Alarms & Controls Clovis Points LP (Dischord / Lovitt)
If one of those atomic particle-smashers was used to blast Dischord and Lovitt’s ’90s discographies into each other, I’m pretty sure the results would be dramatically similar to this Alarms & Controls album. What I mean is, this group has that DC-centric, emotive, mathy, precise, sophisticated DIY indie-rock thing down pat, to the point where fans of Bluetip, Sleepytime Trio, The Dismemberment Plan and Frodus will find plenty to enjoy here. (Did J. Robbins record it, you ask? You betcha!) I’d consider myself a casual fan of half of the bands I just listed, and disinterested in the others (have fun guessing which!), but as for Alarms & Controls, I like them just fine. Their songs are never dull and pointlessly introspective, but rather bouncy, jazzy and curious instead. They never rest on a groove too long either, that’s for sure – these guys seem to be musicians who delight in their musical talent, not necessarily by showing off, but by constantly playing to the best of their abilities (I swear there’s at least one Crom Tech guitar riff in here). It’s music for grown-ups, that’s for sure, but sometimes it’s nice to walk across a floor that isn’t littered with empty pizza boxes and Playstation controllers.

Ausmuteants Amusements LP (Aarght!)
Fresh from a single I enjoyed, Ausmuteants are back with a full-length care of the dependable Aarght! label. It’s a good one! Ausmuteants have considerably tightened up their approach here, but it works in their favor… they kinda sound like a highly-rehearsed Tyvek on Amusements, that is if Tyvek were performing a set of Ramones covers. If Ausmuteants tend to avoid taking long breaks in their live sets, I’d imagine these songs fully energize any audience of punks and hangers-on. It’s pretty poppy, too; poppier than I expected, but maybe that’s because my brain instinctively waits to hear Rusted Shut or Lamps when I read song titles like “Kicked In The Head By A Horse”, “Pissed Myself Twice” or “Pissing In Two Streams”. I can almost hardly believe Ausmuteants are so scatological here, as these songs bop along like a goofy, ramshackle cousin to Royal Headache at times, with a yelping teenager on vocals instead of Royal Headache’s doo-wop daddy. Overall, Amusements is a decidedly unclassy take on poppy post-punk, a fun and easy listen for those who refuse to take music too seriously while at the same time take it very seriously. I think I just described myself!

Bad American American Dream LP (Shogun)
Bad American are back with their second album in just as many years – these guys must be wicked, because there’s clearly no rest for them. They seem to have honed their approach further with American Dream, manipulating heavy ’90s-ish AmRep riffing into an early ’80s hardcore-punk template. I know one of these guys probably saw Black Flag live (you know, the first time around), and while he should’ve had the foresight to buy up all their merch and sell it 25 years later for collector prices, he has at least taken their aggressive, distinctly American form of anger as his own. I particularly enjoy the mid-paced tracks that groove more than slam, but the whole record flows pretty well, and the vocals of one Ray Gurz still sound like vintage Carpenter Ant to me. Gotta say though, shouldn’t we all be offended that it took a French label to release this album? Or was that an intentional move, as some form of political performance art? I believe American Dream is the last record Shogun will release, too, so the plot only thickens further.

Bitch Prefect Adelaide / Better Next Time 7″ (Bedroom Suck)
Pretty sure I enjoyed the Bitch Prefect LP, although to be honest, it has been so long since I’ve listened that I can’t really remember much about it. This two-song single, however, is much easier to remember, and surely better than any of their album, because both songs are really great! “Adelaide” is a sunny, slap-happy little tune that reminds me of The Clean a whole heck of a lot, from the weakling vocals to the way it jangles along. There’s a “la la la” part, at least one cool chorus, and a bunch of twists and turns that simple-minded pop-rock doesn’t often take – dare I say that “Adelaide” is deceptively refined. Same pretty much goes for “Better Next Time”, which has a sort of “Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay” swing with adorable stories of second chances filling up the lyrics. It’s a song for having a milkshake after striking out with the bases loaded, and even if you or I haven’t recently lost at anything big, it’s an easy song to love. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve gotta go dig up that Bitch Prefect LP and see if there are any gems as shiny and sweet as these two that I may have overlooked.

