come with a throat-ripping black-metal scream. It reminds me of what John Brannon sounds like live these days, where the power of the scream supersedes any actual words. “Things Fall Apart” has kind of an Easy Action vibe to the music too, as the riffs have a little more of that Detroit diesel-fueled toughness to them, and I appreciate the drunken lurch who takes over on the chorus. Nicely done!

Bill Bondsmen Overcrowded Control / (Untitled) 7″ (no label)
Here’s the other recent Bill Bondsmen single, and it’s another uncorked meanie. I’m feeling the same Easy Action vibe as on the last one, but at least one guitar works this strange flange(?) sound to a surprisingly cool effect here, mixing things up a bit. Just a little touch of sci-fi. The vocalist’s still as violent as ever, ensuring that “Overcrowded Control” comes equipped with his frothy snarl. “(Untitled)” might lead you to expect some sort of experimental noise-collage, and while it starts off with a slow-boil, Bill Bondsmen make their way into another slice of driving, angry punk rock, too grooving to be hardcore and too nasty for garage. I’ve heard four songs from these guys so far, and there isn’t a clunker in the bunch. Not sure if Bill Bondsmen are just turning labels down in favor of doing it their own way, but I’m really scratching my head at some of the bands that get other people to pay for their 7″s while Bill Bondsmen are going at it alone.

Cop City Chill Pillars Hosed LP (Floridas Dying)
Hosed is my first exposure to Cop City Chill Pillars, although I remember some slight hub-bub over their debut album. Either Hosed is a step down from the debut or we’ve run out of bands to like, as this is a peculiar, singularly-minded record that doesn’t do much for me. I’ll hand it to them for having a distinct sound, at least, which mostly comes from the guitars. Not even the most tone-deaf 8th grader could come up with a guitar tone so queasy and unpleasant as this – every song just reeks of that damn guitar tone, either out-of-tune or simulating such tunelessness through a mix of clean-channel flange and God knows what else. I truly appreciate a band willing to sound this bad, but the songs just kinda flop around like fish, as likely to recall some obscure late ’70s DIY post-punk single as a ’90s alternative one-hit-wonder. It’s a pretty long record, and Cop City Chill Pillars seem nearly as excited to be playing it as I am to listen to it, which is to say, not too much. Maybe there’s some other way that Cop City Chill Pillars make sense, like if I heard their first album first and then saw them live or something, but just sitting around listening to Hosed has been a losing prospect.

Dense & Pika Crispy Duck 12″ (Hotflush Recordings)
I’m always down to check out something new on the Hotflush label, and there’s something about techno guys with monikers befitting of graffiti writers that I’ve always found appealing. Still, not sure I was expecting the deep heat of Crispy Duck, a stunning EP of rich and heavy house tracks. The title track has a “Humpty Dance”-ish bass-line that sounds thick even on crappy stereos, marking time with a throat-clearing vocal snippet and hitting the canned audience applause button every time the track kicks back in. “Coil” raves a little harder, a wonderfully sweaty successor to “Crispy Duck”‘s audience unification. The EP rounds out with “31”, the most sensual and dare-I-say emotional cut of these three grade-A club tracks (or should that be “trax”). Dense & Pika would fit in nicely on the Ostgut Ton roster, but there’s a delicateness to their bass-lines and drum mixes that reveal two thoughtful minds behind this fine-tuned techno product. Time to go track down their other EPs!

Dharma Dogs Drown 7″ (Kitschy Manitou)
Here’s some heavy grunge-rock outta Madison, WI, the Dharma Dogs, and it’s pretty alright. The guitarist is wearing a Melvins shirt and has a sweaty mound of hair in his face in the back cover shot, which is pretty much exactly what I’d expect the guitarist of this band to look like. Definite early Sub Pop vibes, like Dharma Dogs would play gigs alongside The Fluid and The Dwarves had they existed in 1993 and the crowd would like it just fine. The b-side “Deep Wound” has kind of a Dinosaur Jr.-ish melodic groove, rounding out their early-’90s heavy rock influences. Definitely a DIY affair, as everything from their band-name logo to the insert and center stickers are hand-written, an approach that I prefer to poor Photoshop renderings. There are too many aspiring graphic designers in rock music anyway. Worth a listen if TAD and Milk Music are high-rankers on your page.

