A Model Authority Model 001 12″ (A Model Authority)
I am fascinated by the recent noise/techno cross over, and that goes for both sides of the fence. Particularly intriguing are the techno guys trying their hand at something less-studied and harsher, and A Model Authority are another recent example, this being the duo of Shifted and Sigha under a new guise. This definitely feels like the work of techno guys who’ve been impressed by Hospital Productions and Vatican Shadow – the songs are simplistic, rugged, minimal and jagged, as if these guys are throwing their keen production knowledge out the window, choosing rather to just press three buttons on the sampler and let it rip. There’s even a couple “noise” tracks here too: one that just kind of washes over, and another that features a phone conversation run through a Rat pedal (or something equivalent). When it comes to contemporaries, A Model Authority is probably closest to Karenn in sound, as they don’t have the sonic force of Regis, nor the peculiar structure of Andy Stott (nor are they distinctly in-between like Kerridge). I will admit, there isn’t anything particularly special or revolutionary about this 12″, but I am so enamored by the modern industrial-techno sound right now that this EP, along with its attractive packaging, gets a thumbs up from me. Eventually, I’ll hit my quota of this specific sound, but until then…

Atlantic Thrills A Day At The Beach 7″ (Almost Ready)
Richie Cunningham might actually be a bald and wrinkly senior citizen at this point, but his high school persona forever lives on thanks to groups like Atlantic Thrills. Inexplicably, they are a group of present-day musicians who want nothing more than some freshly churned cotton candy and a sweetheart’s hand in theirs, and while that sort of alternate reality seems like a less satisfying fantasy to me in 2013 than Juggaloism, the soft-serve power-pop of Atlantic Thrills gets my stamp of approval. “A Day At The Beach” could go toe to toe with Ronnie Mayor’s “Can’t Wait ‘Til The Summer Comes”, very saccarhine sock-hop with some Deke Dickerson-style leads over top. “Hold Your Tongue” is far ruder, like The Monks if they did a photoshoot in swimsuits, highly boppable and silly in a vastly different way than the a-side. It’s not gonna change your life, but Atlantic Thrills entertained me on both sides of this 7″ playing a style of music older than most teenagers’ parents, so I’d consider it a success! If you disagree, I politely invite you to sit on it and rotate.

Bad Energy / Bad Side split 7″ (Badmaster)
How ironic, that the Bad Energy / Bad Side split 7″ on Badmaster Records is… good! All three entities are from Philadelphia, and it’s the sort of local DIY hardcore-punk connectivity that warms my heart. Bad Energy are fast and thrashy, with a vocalist who yells as much as he screams – I’d say they’re like a mix of Double Negative and Dayglo Abortions, although I admit that’s not deadly accurate. They keep the songs moving all over the place, but it never feels like anything but hardcore. Bad Side are even faster and thrashier, and also sloppier, but that’s not a complaint with hardcore this unhinged, particularly as the singer comes across like a mix of Roger Miret and Kevin Seconds (both in their respective early years). Bad Side are also a little moshier – their second track opens with a bass/drums intro that is sure to crack open a basement pit like an egg on concrete. Both bands are quite similar in style, almost like a pair of identical twins where you have to keep remembering which one it is that wears the glasses, but in this case it’s just fun and exciting to know that multiple groups of people in the same city are capable of blasting out gnarly hardcore-punk. It’s nice when competition is unnecessary and replaced by pure hardcore expression.

John Bellows Fast Hits LP (Special Needs)
I went pretty hard on a John Bellows 7″ last month, which I kinda feel bad about, but that might just be because I haven’t listened to it in weeks, and have been able to remove myself from the anguish of actually hearing it. I certainly wasn’t looking forward to Fast Hits, but to his credit, Bellows manages to spread his sound out a bit here. There are fast power-pop tunes, jokey indie-rock tracks, and a bunch of ’90s “alternative”-sounding songs, all smooshed together. I’m reminded of guys like Eugene Chadbourne and Mojo Nixon, the sort of wacky punk provocateurs that seem particularly dated now, and might not have actually been all that funny to begin with, but without a time machine I won’t ever know for sure. Maybe a little Bugout Society in there too, just without the hardcore influence? John Bellows still isn’t my thing in the slightest, but Carrot Top managed to create a million-dollar empire out of annoying zaniness, so maybe Mr. Bellows is onto something too?