Cannon It’s Cool, No Worries 7″ (Bon Voyage)
The first time I pulled this Cannon record out of its sleeve, I bobbled it in my hands, then watched it fall to the floor and literally roll across the room. That sort of prankster-ish behavior seems to fit the music of Cannon as well, a rollicking punk group out of Brisbane. I can’t tell if there are multiple vocalists or what, but the singer seems to go from overzealous to comically overzealous, like he is just bursting with excitement about the words he is singing, audience be damned. If he played it cool, I might compare Cannon to Protomartyr, but instead they fall somewhere on the Venn diagram where The Oh Sees and Tyvek overlap (amongst what must be hundreds of other groups at this point). It’s good fun, recorded in a way that sounds rough without a lo-fi limpness, and at five songs, there’s enough value for your dollar (be it Australian or American or something even stranger). That said, it’s gonna take at least another manic EP for me to think of this group when I hear their name, rather than mid-’90s emo-core dollar-binners Canon – for my sake alone, I hope they can do it!

Cheap Time Goodbye Age 7″ (Total Punk)
Here’s a band with more records than I am aware of – seems like every time I turn a corner at a record shop, some other new (or old) Cheap Time vinyl is poking me in the ribs. That might sound like a complaint, but I’ve never hated a Cheap Time record, and I’ve loved at least a couple… these guys just know their way around a guitar or two. “Goodbye Age” showcases Cheap Time in their platform-boot glam outfits (wait, I thought this was on Total Punk?), dishing out a Big Star-ish tune, one you’d blast on your way to the convenience store to pick up beer or slushies or whatever will be fueling your night. “Soon Over Soon” is located on the flip, and it’s a little more revved up, touching on early punk rock from both Los Angeles and New York, feeling like it could just as easily be crawling through Hollywood looking for a fix as running from a mugger in Manhattan. I think I’d prefer “Goodbye Age” in the end, but both meet Cheap Time’s standard quality requirements, which is to say, better than most of the glammy punk rock anyone else is serving these days.

Chemical Peel Bike Thief 7″ (Ride The Snake)
Cool band name, cool art, cool record label… I was ready for Chemical Peel to chemically peel my brain one way or another, but sadly, that moment never came. They play an emotionally-charged, angst-y form of indie rock, the sort of thing that was fairly prevalent in the early ’90s, even if many of those bands weren’t as tight and stark as Chemical Peel. While listening, I’m reminded of one of the Vermin Scum records I bought just for the intention of completing the discography (the only reason anyone ever buys those Phido and Freak Beans singles, right?), or Dischord’s Fugazi-funded school of artsy emo, or maybe even the earliest and moodiest Weston material, at least before I got to the tortured screams in “New Paradigm”. Unlike the Saralee record that Ride The Snake recently released, I can clearly see the appeal of Chemical Peel for certain music fans; my tastes, however, veer away from this style, and Chemical Peel are not the exception to the rule. That said, if you like cups of black coffee, are constantly blaming your exes for your failed relationships, and insist that music sounds better on vinyl, this Chemical Peel 7″ might be your pick of the week if you let it be.

Gino And The Goons Troubled / I’m A Big Boy Now 7″ (Total Punk)
Gino opted for similar c-c-c-crazy skulls on both the cover of this 7″ as well as his recent 12″ (also of the Total Punk variety), and as I found the 12″ to be good (not great), my opinion on both Gino and the Goons remains the same. “Troubled” is a snotty little garage rocker, replete with bashed cymbals that sound like sheet metal and guitars that seem to only have two working strings, with Gino seeming as though he stumbled into the studio as he was singing it. “I’m A Big Boy Now” has kind of a Rip Offs or Registrators vibe, and while it’s much catchier than the a-side, it’s over in a minute (or less, I don’t have a stopwatch handy), and the infantile lyrics aren’t anything I feel comfortable singing along to. Write a couple more like “Big Boy” and I might start flirting back, Gino, but for now I’m sticking with the rest of the Total Punk posse.