Featureless Ghost Personality Matrix LP (Night People)
Wasn’t into that recent Goldendust LP on Night People, and while Featureless Ghost tread similar musical territory, this one is much more to my liking. On the Venn diagram of electronic music, Personality Matrix falls nicely in the section that includes both “minimal synth for record nerds” and “synth-pop for dancing”. Most of the record hustles with an energy that could raise the humidity of any ’80s dance night, but the songs are strange and cool enough that obscure 7″ collectors might call the station asking for details if they heard it on the radio. Featureless Ghost make great use of dual vocals too, with a sort of madman Thomas Dolby guy who is calmed by an Annie Lennox / Ruth Radelet hybrid. There’s no time for feeling sorry for one’s self in Featureless Ghost’s realm – this is quirky, well-programmed synth-pop that looks forward to the next sweaty encounter with love, not the end of the world. And while Personality Matrix sounds pretty retro overall, there are enough unique moves (and a pretty low level of ’80s cheese) to keep the group sounding more like something new than a calculated reenactment. Hope this is a real group that plays shows and does a little touring (I never can tell with all these crazy Night People artists)… I’m ready for more!

Frozen Ocean First Fucking Vynil 7″ (Coffin Cut)
Frozen Ocean seems like a name fit for a bearded metal-core outfit, not whatever this demented band is. All the better to surprise me, then, as First Fucking Vynil (their spelling, not mine) is about as raw and psychotic as hardcore-punk can get. I’m reminded of some sort of unholy mix of White Load and Exit Hippies, but with a slight touch of the blues… and maybe a little black metal? It sounds like a complete mess, and it certainly is, but Frozen Ocean are downright captivating in the way that they make rock music sound like the worst crime a person can commit. I am imagining a world where fans of Meatshits and Rupture (musically, not lyrically) can join up with beer-drinking Homostupids fans and abuse metal riffs together. And I’m pretty sure Frozen Ocean are a two-piece! Clearly, wonders never cease with these wackos.

Kyle Hall & Kero Zug Island EP 12″ (Wild Oats)
Can’t go wrong with any Kyle Hall records as far as I’m concerned, but this collab with Kero on Hall’s Wild Oats label had me particularly intrigued for some reason – maybe I just wanted to spend a little time on Zug Island? It came as no surprise that this 12″ is killer, but it’s a particularly odd one, too – “Zug Island” kicks off like Nautical Almanac or something (at least for the first few seconds), with malfunctioning keyboards that quickly morph into a minimal acid monster. Either Hall or Kero is going crazy on a rusted cymbal ala Morphosis or Huren while the other tweaks a brief acid shot into some truly nasty shapes. You could probably dance to it, but it’s just such a perfect pairing of gnarly sounds that I am more prone to simply soak it in as I raise my fist in appreciation. “K2 Attack!” on the flip mixes digital interference with a muscular 808 boom-bap, teasing the beat until another wormy acid-line comes tearing up through the dirt, Tremors-style. Both songs have the feel of two guys improvising together, just kinda riding out the track where it takes them, but they’re so damned talented and raw that both tracks are absolute killers. Fans of agitated experimental techno take note – it’s not just middle-aged white European men who are wreaking havoc on the decks.

Holograms Holograms LP (Captured Tracks)
Somewhere along the way I lost touch with Captured Tracks… seems like they went from five releases to five-hundred releases in the course of a year, and there’s only so much faceless shoegaze-pop I can manage. Holograms is an excellent anomaly to the Capture Tracks catalog, however, and certainly a Band To Watch In 2013. Picture a Swedish Iceage who borrow more from The Cure and synth-pop than Death In June and industrial and you’re pretty close to what Holograms have to offer. The singer definitely has a European yelp similar to Iceage’s main guy, where he swallows every vowel sound in the middle of its pronunciation, but he’s backed up by poppy, happy melodies which often include a bubbly synth among the chiming guitars and muted bass. It’s a nice mix, the uplifting new-wave melodies with the frustrated post-punk vocalizing, and Holograms have a knack for putting together memorable songs, resulting in a catchy, enjoyable album that sounds both fresh and familiar.