Black Time Blackout LP (Monolith Sound)
Black Time were one of many garage-punk bands of the previous decade to release over a dozen albums, tapes and singles. I can’t say I kept up with more than half, but somehow I owned Blackout on CD (a more innocent time, when people still bought CDs), and listened to it frequently over the years. Black Time wrote songs that really stuck with me (unlike many of their contemporaries), and for a band that was pretty clearly sticking to the garage template, they felt far more punk than the rest of the crowd. Maybe it’s because I never got the feeling that Black Time were trying to be anything in particular – they didn’t need to wear blazers with old-timey punk badges and funny sunglasses in their photoshoots. Black Time always seemed above that sort of nonsense. Plus, the songs on Blackout all come with their own signature sneers; from “Catholic Discipline” to “Young Professionals”, there are tons of rotten anthems on here to cling to, and it never feels same-y, an achievement in a genre where I have difficulty telling bands apart, let alone songs. The Monolith Sound vinyl reissue comes in a big-budget LP sleeve, printed inner and quality vinyl, pretty much as nice a reissue as you could ask for. Though really, part of me just wants to blast this thing on a crappy car CD player, on my way to a warehouse show where everyone smokes and I already know I’ll feel awful the next day. It’s one of those few albums that makes me nostalgic for second-hand smoke.

Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy LP (Palace)
Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy is an indie-rock institution, and like most indie-rock institutions, my knowledge of him is spotty at best. Sure, like any other middle-class music nerd who’s had his own apartment, I own a couple Will Oldham records and maybe an old Palace Brothers 7″ or two, but I cannot speak of the many twists and turns Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy has taken throughout his career. (He collaborated with Kanye West or Coldplay, right? And discovered Bon Iver? Or was he just in a funny music video?) Anyway, I’m happy to speak on the music of the ostensibly self-released, self-titled album I have in front of me. It’s a beautiful collection of acoustic guitar and vocal accompaniment, very direct and stripped-down, as if he is performing in a tiny darkened cafe under a spotlight to a crowd of no more than a dozen, where you can count each whisker in his beard and hear his fingers squeak across the strings as they locate different chords. His voice is pained, sweet, curious and unmistakable here, and his understated-yet-nimble guitar performance is a sharp match. There’s a reason why some people become stars and others don’t, and even on an album as unstated as this, it becomes obvious that Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy didn’t gain a following just because his dad was Arista’s head A&R guy for 25 years or something. He got it by being talented and cool.

Buck Biloxi And The Fucks Holodeck Survivor / Not Getting Stabbed 7″ (Total Punk)
I missed the first Buck Biloxi single, but kept hearing praise aimed in their general direction. Leave it to Total Punk to finally hip me to these fellas, something they have done time and time again, and the reason why record labels are still valuable resources and more necessary than endless internet news feeds. “Holodeck Survivor” might be the best Star Trek-related song I’ve ever heard – the music perfectly replicates classic Orange Records-era GG Allin, crudely chugging out a song that strives to be tuneful at its core. The vocalist ain’t too far from ol’ GG either, and the fact that there’s a guy named “Pee Pee Ramone” on guitar makes me wonder if Dick Urine didn’t produce this single too (legendary GG Allin producer – go on, check the back of those 7″ sleeves!). Same goes for “Not Getting Stabbed”, although it’s a bit sillier, and catchier too, Biloxi listing rude things that he and his gang are gonna do to you. On a label of total punk releases, this very well might be their totalest punk yet!

Brainbombs Disposal Of A Dead Body 2xLP (Skrammel)
I consider myself a lifetime Brainbombs fan, but it’s the sort of thing I’d rather keep private – when I dig into Brainbombs, I want to retreat from real life for a while, into a world of utter horror and the basest human misery. Seems like their recent resurgence came and went, which makes sense. It’s not like they have a Led Zeppelin-esque discography to slowly reinterpret – either you get down with bludgeoning caveman guitar riffs and a serial killer on vocals or you don’t. I’m gonna keep buying their records, but I can tell you that Disposal Of A Dead Body won’t be the first, second or third Brainbombs record I reach for off my shelf. My reasoning is based almost entirely on the recording – the early Brainbombs singles sounded like they were electrocuting your stereo, and Obey and Fucking Mess allowed you to hang on every twisted word, but this one just kinda gets by, the vocals mostly unintelligible, the guitars mostly muted, the mix mostly neutered. The riffs are just as you’d expect, but over the course of four LP sides, it gets kinda boring, particularly as I can barely make out the vocalist (I only really get a feel if and when he repeats his words after the music has ended). The song titles are as despicable and morbid as ever, which just makes me feel like I’m missing out on the full picture. Worth a listen for sure, they are still the reliable ol’ Brainbombs, but if you didn’t scratch up a few dozen Euros for this one, I hope to have relieved your fears.

The Cartoons She’s A Rock And Roller 7″ (Last Laugh)
For a group calling themselves The Cartoons, it’s a bold move that a brick wall is the only cartoon featured on the cover! I hate to see a chance for a punk-rock Daffy Duck wasted, what can I say. I guess that’s to be expected of a rude bunch of punk rockers such as this though, originally released in 1981 in what was surely a miniscule amount, and obscure enough that a moderate record junkie such as myself never heard of them before. “She’s A Rock And Roller” is pretty cool, mixing up a Sex Pistols attitude with a less transgressive hard-rock swagger, feeling like a song that was written by guys who actually beat up the punk rockers a few grades below and decided they liked the fit of the leather jackets they stole off them. “Who Cares” is less punk, more bar-friendly, but still rowdy enough that it might be the missing link between The Rotters and White Boy & The Average Rat Band. Once again, Last Laugh flexes their archeological muscle here, unearthing more rare punk that probably no one was asking for, but through its arrival surely many are delighted.