Godstopper / Tendril split 7″ (Anthems Of The Undesirable)
Here’s an artsy little split 7″ with some cool watercolor tones on the sleeve and two bands I never heard of before. My brain is pre-programmed to read “Godstopper” as “Godstomper” (this is what happens when you are raised on third-tier power-violence), but Godstopper aren’t going the grindcore route. Their song is a sad, purposely-draining tune that someone like The Frogs would’ve tortured us with, vaguely emo-ish but in a way that seems like they are just mocking emotion rather than genuinely sharing it. It gets heavy in a Floor / Bongzilla way at the end, but I am mostly just glad I listened to this song on vinyl rather than in person, because having to watch the singer might be more uncomfortable than I could stand. Tendril, on the other hand, move closer to the power-violence I spoke of earlier, mowing through their heavy, bludgeoning hardcore much like Apartment 213 or Thug did (and come to think of it, I think those two did a split 7″ themselves), although there’s more tension and less release in Tendril’s two tracks. I probably prefer Tendril, but honestly that Godstopper song wasn’t too horrible, just weirder than I’d want them to be. If you hear me complaining that heavy hardcore has gotten too generic and nostalgic for the ’80s, slap me in the back of the head with this record, please!

Heathen Reign Heathen Reign LP (Heathen Reign)
Here’s some DIY hardcore that will only end up in Converse and Raybans if they found them for cheap at a second-hand shop, not as part of an advertising campaign. That’s because this is ‘real’ DIY hardcore, the sort of thing that exists in basements and fire-halls and squats the world over, not on indie media websites. To be fair, though, Heathen Reign might not be in the media spotlight because they aren’t particularly special, either – they’re a lightly-crusty, at-times-metallic hardcore group that seems to draw heavily from the distinct reservoirs of Tragedy and Black Flag in their sound. It’s moderately heavy, cleanly recorded, and the music has enough ’90s moves (and backpack-tuggable breakdowns) that I can picture “Heathen Reign” sketched on the bottom half of a show flyer for either Botch or From Ashes Rise with equal believability. I’m not picking out anything really noteworthy here, except for maybe the split-color vinyl that looks like some sort of delicious dark chocolate parfait. Anyway, I kinda get the impression that Heathen Reign aren’t out for large quantities of tweets and re-blogs anyway – this seems like a band who just wants to play and enjoy hardcore music, a simple reasoning which I understand completely.

Kerridge A Fallen Empire 2xLP (Downwards)
If there’s anyone who really picked up the industrial-techno torch in 2013, it’s Kerridge – quickly finding his home at Downwards, the only place you’d really want to be if you’re making music like his, Kerridge has provided me with hours of listening enjoyment, blasting his sullen beats into my skull. I had no doubt that he’d deliver grandly on his debut full-length, and that he did – if you loved any of his first three 12″s (just like me), you’re going to walk away from A Fallen Empire with a similar level of satisfaction. It’s gotta be really hard to make something so simple sound so distinct, yet Kerridge really makes it happen – it’s like he combines the tense, barely-moving rhythms of Raime with Andy Stott’s hardcore grunge, and paces it at an unnervingly Balearic pulse. He starts with the ominous swing of “Chant”, a quick definition of the Kerridge template, and quickly follows that with “Black Sun”, which seems like it might do the same thing, only to open the floodgates on a sine-wave so thick and muddy that I swear the clear vinyl turns brown for a brief moment. In someone else’s hands, this could be a good record geared for release on Posh Isolation, but Kerridge’s production pulls A Fallen Empire away from any sort of mid-range industrial-noise ghetto and into the realm of Ostgut Ton’s heavyweight force, thriving with the power of club music built for wrecking human bodies. I just rented Pacific Rim and was going to watch it tonight, but after yet another run through A Fallen Empire, I feel like I’ve already just witnessed a massive battle between giant aliens and robots.