How Much Wood Would A Woodchuck Chuck If A Woodchuck Could Chuck Wood? How Much Wood Would A Woodchuck Chuck If A Woodchuck Could Chuck Wood? LP (Avant!)
Imagine if this record had the visceral impact of Void mixed with the stunning craftsmanship of Neu!, all with the mind-blowing sensation from the first time you listened to Public Enemy. There’s still no way you or anyone else in their right mind would check out an artist by the name above, one that I refuse to type out ever again. Seriously, what are these people thinking? It’s like going out of your way to cook a thoughtful meal and then slathering it in rat poison once it’s ready to be served, rendering the whole thing inedible. What’s even more bizarre is that as I listen to this record, the music is this super lonely-sounding dreary goth rock, the sort of thing I actually might give a second or third spin if it didn’t come attached to what is legitimately the stupidest band name of all time. I simply cannot abide such behavior.

JMII Nueva York 12″ (100% Silk)
In my head, I keep replacing JMII with JSIII of Puerto Rico Flowers and Clockcleaner fame, and while I wouldn’t be completely shocked if he suddenly had a retro-house project, he’s not quite there yet. Whoever JMII is, he certainly found a suitable home on 100% Silk, as these four tracks are nice, analog-ish house music that sounds nostalgic for Fast Eddie or anyone else that used “jack” as a verb back in the day. There’s very little that places Nueva York in the modern day… maybe some of the chiller ambient sounds, but that’s pushing it. This is very much music that aims to please the DJ International crowd, and certainly nothing close to the experimental art-weirdness of Not Not Fun, which I’m sure is exactly how 100% Silk likes it to be. Good stuff, by no means mandatory, but still better than a box of Franzia if you are looking to bring something to a party.

King Dude Burning Daylight LP (Dais)
I swear, the day King Dude was born, there was probably some Wavves side-project at the same hospital and the nurses mixed up their names. In spite of this awful and inappropriate moniker, I’ve been a King Dude fan since his first LP on Dais, and Burning Daylight gives me a whole lot more to love. It’s still just one ancient gothic cowboy and his guitar, but King Dude varies his approach considerably on here – there are frozen waltzes, death dirges, hillbilly sing-alongs and whispery lullabies, with the guitar taking on various shapes and forms throughout. The King isn’t just a man on a stool with a Les Paul on his lap, he’s got all sorts of guitars and drone-makers and bells and effects, and he puts them to excellent use here. He either sounds like a 5,000 year-old man with a grey beard that drags on the ground behind him, or the guy who does the voice-overs for Ford truck commercials; he’s got a truly captivating voice that no amount of cigarette-smoking or studio pitch-shifting could ever replicate. Keep on walking down that long and lonesome road, King Dude, and I’ll keep on following.

King Tuff Screaming Skull / Love Potion 7″ (Sub Pop)
I loved Kyle Thomas’s Happy Birthday album from a couple years ago, and seeing as he’s the main King Tuffster himself, I figured I might as well check out a King Tuff 7″ single on this diverse West Coast label. I understand that King Tuff takes more of a classic/hard-rock slant on Happy Birthday’s stuffy-nosed power-pop, and I can hear that on “Screaming Skull”, a catchy (as usual) track that works with Big Star melodies as applied by the pothead nerds of today. “Love Potion” has a heavier groove, and Thomas kills it on the mic, reminding me of Cheap Trick, or at least the kids who were too poor to pay for stadium tickets and had to sit outside the concert. As a side note, King Tuff’s secret weapon has gotta be that pretty-boy bassist, some sort of Tom Petty / Woody Harrelson hybrid that stepped right out of That ’70s Show and grabbed a beer from your fridge. Keep an eye on that guy!

Lazy Party City 7″ (Moniker)
It’s Moniker, so I was expect some lonely weirdo lashing out in his or her bedroom, but that’s not Lazy! They’re clearly a “real” rock band, one that looks to the late ’70s punk scene for musical inspiration. I’m getting a Crime vibe from “Party City”, as it has a big-city coolness that floats around the taunt drumming and silly chorus, as if the song itself is wearing aviator sunglasses and smoking a cigarette. Same goes for the b-side’s “Silence In Crisis”, oozing the confident carelessness of the Dangerhouse scene. If the main riff wasn’t already a Dead Kennedys song, it should’ve been, and “Boys In The Girlsroom” has a Feederz-y jangle capable of inciting a tiny slam-pit in the 40 seconds or so it lasts. This 7″ comes with essentially zero information about the band, just a couple silly pictures and some song titles (took me a second to truly confirm the band was called “Lazy”, even), but that’s alright for them, as this is the sort of punk-rock jolt that will have fans searching for the band and not vice versa.