Constant Mongrel Heavy Breathing LP (Siltbreeze)
Constant Mongrel’s debut album may have been my favorite slice of Australian punk rock last year, a real buzzsaw mess of Urinals’ simplicity and Lamps’ brute force. I was ready to injure myself to Heavy Breathing the moment I first got my hands on a copy, but much to my surprise, Constant Mongrel toned down their punk rock lunkheadedness in favor of a more thoughtful approach, mixing quick pours of goth and psychedelia in their punch. At first, it put me off, hearing that weirdly-affected guitar chime away, but I quickly became accustomed to their growth. And really, after I realigned my brain to Heavy Breathing, I realized it’s still stupid punk music just a stone’s throw from Taco Leg – “Choked” could’ve easily been an early Germs tune, and “Perks And The Thrills (Pills)” sounds like Rik L Rik and Rikk Agnew arguing outside the Masque directly after the Germs’ set. So nice to hear a band that can “grow” without maturing, as Constant Mongrel have clearly gotten more technically talented (there’s really no way to avoid it) but still insist on banging two chords against a wall and using the floor tom the way most bands use the hi-hat. Time for a US tour, don’t you think?

Division Four 1983 Demo Cassette 12″ (Smartguy)
I like to consider myself an Australian punk buff, the sort of guy who can tell the difference between Section Urbane and Just Urbain from the tape hiss alone, but I never heard of Division Four before. They only ever did a demo cassette, back in (you guessed it) 1983, and Smartguy, purveyor of many high-quality Australian punk records, has taken to pressing it on vinyl. On first spin, I thought it was a cool mix of ready-steady street-punk and new wave synths, but then I put it on again, and again, and again, and now I’m wondering how I ever lived without “Doctor’s Wife” or “Sewer Song”. It’s the kind of formula that is ripe for a modern band to plagiarize – clenched-fist, plodding punk with a synth riding shotgun and a bleak world view, and yet I don’t think I’ve heard anyone really attempt it. That is, besides Division Four back in 1983, who managed to write some super-simple tunes that really delivered the goods. Catchier than Iron Cross and more dystopian than Gary Numan, it’s truly a travesty that Division Four didn’t get their due back in their day, which would have allowed folks like you and me to viciously duke it out on eBay for their original short-run vinyl some thirty years later. I’m prepared for that fight!

Donato Dozzy 200 EP 12″ (Electronique.it)
For all the different techno styles Donato Dozzy has tried, I swear he’s never come up short. He’s like one of those jerks that looks as good in jeans and a t-shirt just as he does a tuxedo, you know? This is why I try to never miss any of his releases, and 200 remains another example of the wisdom in my choice. The story behind 200 is interesting – the Electronique.it label/website asked Dozzy to curate their 200th podcast, for which he wrote a long essay on the history of Italian electronic music and a mix of 55 Italian tracks. These three cuts were extracted from the set, and they are pounding techno par excellence. “200.1” and “200.2” take the relentless propulsion of Dozzy’s collaborations with Nuel and splash in some color through “tribal” drumming, unidentified chirps, swirling winds and the crisp sensation of whitewater spray. Both tracks lock into their groove and generally remain self-sustaining, with just enough subtle tweaking to feel alive. It’s on “200.3” where he really builds up steam though – this b-side cut is twice the size of the first two tracks, and feels even more like a fight-dance performed by Klaus Kinski inside the Matrix – it’s utterly wild and scary, but Dozzy retains supreme control over the proceedings. Even for the measly twenty minutes here, it’s envigorating to experience life inside Donato Dozzy’s world.

Emptyset Recur LP (Raster-Noton)
Emptyset are one of my favorite current electronic artists out of the UK, and surely one of the most distinct as well – they have constructed and refined their template of radioactive blasts of static interference, released at particular intervals, and it has served them well. This new one certainly doesn’t stray from that formula – the tracks either slowly tweak their sonic explosions, or stutter into arrhythmic patterns, and either way, it’s as dense and sonically relentless as I could’ve hoped. I’ve enjoyed blasting myself in the face with Recur, but at the same time, I feel like the lack of variation may end up working against Emptyset in the end, as newer, dorkier groups start co-opting this sound (an inevitability with anything cool). While listening to some of the tracks here, I can already picture a Skrillex remix, or the guy from Death Grips angrily rapping over top, and it’s nearly enough to ruin my experience. Certain tracks are surely a hair away from being ruined by some “shocking” rapper over-top, and I wouldn’t put it past 2014 or 2015 for such a thing to exist. For now though, I am going to cherish Emptyset as my own, and live in this moment that they have created.