Life Stinks Shadow On The Wall / Drag You 7″ (Total Punk)
I know it’s not his exact catchphrase, but I can’t help but fantasize that this band is comprised of four subtle variations of Jay Sherman from The Critic, getting all fired up after listening to some Action Swingers and Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments records. That was my thought before I had even heard Life Stinks (I just read vague descriptions in various dirty corners of the internet), and it’s not too far from the grim reality that Life Stinks provide. “Shadow On The Wall” is killer, and a highly appropriate a-side – it’s a deliberate piece of slow-motion, Flipper-paced punk rock that feels like one big puddle you didn’t expect your loafers to step in. It’s so authentically drone-y, I wonder if Wooden Shjips would sound like this if they spent their days listening to GG Allin instead of The Doors. “Drag You” is unfortunately not about RuPaul’s spin-off show, but it’s another disheveled punk tune that rocks at a leisurely pace, with a chorus that is surprisingly catchy for a group that, on the surface, would seem to hate any sort of melodic quality in their music. The music and vocals could almost call to mind The Ramones and The Misfits, but they play it so sluggishly that the youthful energy is removed entirely. There’s a Life Stinks LP out now, and I plan on hearing it with both my ears very shortly!

Manbiki Chocolate Super Dimensional Hardcore LP (Not Very Nice / General Speech)
Manbiki Chocolate are one of those bands I’d see on Japanese hardcore want-lists and stop scrolling for a second – it’s not a name like “Nuclear Missle War” or “Endless Attack”, it actually sticks out, particularly when you consider that they only released roughly one 8″ flexi and maybe a demo or two. Well, leave it to Not Very Nice and General Speech to gather the various Manbiki Chocolate recordings from 1990 through 2000 into one tidy LP collection. It’s a pretty mixed bag, both in quality and musical style – the live shots of the band on the back cover would make it seem as though they were as influenced by Gauze as they were The Casualties and Jane’s Addiction, and musically it’s really not that far from that disparate mix. The songs range from Burning Spirits-style hardcore to metallic crossover, with plenty of unusual song patterns, ill-advised guitar tones and freaky vocalizations. It reminds me of one of those MCR or HG:Fact sampler/compilations from the ’90s, back when all the best hardcore was still obscure, so you had to just kind of make it up as you went along (I’m looking at you, Fuck Geez and The Rustler!). A nice collection, but certainly overshadowed by all the much-better hardcore that came out before, during and after Manbiki’s existence. At the very least, I no longer feel so bad when a Manbiki Chocolate flexi shows up on some internet sale list as already sold.

Mercy Killings Mercy Killings 7″ (Beach Impediment)
The band is called Mercy Killings, and the cover features an evil Reptoid police officer with generic human life caught in its talon-like fingernails. Sign me up! They’re a new North Carolina hardcore band with dudes who have been around the block (they boast ex-members of Wasted Time and Direct Control, and if the Mercy Killings singer didn’t also sing for 86 Mentality, they’ve gotta at least be cousins), and they pretty much rip through these six songs. This self-titled EP reminds me of some of the better, beefier hardcore acts around today, namely Impalers and Boston Strangler, but Mercy Killings have their own distinct flavor – perhaps a touch more high-speed thrash in their secret recipe (maybe that’s the Direct Control history shining through). “Really mean thrash” might be a succinct way to describe this EP, which is cool because I can’t think of many other current bands who provide a musical soundtrack for hurting your friends in the pit while still wearing punk band t-shirts instead of Supreme gear and throwback Jordans. No wheel reinvention here, just expertly performed hardcore that I hope to see in the flesh sometime soon – there is no doubt in my mind that this band is sporting a lot of flesh.