Linea Aspera Linea Aspera LP (Dark Entries)
It feels like I’ve been getting less and less excited by each new minimal-synth group as they come around… seems like everyone can get the haircuts and gear right, but no one seems to put too much of a focus on the actual songs, as if “synth-pop” is just another personality trait, rather than any sort of musical craft. Thankfully, a group like Linea Aspera comes around and gives me reason to believe in Rolands and eyeliner all over again, as their debut LP doesn’t just get all the visual and aesthetic descriptors right, it’s a set of songs I want to hear over and over again. The music is generally pretty straight-forward – there are never too many distractions, which leaves plenty of room for the vocals to go overboard with great gothisms like “to love is to lose” and “everything that breathes has to die” (and that’s just “Eviction”!). Alison Lewis sings and only sings, and the fact that she doesn’t have to worry about operating one or more keyboards can’t hurt when it comes to her commandingly icy vocal presence. Linea Aspera is a record as serious and unflinching as any Xeno & Oaklander joint, but I could certainly see a decent percentage of the La Roux fan club getting down to it as well – it’s got a catchiness that few others can manage. If you thought you were sick of this stuff by now, please, let Linea Aspera show you just how wrong you are.

Lower Someone’s Got It In For Me / But There Has To Be More 7″ (540 / Escho)
Lower’s debut EP certainly had me wanting more, and thanks to 540 here in the US (and Escho over in Europe), we’ve got two more songs from my favorite emo band masquerading as a dark post-punk group. Seriously, “Someone’s Got It In For Me” is great, but it sounds like Hoover, not some recently reissued cold-wave punk group or whatever. I like listening to Lower with post-punk ears though, as they definitely incorporate gloomier moves than your average emo-core would have, and I can safely say there’s no way they’re politicking on stage – these guys have an Iceage-level of dark emotional humorlessness that works to their advantage. “But There Has To Be More” opens with some ceremonial chimes and definitely bridges the gap between Still Life and Death In June; quite an accomplishment indeed, and it results in another slow-moving anthem of frustration. These are probably Lower’s most memorable (and best) tracks to date, and I can only hope they’re hard at work on an album right now.

Mary Christ Mary Christ 7″ (Hesitation Wound)
Been a while since I could say “here’s the debut EP of a righteous new DC punk band”, and I gotta say it feels pretty good. Mary Christ sounds like a new band, but a “first” band too… I have no idea if these are seasoned players or first-timers, but Mary Christ sound like they are energized by the idea of playing in a band with friends, and as a by-product of their newness, still sorting out their musical identity. The riffs vary from standard-issue punk to basic melodic grunge, with spoken/shouted vocals that carry a static level of intensity through these four tracks. I’m pretty sure there is some serious riot-grrrl inspiration here too, and while I could see someone in a Frumpies t-shirt getting revved up by Mary Christ, their music is broad enough that various punk sub-cultures could claim it for their own. These songs haven’t done a whole lot for me – the overall sound is a little too basic (and they aren’t anywhere near “so bad it’s good”), but the lyrics are sharp and the passion is there. I can only imagine that Mary Christ’s consecutive EPs (should they someday exist) will build on this one.

Maria Minerva Will Happiness Find Me? LP (Not Not Fun)
For a couple years now, I’ve been trying to like Maria Minerva and failing, but I think Will Happiness Find Me? is the first time I can comfortably consider myself a fan. Previous records just came across like nondescript hipster karaoke, the sort of no-effort, no-talent music that gives Tumblr-age hipsters a (perhaps well-deserved) bad name. She seemed like a cool person to hang out with in that recent Wire interview though, and maybe that’s coloring my experience with Will Happiness Find Me?, but at the same time, her music has finally gotten weird and charming enough that I’m sold. The music here frequently reminds me of the unfortunately-named I Am The World Trade Center electro-pop duo, but I’m picturing them deprived of their fancy studio setup and sparkling disco-balls, left with only a couple second-hand sequencer keyboards and a Trapper Keeper notebook of teenaged lyrics. It’s very fragile music, but Minerva always keeps it together, like she’s walking across a balance beam while sneezing and manages to keep from falling off. I’m still scratching my head at some of these songs, but this time around, I’m smiling instead of frowning.