The Floor Above Bishop LP (Savage Quality)
I get really excited when a new Savage Quality release comes my way, because it’s almost a guarantee that I’ve never heard of the band and they’re noisy and unusual and generally pretty great. The Floor Above certainly fits the bill, as they’re a manic hardcore band that pushes the limits beyond classic hardcore into something more thrashy, discordant, and dare I say screamo-ish. Some of the songs could pose as fill-ins on Die Kreuzen’s first album, but then they end up blasting off into violent, fall-on-the-floor territory that groups like Honeywell and Antioch Arrow reached in the early ’90s. But it’s never emo, just wild hardcore music that occasionally recalls the full-steam-ahead nihilism of Maniax or maybe even non-commercial black metal. The vocalist has a Homostupids-style caterwaul, and it’s the perfect pitch for this messy hardcore assault. Out of nowhere, The Floor Above have released one of my favorite hardcore albums of the year!

Francisco Franco Francisco Franco LP (New Images Limited)
If I told you Rob Francisco of M Ax Noi Mach and Veiled and Matt Franco of Air Conditioning and Holy Family Parish had a new project together, you’d probably expect some sort of crushing electronic industrial music… maybe something like Vatican Shadow meets Hunting Lodge, right? Well, these guys are delighted to take the dramatic left turn that is Francisco Franco, an intensely quiet instrumental pop-rock group. The bulk of Francisco Franco sounds like music made for study hall – songs you can play on your Texas Instruments calculator out of sheer boredom or little rhythms tappable by pencil on textbook. These songs are very repetitive, very stressed and overtired, but never result in an outburst worthy of detention. This album specifically reminds me of that one instrumental Young Marble Giants EP, Michael Rother’s Fernwärme, and the criminally dollar-binned Themes For ‘Grind’ by Will Sergeant of Echo & The Bunnymen fame. Just two guitars, a bass, and rhythmic accompaniment working out their little algorithms of melodic woe, coming together to form something that I enjoy even more than I had initially planned. I recommend you dub the LP to a crappy tape, then listen to it on a Walkman while walking in cold drizzly weather through an aging apartment complex on a Sunday afternoon for optimal effect.

Huerco S. Colonial Patterns 2xLP (Software)
Not too long ago, Huerco S. dropped a killer 12″ on Future Times, the sort of thing that aimed for the dancefloor but took out a few experimental music nerds on its way there, so I was amped for the release of his debut album Colonial Patterns. The first time I listened to it, I was on an overnight flight in a tiny airplane seat, falling in and out of restless sleep, and listening on an iPod, so I wasn’t sure if this album really sounded as smeared and uncomfortably ambient as I thought it did. After multiple spins of the vinyl on solid ground, I can confirm that it wasn’t just me – Huerco S. has put together an album of finely corroded house music, so rusty and weathered that only the finest footworker could really get down to it. I don’t remember there being such an Andy Stott vibe on his earlier stuff, but Colonial Patterns reps it pretty hard, from the way the beats sound like they are played with dying batteries and the melodies and chords sound like they remained undisturbed for years before being resuscitated back to life. Sure, by like the third or fourth track the beats are revived enough that you can actually groove to the music, but this album is dominated by its sleepy, narcotic haze, not its beats. I’m definitely reminded of recent albums by Austin Cesear, Terrence Dixon and Darling Farah here – there are a lot of folks doing this sort of thing right now, and I’m not even sure that Huerco S. particularly stands out, yet I keep throwing on Colonial Patterns on purpose, happy to settle into its web of dusty rhythms, simplistic synth patterns and hypnotic sense of space.

Hysteria Ward From Breakfast To Madness LP (General Speech)
Never heard of Hysteria Ward before, but any punk band ranting about breakfast gets my attention. Threw the LP on, and I’m thinking “man, this band is doing a fantastic job of melding dark post-punk and Crass Records vibes with blatant ’80s new-wave… they don’t sound remotely modern!”. After like the third spin, I decided to actually check out the insert, only to discover that Hysteria Ward released From Breakfast To Madness on tape back in 1986 out of their London home, and it all made sense, even if it took a little bit of the wind out of my sails, wishfully thinking that a band this strangely frozen in time got started in 2013. I’m reminded of Strange Boutique or UK Decay, but with maybe a pinch of Poison Girls, or maybe even a surely unintentional Shattered Faith aftertaste? All while keeping in mind that the group looks like a cross between Missing Persons and Campingsex. I think I’ve thrown out enough band names to make this review almost completely useless, but putting that aside, From Breakfast To Madness is a nice serving of early goth-wave, one that relies more on substance than style (while still setting aside a portion of gig earnings for hair dye).