Ron Morelli Spit LP (Hospital Productions)
I’ve always been a Ron Morelli admirer, as far back as his days as high-pitched emo screamer to dive-bar DJ (I first heard Baltimore Club because of him) and now his position as underground American techno tastemaker and label-head. The willingness of Hospital Productions to take on his first “solo” album was a sign that it had to be noisy or weird (or both), so I was psyched for a taste of Spit the moment I knew it was on its way. It might be partly because I had my mind made up to love it, but I gotta say, I love this album! If you knew nothing about Morelli before giving it a listen, you might presume he’s someone who just started piecing together dance music: perhaps a teenager with borrowed gear, or a harsh-noise guy late for the trend. That’s because most of these tracks are incredibly rudimentary and gross, built on loops that seem to have been randomly generated and driven by only the simplest of rhythmic accompaniment. Imagine a Hieroglyphic Being record where no idea lasts longer than five minutes, with a touch of Kyle Hall’s frenzied sensibility, Chris And Cosey’s erotic danger and the vague feeling that you might be listening to some random unearthed proto-techno reissue LP that pretentious electronic-music websites love to sweat. It’s cool as hell, that’s for sure – if you can’t get into the trash compactor grooves of “Sledgehammer II”, I’m not sure I have anything more to say to you.

Objekt Objekt #3 12″ (Objekt)
I always kinda filed away as Objekt as one of those cool but ultimately second-tier producers of post-modern tech-step (how’s that for a genre). Maybe I missed something over his past few records, but this third white-label 12″ installment certainly changes him for me – it’s a modern electronic ripper of the finest pedigree. “Agnes Demise” is the a-side, and it’s fantastic – the beat is wildly pulsing and twitchy, complete with an air traffic controller filtering his directions into the mix, and it’s punctuated with an Onyx-sized slam on every fourth note, the sort of thing that affects you both physically and mentally. And then, in the middle of it all, Objekt decides to break things down like Emptyset, tossing scalding shards of electronic waste at your head like Ryu with so many hadoukens. It kicks back in, and I swear I would expect to see people stagediving and headwalking when this is played in a club. “Fishbone” could’ve been a funk-punk tribute, but it’s another exciting track of menacingly inhuman techno, bridging the gap between Dopplereffekt and T++ (and on par with both). The 12″ comes with a few cool little locked grooves too, as if I didn’t have enough ways to endlessly lose myself in Objekt’s music already. A+ recommendation!

Obliteration War Is Our Destiny 7″ (Beach Impediment)
Obliteration are yet another VG+/EX Boston hardcore group that features members of other Boston hardcore groups, and while I dug their first 7″, I had honestly forgotten that they released the second until I was doing my diligent research after this new one came in (and I own it!). I dug both of those first two, they just got lost in the shuffle, you know? After a few spins of War Is Our Destiny, I might as well throw those first two into a lake, as this one takes the apocalyptic air-raid hardcore aesthetic to new levels, flattening any other modern band who dares to print skulls and nuclear explosions on their record covers. Every player is at the top of their game here, from the drone-missle guitar solos to the overall scorched-earth recording quality, not to mention the vocalist’s interminable gurgle which blows away any other “let’s use an effects pedal” hardcore singer out there today. His vocals are like one long spray of sewage through “Their War System” – this is the work of experts, folks. The intensity never lets up, and the metallic riffing makes me wish I knew more about the obscure cult metal groups Obliteration are listening to these days, not to mention that they ace a cover of Saint Vitus’ “War Is Our Destiny” to wrap things up. If you didn’t want to shoot a winged Nazi skeleton out of the sky with an AK-47 before, War Is Our Destiny will seal the deal.

PC Worship Preach Under Cooked / Mellow Moon 7″ (Sophomore Lounge)
The music of PC Worship has mostly eluded me over the years, beyond catching half of their live set a few years ago (and I didn’t find out who they were until after they played), but I’m generally in favor of the group. The name just kinda cracks me up, in that James Ferraro “digital culture smoothie” sort of way, and it’s oblique enough that PC Worship can function as whatever musical project they (or apparently, sometimes just he) wish to be. I wasn’t expecting “Preach Under Cooked”, at least – it’s a loose acoustic fingerpicked composition that recalls Jack Rose before he really got a handle on things, a sort of guitar investigation that doesn’t seem studied so much as high, which is alright with me. “Mellow Moon” would’ve been a more appropriate title for the a-side, but instead it’s the name of the bizarro communal rock track on the b-side. It sounds like Sunburned Hand Of The Man trying to perform “Come As You Are” strictly from memory, or a Sapat outtake they never wanted anyone to hear. Both tracks are pretty nice, and while they are quite distinctive from one another, there’s a certain kind of freak out there that was born to love both.