David Novick David Novick LP (Sun Sneeze)
Sun Sneeze previously brought us those delightfully sun-bleached San Francisco Water Cooler albums, and they keep it in the family with SFWC member David Novick’s first solo outing. While there are some ties to the San Francisco Water Cooler sound (reverent guitar with a touch of psychedelia), Novick’s solo material fits closer to that whole Woodsist / Kurt Vile scene of modern-day coffee-shop hippies who listen to way too much Neil Young. I’m reminded a lot of that A Fundamental Experiment compilation here (Julian Lynch, Sun Araw, Matthew Mondanile, that whole scene), but I think I’d take Novick’s music over the majority of those other fellas. For starters, he works with a clear and warm fidelity, as his luscious and often beguiling melodies are given full opportunity to shine, never obscured by tape hiss or unnatural fuzz. He’ll sing here and there, or augment the songs with the occasional synth or harmonica, but this is first and foremost a guitar record, the sort of solitary and captivating music you’d find in Ecstatic Peace’s folk section. The sleeve is utterly drenched in screen-print ink, and as Sun Sneeze only bothered to press 100, sloppy details such as this are endearing testaments to the home-spun nature of the music. The most pleasant Sun Sneeze yet!

Nukkehammer Soviet Rust Belt 7″ (Solar Funeral)
Been meaning to check out Nukkehammer, as I believe they share personnel (or are at least buds with) Vile Gash, and the word “Nukkehammer” just sounds like some sort of awesome finishing move, like a choke-slam where the opponent gets dropped directly on his head or something. Anyway, Nukkehammer don’t disappoint, as these seven cuts of thick hardcore remind me of Anti-Cimex or Shitlickers with a slight Japanese bent. Or rather, this sounds like d-beat played by guys with visible muscles, hardcore so heavy and brutal that it requires physical strength to perform and navigate. The vocalist has a raw voice and extends his syllables without rendering the lyrics inaudible, kind of Gauze-like but without worshipping at their throne. Each song is a different blast from the same furnace, and I could easily go for more. Great sound, killer delivery, awesome name… I’m sold!

Pangaea Release 2×12″ (Hessle Audio)
As the man behind the stunning Hessle Audio label, Pangaea isn’t just a brilliant curator but a savvy producer himself. Tracks like “Memories”, “Why” and “Inna Daze” are unimpeachable future-bass gems, melding forward-thinking experimentalism with an understanding of what compels people to dance, and I was looking forward to uncovering a few more of those on the hard-to-Google Release. While it’s a cool set of songs, nothing on Release has the same uniqueness or charisma of earlier Pangaea tracks… instead, it just kinda fits in with the eclectic (yet somehow homogenous) rave-sounds of Night Slugs or Mad Decent. I’m struck by this as early as album-opener “Game”, which loops a Missy Elliott vocal over a speedy groove, a played-out formula that isn’t gaining any new life here. It’s alright, but it’s a trick that is so commonplace, it’s no longer a trick… I expect the future from Pangaea, not 2011! Maybe if I had a chance to digest Release as a series of 12″ singles, certain tracks would jump out more, but when played in succession, it’s a nice-yet-forgettable experience. And as Pangaea ends on “High”, a beat-less drift that time-stretches a vocal track until the words are shredded to ribbons, I’m reminded of the time ten years ago I messed around with the exact same effect at a friend’s studio (on a hardcore record no less!). When I listen to Pangaea, I want to be completely amazed and mesmerized by his production techniques, not think “oh yeah, I can do that too.”

Psy Ants Bit Tongue Prik LP (Vacant Valley)
Haven’t been too enthralled by some of Vacant Valley’s poppier releases, but I sure love it when they get ugly, particularly on this Psy Ants LP. Wasn’t sure what to expect, the phonetic band-name pun had me worried this’d be geeky indie or something, but Psy Ants are manic and visceral noise-rock. What I really like about them is that they’re not heavy on the noise, and instead add their own curious twang to things – I’m reminded of a cross between Arab On Radar and The Birthday Party, a combo that appeals to me both in theory and practice. The guitars aren’t drenched in feedback, they’re moaning in anguish, like they’re deserted on an island and screaming in vain as the plane flying above doesn’t come to their rescue. The vocalist has a pretty great voice too, closest in relation to Mentally Ill, but coming with his own particular vices (whatever they may be). Bit Tongue Prik is a great album from start to finish, and while I certainly enjoy other modern slime-rock bands like Degreaser and Pop. 1280, Psy Ants don’t just lay down in the mud, they splash around in it and mess up innocent passers-by. Recommended!