Impalers Impalers LP (540 / Todo Destruido)
The bar for hardcore is set so high these days, I am surprised at how many bands are willing to try… everyone has MP3 collections of the finest hardcore on Earth at this point, so if you aren’t coming somewhat close, why put out a record? If you are Impalers, though, putting out records makes sense, as these guys are in the upper echelon of modern hardcore, clearly well-versed in its diverse history while never settling into one specific sub-sub-genre. I can imagine an Impalers songwriting sesh consists of the bassist playing around with a Motörhead riff, the drummer playing along like it’s Deathreat, and the guitarist jamming like he’s in Negative Approach until testing out a Thin Lizzy solo he’s been working on. Impalers really seem to have that wide spread of hard-edged guitar-rock knowledge and the technical skill to put it all together (some of these tracks are so perfectly air-tight that I start to feel lightheaded). They can write a song that sounds like both Disclose and Cro-mags, and they do so in a way that I am content with dumbly banging my head instead of trying to pick apart which influence came from where. It’s a pretty nice place to be!

Lakes Blood Of The Grove LP (No Patience)
Australia’s most prominent Death In June acolytes are back at it with another LP of gothic post-punk neo-folk. This style of music is so easily mockable that I feel inclined to try to like it… these bands just seem so preposterously serious and morbid and empty that they are just ripe for a wedgie that I’d rather let someone else give. Lakes certainly fit the bill – from the chiming guitars, minor-key melodies, dramatic atmosphere, militaristic drumming and deeply affected vocals, this is as much a studied exercise as your co-worker’s Zumba class. If you can get past that, or if you just absolutely crave this sound, Lakes certainly deliver, and there isn’t anything particularly stupid or over-the-top about them – they politely sing songs about blood coming from things that normally don’t have blood, and all the imagery (old stone ruins, a sigil of moons and a knife, etc.) really just makes me want to play The Legend Of Zelda again. At least I made it through the whole review without mentioning Cult Of Youth. Wait… damnit!

Jessy Lanza Pull My Hair Back LP (Hyperdub)
I’m not sure if pop music is getting smarter, or underground music is getting greedier, but it seems like there is really no boundary between radio-pop and independent electronic music at this point. It’s both cool and troubling, but for the most part I dig the fact that nothing is out of bounds in late 2013 – a noise guy will write a Home Depot jingle, a teen-pop star will mosh at a punk show… the singularity is near. Anyway, Jessy Lanza is one of the more recent underground-grown singers performing a smarter form of pop music, and Pull My Hair Back is pretty sweet. It’s kind of like if Kylie Minogue came up going to Ramadanman and Boddika gigs, getting heavy into deep bass and post-dubstep beats while still just wanting to sing “Locomotion” or “Physical”. I get some serious Jessie Ware vibes on the (relatively speaking) torch songs, the humanoid feel of Jamie Woon on some of the upbeat tracks, and maybe even a dusting of Laurel Halo’s bizarre fingerprints on some of the more creative productions. And of course, the bangers come with that TNGHT-styled trap-rap gusto. Pull My Hair Back will probably sound hilariously dated by 2016, but I’m living for today, and happy to jam some Jessy Lanza while driving my coupe to the club (or basement show).

Murcof & Philippe Petit First Chapter LP (Aagoo / REV. Laboratories)
From the names alone, it’s pretty clear that Murcof & Philippe Petit ain’t no Brooks & Dunn, or even Simon & Garfunkel. No, these two are interested in only the strangest of soundscapes, the sort of music you’d expect to hear in a doomsday-prepper-themed haunted house run by 9/11 conspiracy theorists. The usual avant-garde ambient tone-drift shows up first, but before you know it, this dream’s become a nightmare, with disembodied opera-singing, a cat running across the inside of a grand piano, and something referred to in the credits as a “cymbalum” (I looked it up, and shame on me – it’s actually a real thing). There’s some genuine musicality being flexed on “Pegasus”, but this is mostly a long sprawling soundtrack to an art-house film that makes zero sense but has a fine time doing it, mixing acoustic and electric instrumentation into a moody, mysterious soup. I guess that makes sense, because if you intend to serve Mystery Soup at your next dinner party, First Chapter should be the first record in your queue.

The Native Cats Dallas LP (Ride The Snake / R.I.P Society)
The third Native Cats album has been out for a few months now, and I’ve been slacking on a review, simply because I’ve been having trouble figuring out how I feel about it. The Native Cats are without a doubt one of my favorite groups to sprout out of the last decade – they’re just so unique and witty and catchy and odd, but with each new album they seem to push further away from pop and deeper into uncharted territory. Dallas makes that pretty clear – the overall mood is darker than previous efforts, the tone is frequently hushed, and the melodies are more likely to have you looking over your shoulder than tapping your shoes. Definitely not a Native Cats album for beginners – you’ve gotta work yourself up to Dallas, to be familiar with where they’ve been to really appreciate where they are headed. It’s an intriguing record for sure, with some drum sounds that are so bad it must be on purpose (“Cavalier”), and an uncharacteristically noisy blast care of “Mohawk-Motif”. I can comfortably say it’s my least favorite Native Cats album, there just aren’t as many moments of ingenious wordplay mixed with New Order-worthy hooks, but I will probably pick up Dallas in five years and be shocked by how much I absolutely love it. Just one of those records!