Pelvis Wrestlies Make Up Face 7″ (Carbonated Sounds)
These guys aren’t doing themselves any favors with the name “Pelvis Wrestlies”, but after a few spins of Make Up Face, I get the impression that this band could really care less if you, me, or anybody likes ’em. They’re a snotty punk band in the classic mid-’80s sense, where you could be obnoxious and silly and tease your punk music with a half-serious metal tinge. These tracks remind me of mid-period MDC, a little Dayglo Abortions, some Dead Kennedys, a faint hint of Zero Boys and an accidental similarity to Rational Animals. They don’t seem to be taking part in any of hardcore punk’s many sub-genre reenactments that are currently en vogue, so much as aspiring to be one of the jerkier punk bands that would show up on one of those Thrasher skate-rock comp LPs. I’m glad Pelvis Wrestlies exist, and seeing as they do so in Reno, NV, I give them all the more credit for whatever added misery and hopelessness that town has brought them.

Primitive Motion Worlds Floating By LP (Bedroom Suck)
For all the top-shelf underground-rock action Australia has been serving the past few years, it seems like things went a little soft in 2013… just not as many distinctly ripping Aussie records as the past few years. I generally shake my fist at those who refuse to rage, but this Primitive Motion album gives me hope that there are still a variety of cool new things sprouting up in that giant continent. Primitive Motion is a keyboard-based group, and they’re as likely to serve a tiny little Casio drum rhythm as they are to play an old organ by hand. I hear the lighter side of kraut-rock, the modern eloquence of Blues Control, the modern weediness of Peaking Lights and a small sliver of Silver Apples in these Worlds Floating By. Some of these songs feel like they could’ve easily sneaked onto one of those Earcom comps, while others sound like organ-based versions of the saddest songs Brighter or The American Analog Set have written. That’s a pretty wide net I’m casting, but Primitive Motion fit somewhere inside, all soft and warm and vaguely tropical / outer-spaced, as if they might pass for a normal boring pop group on some other distant planet. It’s been a nice record to crawl under a blanket with, not that I’d ever expect anything less from the fine folks at Bedroom Suck.

Purling Hiss Paisley Montage LP (Richie)
I know some people were disappointed by the pop-turn Purling Hiss took on their Drag City full-length debut – I liked it well and good, but I can’t deny that the lack of fiery guitar theatrics and blown-out speaker cones made it feel like an entirely different beast from the original Purling Hiss recordings. Thankfully, this bizarro two-track LP splits the difference between pop and thrash, weed and acid, ’70s and ’90s (which I guess equals the ’80s, and some of that is in here too), and it’s probably the most dynamic and ‘experimental’ Purling Hiss release yet. “Gitar Damage” starts off like a loopy, couch-planted rock tune, and it slowly degenerates into a minutes-long flange-bass solo, or maybe it’s a backwards guitar, or a keyboard – who knows! I’m getting Kraus vibes by the time this track wraps up, or perhaps some super obscure Hawkwind side-project that the second-string bassist made back in 1982 to an audience of no one. “Paisley Dommage” is just as twisted, frolicking in electronic bliss just long enough that the Hendrix riffing that follows blows your hair and drink back, just like that iconic Maxell chair guy. Which of course is followed by ocean sounds and a Temple Of The Dog-style guitar intro that never actually introduces anything besides its own mellow licks. I could go on, but really, Purling Hiss taps into a million different weird directions on here, and they’re all great… it’s the sort of record that only comes off the turntable after every groove is explored. If you thought those early ‘Hiss albums were too piercing, or Water On Mars too poppy, get thee to Paisley Montage and let Mike Polizze drain your brain the right way.