Quailbones Crane Wilbur 7″ (Ghost Orchard)
Seems like we’ve reached Peak Bandcamp, where the actual 7″ vinyl release is a low-run promo item used to get you to check out the Bandcamp page rather than, you know, the thing we all dream about releasing someday. I don’t blame Quailbones and their Crane Wilbur single though, they’re just another indie-garage band trying to make it in this difficult world. If anything, I think they deserve more than some downloadable MP3s, as these three songs are neurotic and well-rehearsed, pushed along with peppy drumming that refuses to let even the languid melody of “Belligerent & Numerous” drag it down. The recording is good, and while I’m probably off a bit, I’m picturing some sort of Tyvek / Modest Mouse hybrid when I listen to Quailbones (albeit with a vocalist who resembles neither). This single is limited to 100 copies and I hope their next one doubles that!

Raime Quarter Turns Over A Living Line 2×12″ (Blackest Ever Black)
Kinda nice to see both Raime and Blackest Ever Black growing in popularity at a seemingly unison rate, essentially boosting each other’s profiles with each cool new release or DJ night or whatever. It almost seems old-fashioned, to see an upstart new label and its flagship artist stick together like this. This is Raime’s debut full-length, and as their cover art has improved from unfocused screen-prints of black ink on black jackets to sharp, stunning photography, their music has taken a similar turn. I dug their first couple 12″s, which were dark, sparse investigations into tide-pools of drone and the ghosts that linger in empty gymnasiums, but they really found their footing on the Hennail EP and cast that into even stronger focus here. There are only a few sounds in each Raime track, but not a move is wasted here – if the track is just a distorted scream, swaying violin and an electronic undertow, as is the case with opener “Passed Over Trail”, they make it count. If anything, I could complain that Quarter Turns Over A Living Line goes by too fast, as I find myself flipping sides of vinyl more often than I’d like, but the “I wish there was more!” complaint is probably the best possible reaction I can have toward an album. Without Raime, they’d just be Fairly Dark.

Sauna Youth Dreamlands LP (Faux Discx / Gringo)
Sauna Youth always seemed a little uncomfortable with punk rock’s constraints, like they didn’t want to follow the standard protocol on how to release a record and what to put on it. That sort of anti-anti-establishment vibe comes through on Dreamlands‘s opening track, “Town Called Distraction”, which encompasses the entire a-side – imagine a party-version of one of those epic Fucked Up tracks, and instead of Damian Abraham screaming over top, a mundane story is told by a dead-pan English bloke and an even deader-pan English bird. Could this be the mumblecore movement’s entrance to punk rock? It’s a nice concept, and they execute it well, but I probably prefer the five songs on the b-side, a nice helping of wiry punk-rock comfort food. I’d list Marked Men, Family Curse and Mean Jeans as modern-day references, and Sauna Youth can easily crank out energetic, sing-along punk-rock with the best of them. They’re probably a bit more polished than your average contemporary punk band, but use that to their advantage by writing fun, memorable songs and delivering them with a raw but powerful recording (without ever seeming too slick or rehearsed). Very cool album that manages to mix art with punk without losing the charm of either.

Sex Church Somnambulist 12″ (Instant Pleasure / Psychic Handshake Recordings)
For as much as I dug Sex Church’s most recent album, I haven’t listened to it all that much lately… maybe I just don’t want to enter the melancholy, burnt-out head-space that record always led to? I think this Somnambulist EP will get a bit more turntable love, as I’m a fan of the 12″ EP format and these three songs rock notably harder than their last couple records. It’s almost as if this record is here to remind folks that Sex Church are a punk band beneath all their Velvet Underground and Neil Young trappings, still down to fly through their garage-punk scorchers with the coolness of The Scientists and the seediness of The Flesh Eaters. “Wrong Side” on the b-side had me expecting a slowed-down torture sesh, and Sex Church deliver with twangy guitars and miserable bass, like one of those great Leather Nun dirges set to a Californian desert landscape. In a way, it’s what Pink Reason would sound like if they ever got their act together. Nice one!

Stacian Songs For Cadets LP (Moniker)
Stacian’s debut was a pretty forgettable foray into anonymous synth-goth, decent but nothing special, and Songs For Cadets is a welcome improvement. The approach essentially remains the same (bedroom-stylized synths with rudimentary beats and echoed vocals) but this album’s material is stronger. Definitely more in the Night People vein of minimal-synth (as opposed to the staunch, pro-gear professionalism of Wierd), but Stacian has honed her programming skills and done a pretty good job at turning the Skate Or Die soundtrack into a goth-night DJ tool here. It seems like for the most part, Stacian doesn’t alter her keyboard / drum machine settings a heck of a lot… the same drum sounds keep showing up, which adds a nice sense of uniformity to the album, particularly as the songs generally move by pretty quick. I’m never bored listening to Songs For Cadets, even as I can’t understand a single echoed word that is sung. Sometimes you can succeed on good sounds and a good vibe.