Permanent Collection No Void 7″ (Loglady)
No Void? What, are these guys Faith fans? Anyway, this 7″ by Permanent Collection seems kind of out of place in a few ways, meaning that none of the parts necessarily fit together – you’ve got a gory death-metal cover photo for a band that seems to identify as punk, but they force the guitar into some sort of awkwardly-flanged Duran Duran shape and the singer just kinda deeply whines his vocals, the sort of whining you do when you are already late and your travel companion won’t leave the bathroom. The four songs here all tread similar tempos and tones, a very new-wave take on post-punk, with all of my least favorite guitar effects in the forefront. Not a bad EP by any means, and if you told me this came from Iceland in 1979 I might even be willing to pay like twenty bucks for it, but that just means I’m a fool, not that Permanent Collection are particularly notable.

Räjäyttäjät Awopbopaloopop Alopbam Räjä LP (Räjä)
Back with their second album in 2013, Räjäyttäjät are solidifying themselves as the world’s greatest rock n’ roll band. I’m not sure how they managed to refine their sound over the course of just a few months (or even write enough songs in that short amount of time), but this one tops their debut, which I also absolutely loved. The magic might be in the recording, which sounds like it was recorded on gas-soaked reel-to-reel tape and ignited instead of mastered. It scorches like the first Comets On Fire album or Mainliner’s Mellow Out, but instead of crushing you with feedback and guitar distortion, they use the best glam, punk and classic rock riffs to fry your brain. It’s still like an unholy mix of Ebba Grön, Sweet, Tampax and Chuck Berry, but these songs are loaded with hooks, in the form of vocal squeals or guitar riffs or whatever else they can muster. And the whole thing flows like some sort of outsider collage, thanks to the various bits of noise, talking, samples and other audio detritus that fill the gaps between tracks. I think a US pressing is on its way, but seriously, forget that IMAX film you were planning on going to see and use those thirty bucks to bring home one of these – it’s just as mind-bending of an experience, but exponentially more satisfying.

Saralee Saralee LP (Ride The Snake)
Ride The Snake seem to be hitting the indie-pop pretty hard lately. I’m okay with that, unless I find out it’s been cutting into their Life Partners budget! Anyway, here’s Saralee, a Boston duo fronted by Sara and backed up by Lee. I hate to say it, but this one’s got “local appeal” written all over it – they are probably fun to see around town or hang out with, but as someone who has no idea who Saralee is as people, this record falls pretty flat on my ears. The songs are fairly hook-less (particularly for a style that demands catchy melodies), the playing isn’t either inept or dazzling enough for me to take notice, and the singing is supremely adequate. I don’t know, maybe I’m missing something, but as I listen to Saralee, I’m reminded of numerous boring opening bands I’ve had to sit through over the years, waiting for whoever it was I want to see. I’m one of those weirdos who insists on showing up at the time specified on the flyer, and I can’t help but feel like Saralee would be one of the acts to punish me for being unreasonably prompt.

Sete Star Sept Visceral Tavern LP (SPHC)
I’ve been hankering for more Sete Star Sept after their split 10″ with Noise blew me away. Turns out they have a slew of splits and tapes and CD-rs befitting that of the heinous noise-grind band they are, so I’ll go to one of the more “proper” releases, this shiny full-length release on SPHC. The cover art is disgustingly gross, the sort of thing that I’d take for a mature-rated Japanese Playstation game. It’s almost enough to turn me off entirely, but I knew Visceral Tavern would be great, so I stayed the course. And oh, how it is! The a-side is a long list of micro gore-grind tracks, like a mix of Arsedestroyer, Gerogerigegege and Gore Beyond Necropsy, all served in tiny bites. Delicious! The b-side might even be better, though – it’s a side-long drum improvisation, flailing around like a drowning Chris Corsano, and it’s paired with vocals that are mostly just fake laughter, hyperventilation, grunting and screaming. Very Gerogerigegege in the way Sete Star Sept deconstruct the concept of horrible noise-grind, removing its vital organs (guitars and bass) and adding laughter to the mix, which manages to pervert the music more than I would have expected. Visceral Tavern probably won’t be one of my top five “desert island” records, but if the UPS guy delivered it to leaf hut instead of Appetite For Destruction or Landshark, I might not even mind.