Quttinirpaaq Let’s Hang Out LP (Rural Isolation Project)
Here’s the second full-length from Quttinirpaaq this year, and for as great as this band is, I hope they continue to pump out two a year until the end of eternity. No Visitors really grabbed me by the throat when I first heard it, so maybe that’s why Let’s Hang Out feels slightly less intense – I was already bracing myself for what was to come. It’s another quality platter of harsh, splattery noise-rock, with moments that recall anything from The Stooges and Brainbombs to Black Mayonnaise and Shit & Shine. Lots of loose, ramshackle rock grooves that open up into a hellish space of distortion and effects, with the perfect recording to really capture the sizzle. I guess it’s nothing new, and it’s not the type of record that is gonna convert anyone to basement-dwelling mutant-rock, but Quttinirpaaq are slowly but surely doing the unthinkable: they’re making me want to learn how to say their name out loud.

Rusted Shut Rehab LP (Dull Knife)
Lord have mercy on those who insist on releasing Rusted Shut records. No longer is it the simple act of sending money to a pressing plant – you are now committed to dealing with one of the most dysfunctional rock groups of the century, one you have to check on every morning to make sure they didn’t die in their sleep. I want to celebrate these martyrs, because simply from a music fan’s perspective, Rusted Shut records are a gift. Dull Knife keeps at it with this reissue of Rehab, previously a CD release from a few years back (which I think Rusted Shut themselves may have bootlegged onto CD-r – see what I mean?). If you haven’t heard Rusted Shut, I suggest that you start, and Rehab is probably the place to do it – within seconds, “Jesus Christ Inca” will curdle your earwax, so intensely crumbly and one-noted that it sounds more like Hijokaidan than High Rise, made perfect by the angrily enunciated and carefully recited vocals. A million bands came along in the past decade doing a similar thing, somewhere in the neighborhood of Brainbombs and Flipper, but the Rusted Shut stamp is so distinct and authentic that they really kind of ruined the style for everyone else. When it comes to ruining things, Rusted Shut never come in second.

The School Of Radiant Living The School Of Radiant Living LP (Radiant)
The School Of Radiant Living? Judging from the band photo on the back cover, this is more like The School Of Vidal Sassoon – seriously, every member of this band has fantastic, luxurious hair, not a split-end in the bunch! Anyway, you might be reading this to learn about their music, and well, I’ve got some bad news – it’s not so hot. I suppose you could file The School Of Radiant Living under jangly dream-pop, but it’d be like one of those dreams you have where you go out to buy groceries, receive the wrong amount of change from the cashier, and it ends – it’s vaguely disappointing and mostly just dull. When The School Of Radiant Living manage to rev up, it feels like indie-rock that Hozac would release, and when it’s slow, there’s even less to grab onto. At least a couple people sing, but none of them really have a knack for hitting the right notes, or the charisma that normally goes along with singing in a band. I dunno – I’d love to love this band, but there’s just nothing here for me. But still, I am not lying when I say that I’d allow any of them to give me a new ‘do – if there’s one thing The School Of Radiant Living excels at, it’s the art of hair.

Sex Tide Flash Fuck LP (A Wicked Company)
A record called Flash Fuck by a band called Sex Tide? I hope my parents don’t catch me listening to this! All vulgarity aside, Sex Tide are a noisy, bluesy rock group… one of the very many. A mix of Pussy Galore, Little Claw and the first Hospitals album comes to my mind while listening, but when it all comes down to it, Sex Tide seem to be more interested in their ability to create an infernal racket than writing hook-based songs people will remember. That’s fine with me, but on the other hand, Sex Tide never get too crazy or unique on Flash Fuck, they just kinda go through the motions. I don’t wanna sound like I don’t like it, because this group is fine, it’s just nothing I would recommend or distinctly remember the next day, perhaps because there are so many bands playing in a similar style, or maybe just because Sex Tide aren’t very striking. Whatever, I’m low-brow enough to get that the album title is a pro-wrestling reference (either that or it isn’t and I’m just an obsessive nerd), but Sex Tide are gonna have to either step it up or step it down to catch my ear in the future.