Taco Leg Taco Leg LP (Fan Death)
Taco Leg have always intrigued me, as their childlike take on punk rock is difficult to penetrate and disarmingly sincere. They seem to share the concerns of your average elementary school child, to the point where I am convinced Taco Leg still believe in Santa, and the music is equally immature – the guitarist favors single notes over chords, and the singer speaks rather than sings, in a manner that makes GG Allin sound like Morrissey by comparison. Their early singles kinda left me hanging, but I enjoyed them live, and this self-titled debut album seems to split the difference. They still kind of sound like Eddy Current’s younger brother, but with Eddy Current’s pop-catchiness and punk-rock heartstrings replaced with a rank amateurism that could succeed by sheer will of force if it actually seemed like Taco Leg had an interest in trying. Instead, it kinda sounds like some the quiet kids who draw comics in study hall put a band together for a high school talent show, a Television Personalities for a generation raised on Nintendo and snack foods. It’s a cool record for what it is, which is decidedly not very much at all.

Fred Thomas Night Times LP (Framework)
Fred Thomas is a prolific singer-songwriter, and Night Times collects a variety of his recent recordings, many of which were previously given away for free on the Internet. I guess when you put out as many records as Thomas, you can let a few free MP3s fly out, but to its benefit, Night Times sounds more like an intentional album than an odds n’ sods collection. He must have a ton of gear clogging up his apartment, as each track seems to involve some new piano or keyboard or drumset or guitar. His voice is less distinct here than I remember it (I haven’t kept up on my Fred Thomas, I’ll be honest), but he sings pleasantly and never seems to run out of ideas… even the four versions of “Night Time” are at least interesting and at best, curious fun. The mood is often sad, but Thomas never brings me down – I find his moping to be comforting, in some strange way. I don’t spend a lot of my free time listening to amiable, mild indie-rock such as this, but Night Times has been an enjoyable time. Thomas seems like the sort of guy where, if he’s your roommate, you don’t have to feign interest when you come home from work and he’s like, “hey, I wanna play you the three new songs I recorded today!”

Thresholder Beyond The Far Horizon / Cold Sun 7″ (no label)
Thresholder follow the Wooden Shjips “free first record” method by offering this nice little two-song single for free – all you have to do is email them (or I suppose a text message if you’re privy to their cell number). As a vinyl consumer, it’s hard to argue with that approach, and even jeers of “this sucks” can easily be met with “what are you complaining about, it was free!”. Thresholder don’t suck, though – “Beyond The Far Horizon” is a simple and pretty little strummer that reminds me of both Quasi and The Walkmen, very modern-indie but certainly pleasant enough. “Cold Sun” is a little spicier, maybe a little closer to garage rock in its thumpy tempo, but still the work of people who could easily walk into a J Crew without attracting the store manager’s attention. Not sure how long Thresholder will be able to exist on the “we do it for love” method, but hey, I certainly don’t plan on trying to stop them!

Times New Viking Over And Over 12″ (Siltbreeze)
I never picked up that first Times New Viking album, just had trouble supporting that pun-based name, and by the time I thought I’d check them out again, they had released like fix other albums and a ton of EPs. Some bands don’t know how to not work hard! My highly limited experience with their recorded material was just a track on that World’s Lousy compilation LP, which I enjoyed, and Over And Over, which very well may be their last recorded work (although who am I kidding, it probably won’t be), is pretty great too. Just from my overall knowledge of Times New Viking, from live shows and second-hand stories and articles and what not, they seem like pretty bitter, sardonic people, so I’m surprised to hear that their songs are downright sugary sweet at times, indie-pop that might slap you around a little but always hugs you in the end. Vocalist Beth Murphy has a beautiful singing style, and Adam Elliott’s guy-voice compliments it nicely, often singing different lyrics at the same time and making it catchy and cool instead of jumbled and forced. The recording is probably the “lo-fi” that they have been forever branded as, but it sounds pretty crisp to me, like the vibrant live sound of warmed-up tube amps rather than lo-fi’s other definition of crappy guitars recorded through a red-lining GarageBand application. Not sure I have it in me to dig into all those other Times New Viking records, but this one is treating me quite nicely indeed.