Slow Warm Death Slow Warm Death LP (Square Of Opposition)
Nice debut album from Bethlehem, PA’s Slow Warm Death – now that’s a town in need of a good sweaty drunken young rock band if there ever was one. It’s pretty timeless, quality garage-inspired indie-punk, and I’m not saying timeless just because the Slow Warm Death website is inexplicably hosted by Angelfire – their riffs are open source for the most part, but played with the passion they deserve. I’m often reminded of a cleaned-up Coachwhips, or Ty Segall and Mikal Cronin and that whole entourage, but it’s heavy and fuzzy enough that they could’ve toured with The Fluid and Mudhoney in 1992 and it would’ve made sense too (except I’m not entirely sure that all of Slow Warm Death were born by then). They might one day have the honor of opening for Kurt Vile, but no one will mistake one for the other, you know? They mix it up enough to never get boring (the unexpected dirge that opens the b-side is particularly cool), and the whole affair seems like it intends to get a basement of drunken kids fired up, not find publicity management and gear up for ad syncs. There are plenty of bands that more or less sound like Slow Warm Death these days, but they’re one of the good ones, okay?

Systems Of Desire Control / Consumption 12″ (Happy Skull)
Another techno tag-team here, this one consisting of Hyetal and Kowton, two names associated with the Young Echo scene. I’ve been digging on a bunch of Kowton, and vaguely remember Hyetal’s name from a mix or two, but I still wasn’t prepared to love this Systems Of Desire 12″ as much as I do! “Control” has a huge current of bass running through it, but more than anything, this track swings with severity. It’s heavy and mean, but there are a few different melodies that charm it up a bit, enough where I would feel comfortable blasting this to a dance-floor of well dressed people who might run away from someone like Blawan. Maybe a slight Audion vibe too, but I don’t remember Audion ever being this dynamic. “Consumption” utilizes the same exact melody from “Control”, and while it feels like a dub version at first, Systems Of Desire turn up the heat with a giant slime-mold of bass and kung-fu percussion, forcing the track to live on its own. Definitely removed from the dance-floor, or at least a generic dance-floor, but as equally fascinating as “Control” (and perfect for listening at home, when you just wanna sink into your couch and never come out). Killer 12″ all around, and a name I have already committed to memory, for whenever it pops up in a “new releases” list next. I need more of this!

Tadzio Queen Of The Invisible LP (Edible Onion)
I don’t care if this record is just a field recording of babies crying at Wal-Mart, I’m already in love – the cover art is this beautiful hand-cut forest screen-print with an actual copper leaf floating behind it. Just making one of these must take at least half an hour, and there are hundreds of these LPs in existence! Truly beautiful packaging here, and the music of Tadzio isn’t afraid to flutter its eyelashes at me either. It’s the work of Mandy Katz and various friends, and she sings along to delightful and sprightly piano, frequently accompanied by violin, cello, harp, backing vocals, and whatever else they’ve got in the music room over at Downton Abbey. If Espers were harder into Comus than Fairport Convention, they may have had a slight Tadzio vibe, but that’s not totally dead-on, as Tadzio don’t really have anything sinister lurking beneath – this is a pond you can jump into without a giant fish slurping you up. It’s kind of like a fairy tale without an antagonist, just an airy walk through the meadow with butterflies landing on your tea cup, but in a way that is respectable and not Disney-fied. Not usually my thing, but seriously, who can say no to a cover like this?

Täx Bent Spear / Arms 7″ (No Patience)
‘Bout time Australia got their own peace-punk revival band, and it’s a good one! Sure, their artwork makes it look more like an early Fucked Up single than something on Crass Records, but the music ignores modern hardcore in favor of a more artsy take on droning agitprop punk. “Bent Spear” is like a an un-gothed Lost Tribe covering Box Of Fish’s “Erosion”, with some pretty killer electronic noise filling in where a guitar solo might have otherwise gone. Usually bands these days will keep the drumming simple, but Täx’s drummer busts out plenty of fills, and it ends up sounding great. “Arms” is surely referring to guns, not my favorite limb to wrestle with, and it’s a bit darker in atmosphere and has more going on than the a-side, but in kind of a Rudimentary Peni way, where it feels like chaos is subsuming everything, rather than a pointless mess. The vocals are pretty generic, but generic in the best way possible, as all I want with this style of music is some frown-mouthed guy bellowing about a frightening future anyway. Nicely done!

Tropic Of Cancer Restless Idylls 2xLP (Blackest Ever Black)
Another synthy goth record with a strange display of household items on a colored background! I noted Cairo Pythian’s design last month, and I swear, it’s not just a trend but a fully-blown epidemic at this point. Whatever though, Tropic Of Cancer are cool enough (and Cairo Pythian are too) that I can overlook the homogenous art styling. For as basic as Tropic Of Cancer are, they’ve managed to develop a signature sound, and it’s one that I enjoy listening to – gothic electro-pop slowed to Grief’s pace. Some of these songs are so slow that it feels like the music is on life-support, where it looks like it might be smiling but it’s actually just comatose. The vocals are so airy and echoed that they might as well just be another keyboard, and the guitars sound like a Sunn O))) remix of The Cure, ringing out for all eternity. All of that’s probably enough for me to enjoy, but the drum programming definitely comes with that Sandwell District touch; they’re very physical, slightly poisonous and equipped for full club potential. It’s the mix of beautiful goth-rock drift and menacing, snail’s-pace beats has me constantly venturing off into the Tropic Of Cancer, no doubt.