Ugandan Methods A Cold Retreat 12″ (Boomkat Editions)
While I occasionally poke fun, I am a big fan of the Boomkat distro. It’s cool that they are expanding from record distribution to record production, and this Ugandan Methods 12″ is a pretty mighty entrance into that field. Ugandan Methods is a collaboration between Regis and Ancient Methods, and while I am well-versed in the former and somewhat unfamiliar with the latter, I can say that the results are quite dashing. “Imperium” is drowning in Regis’ ever-present, debilitating bass, literally rumbling the furniture in my listening parlor at even a modest volume, but it moves with intimidating precision, like something out of the Blackwater mail-order catalog. It could be the day-glo vinyl and record sleeve that makes me think of Ugandan Methods as a brighter, sunnier take on Sandwell District techno, but the programmed drums of “A Cold Retreat” swing with a pronounced jingle, just a tad bouncier than what I’d normally expect from Regis. The EP wraps up with a pretty fantastic untitled track filled with ambiguous industrial loops and piercing feedback, more befitting of Test Dept or Skullflower than any sort of techno producer. You’re off to an excellent start, Boomkat Editions!

Veiled Suicide Herself 7″ flexi (Glass Coffin)
Here’s another cool one-sided, cover-less, colored-vinyl (or whatever plastic material this is) flexi-disc 7″ on the Glass Coffin label. Veiled is M Ax Noi Mach’s Rob Francisco and his Spanish friend Arnau Sala trying their hands at EDM music for BDSM purposes. “Suicide Herself” is predicated upon a queasy two-note acid bass-line, squelching like an untamed garden-hose and soaking everyone in the general vicinity. An electronic clap helps keep time as the dungeon lights dim (but never go out), with Veiled providing witness to whatever deviant acts their music happens to inspire. Veiled have an album slated for release on the Blind Prophet label sometime in the near future (good fit, by the way!), and while this is a pretty sweet cut of mid-tempo basement-electro, its brevity and mild dynamics might leave some fans hanging. They can hold out for the album, but I’ll keep sitting here swaying passionately to “Suicide Herself” while we wait.

Vindicatrix Mengamuk 2xLP (Mordant Music)
Vindicatrix is probably the strangest Mordant Music recording artist, which is saying a lot. Every time he releases a new album, I convince myself I need to hear it; he’s a cool-looking weirdo, and his write-ups and articles always make him sound so appealing. But I don’t know… Mengamuk is another Vindicatrix record that I’ve heard and then didn’t really want to hear again. One could easily write off Vindicatrix as “the dubstep Scott Walker” and they wouldn’t be totally wrong, as Vindicatrix is essentially a sanity-bending crooner whose vocals need not match the cadence and tone of his instrumental tracks. It’s all about that voice of his, deep and warbly and wounded, and the electronic detritus, fluttering beats and discomfiting tones are nice enough, it’s just not a pairing that I find myself wanting to revisit too often. At times I’m reminded of the most recent Sightings records, but Sightings are more energetic and exciting, pushing things forward rather than just drifting in the abyss like Vindicatrix. I still think Vindicatrix is a notable persona in the world of electronic music, he’s just one of those guys that is nice to know is there – actually spending a lot of time with his records isn’t quite as necessary.

Wasteland Wasteland LP (Clean Plate)
Here’s another hardcore record whose impact is lessened by the era from whence it came. Wasteland apparently recorded this back in 2007 and 2008, and while they are a mean, thoughtful, occasionally moshable, gritty and powerful hardcore band (I hear bits of Born Against, Portraits Of Past, His Hero Is Gone and Left For Dead), there’s nothing on Wasteland that pushes them to the top of the pile. It’s a good record for sure, but it seems like in the past six years or so, everyone has figured out how to make great hardcore – the standards are ridiculously high. That’s just the world we live in (and a much nicer quandary than no one knowing how to play good hardcore at all). The vocals are a standard-model scream, the songs are brisk and heavy but don’t particularly stand out from one another, and I don’t know, I’d just rather listen to something else. And while I know that Iron Lung didn’t trademark their typeface, Wasteland’s insert is so exactly Iron Lung-ish that it adds to the group’s generic hardcore anonymity. Fifteen years ago, Wasteland would’ve been a monster, but now it’s just another good hardcore record where such things are abundant.