UBT Ego Orientation LP (Psychic Handshake)
I’ll admit, I’m generally not too keen on Psychic Handshake releases, as they seem to usually hit on a certain brand of lo-fi psychedelic rock music that just doesn’t rev my engine. I wasn’t expecting much from whoever UBT are, but that just worked to my advantage, as I was pleased to discover a fantastic album of exuberant pop-rock that is hard to classify but easy to enjoy. Musically, I’m reminded of anything from Royal Trux to The Apples In Stereo to King Tuff to Phoenix, as they are not afraid of a stadium-sized rock hook but insist on scuffing it up before putting it on display. It kind of fits into today’s “hold your cell phone at the band to take a crummy video instead of actually living in the moment” indie-rock world, but UBT just sound like they are absolutely delighted to be playing these songs, not like a bedroom project that accidentally got a Pitchfork “Best New Music” and then suddenly had to scramble to form a real band and play shows. There are bold guitar riffs, random flutes, at least a synth or two, a song called “I Feel Like I’m Alive” and the big-time party groove to back it up. Maybe all upper-echelon indie-rock sounds like this these days and I’m just not paying attention, but Ego Orientation is a really fun album with a high repeat-listen factor, rendering this tricky music simple and infectious.

Vaaska / Skizophrenia split 7″ (540 / Todo Destruido)
The pairing of 540 and Todo Destruido continues, scouring the globe for backpatch-worthy hardcore music. This one comes in the slowly-becoming-obsolete format of the split 7″, giving Austin, TX’s Vaaska even time with Skizophrenia (who are from somewhere in Japan – pardon my poor Googling). I figured with a name like Vaaska, these guys would be a mix of Kaaos and Totalitär (or some other hardcore band that comes from a country where moose are native animals), but it’s not any sort of homage, just sort of plain meat-and-potatoes hardcore. Not particularly strong material… somewhere between Limp Wrist and Discharge, but cleanly recorded? Skizophrenia are more my speed, mostly because the drummer is just playing these intense, super-fast rolls on what sounds like cardboard boxes of various sizes. The singer is a fairly insigificant player, if not a suitably snotty loudmouth, and the songs themselves veer somewhere between ’90s pogo-punk and say, Kikeiji or The Stalin. I tend to forget about anything besides this crazy-ass drummer though, who should probably join Dawn Of Humans and elevate them to “greatest band in the history of the universe” status. Overall, nothing to really fault on this split, which is probably the kiss of death in a musical landscape where you gotta be either really great or really atrocious to get anyone’s attention…

Veiled Veiled LP (Blind Prophet)
Veiled’s debut LP was on my mind for a while this year, after feeling the duo’s nocturnal funk through multiple live gigs. If you don’t know, Veiled is Rob Francisco (of M Ax Noi Mach and Francisco Franco) and Arnau Sala (of Vactor and the Ozonokids label), a bi-continental trip through dank club basements. This album certainly delivers the Veiled sound – imagine Kraftwerk’s “Tour De France” if it was a tour of S&M dungeons, or Giorgio Moroder slowly trying to pull off a pair of skin-tight leather pants (if you’re like me, you know how painfully time-consuming this can sometimes be). The BPM generally dips in around 100 (although faster on some of the acid tracks), making for a poor bowling score and a suitable pace for grind-bumping and bump-grinding. There’s really no evidence that the men of Veiled are “noise guys” at all on here, as Veiled is full of slinky, slimy beats and the feel of a windowless room with all the lights off, more indebted to dollar-bin New Beat 12″ singles and bad perfume than delay pedals and feedback. My only regret is that much of the material here is a couple years old, and I know from a recent live show that their songs have improved in both sophistication and catchiness. You won’t be sorry if you grab Veiled, though – I just know their best is yet to come.

Wildhoney Wildhoney 7″ (Nostalgium Directive)
Baltimore is one of those cities I just wanna root for, knowing how much under-appreciated cool crap has come out of there in the past ten years or so. Wildhoney are another recent export, and this 7″ is cool – it opens with “Like Me”, a fuzz-pop jangler that feels a grunge-free Helium, but with this weird layered effect where it feels like it’s playing on FM radio and the dial is sliding between stations. Kind of disorienting, but it’s nice to know that it’s not just electronic artists that are jacking up pop hooks these days. The rest of the EP has a similar swing, rocking in an echoing cavern, or perhaps like Belly if they were a Sarah Records artist. The recording feels deliberately woozy, but not lo-fi – there’s plenty of low end to grab onto, even as the shoegaze guitars try to pull you into space. Many bands are treading similar ground, but there’s something about Wildhoney’s particular vibe here that has me thinking they could deliver a fine album, that they are interesting and talented enough to write eight to ten songs that could keep my attention and avoid feeling too generic. I suppose there’s only one way to really know for sure though, and I hope the opportunity eventually presents itself!