The Smoke Clears Listen LP (Further)
If you are into modern electronic abstraction and the Further label isn’t on your radar, I recommend that you promptly make the correction. They do a ton of weird tapes that look great (I only say “look” because I haven’t actually heard any), and when they do vinyl, it’s exceptional, from the packaging and presentation to the sounds in the grooves. That was my only basis for picking up this LP by The Smoke Clears, a name I was previously unfamiliar with. And just as I hoped, it’s really cool! The Smoke Clears plays a form of chilled-out dub-techno that doesn’t far fall from Donato Dozzy’s K, Tin Man’s recent instrumental tracks and the sumptuous house of Basic Channel. The Smoke Clears really toes the line between ambient bliss and body-grooving house – he almost always maintains the beat, but moves it at a pace where every thump, bump and tsk are given ample room to slowly disintegrate into space. I love records that sound like astronauts making love to one another, and Listen certainly hits that spot. The colored vinyl and printed sleeve look great together, and my love affair with Further Records continues.

Sperm Donor Accidental Incest LP (no label)
Did you groan when you read the band name and title too? I truly hope that Sperm Donor’s name and album title are a commentary on all the noise-rock groups who are going for the easy shock by crudely throwing around terms and phrases related to sex… but most likely, they are probably just another one of those bands. Musically, they are fine – the vocals are buried, but that is quite often the signature mix for AmRep-inspired rock such as this, and the band is clearly quite capable at performing their music. Their riffs never really stand out, as they frequently groove in the manner of The Jesus Lizard, or get slow and methodical ala Harvey Milk, all with throaty vocals that remind me of Tile. And while I keep saying “noise-rock”, I am referring to the genre, not the literal meaning, as their guitars only feedback when absolutely necessary, and the vocals are distortion-free. Sperm Donor is really quite plain, and if they dedicated their aesthetic to something that hasn’t already been done so many times as to be rendered utterly meaningless (that Howard Stern-level transgression I previously mentioned, evident in many song titles), I might be more inclined to wish them prosperity. There has to be some other inspiration in their lives that they could tap into, you know?

Ssleeperhold Ruleth LP (Holodeck)
Ssleeperhold are here to make things easy for you, from Googling their name to the soft, cushion-y electronic beats they’ve gathered on Ruleth. It’s all instrumental, slow-motion stuff, music that probably would fall under the “witch house” banner if it wasn’t so cheery and, well, if witch-house wasn’t dead. Take a Gatekeeper record, play it slow, throw in some Salem-style programming and you’re tightly locked into a Ssleeperhold. There’s often a dash of ’80s new-wave twinkle floating above the Moroder-sourced synth lines, and while many aspects might recall a retro sensibility, the music of Ssleeperhold is undoubtedly based in the now. If a couple Care Bears moved to Brooklyn right after high school, I wouldn’t be surprised if they brought Ruleth along to their monthly DJ night – it’s cuddly electro music, and if you can come to terms with that, you might warm up to Ssleeperhold too.

The Strapping Fieldhands Impossible To Say / Sitting On Her Whiskers 7″ (Richie)
There are times that my Philadelphia transplant status is particularly acute, like when locals talk to me about the Phillies as if I had an interest, or the way that certain pals revere The Strapping Fieldhands as a respected rock n’ roll institution. My few musical interactions with The Strapping Fieldhands have led me to believe they were (or apparently, are) a modest rock group with an above-average wit and a fanbase of legal-age drinkers, and while they sound fine, I simply can’t share in the celebration. I love Richie Records though, and the hand-scribbled cover art of this single was keenly executed (I haven’t seen hand-drawn covers this interesting since Fear Of Smell), and you know what? The music is better than I remembered, too! “Impossible To Say” sounds like it should’ve come sloshing out of an Irish pub (not a real one in Ireland, but one of the many tacky American ones) right after a friend’s marriage, all jubilant and stumbling and fun. “Sitting On Her Whiskers” has a similarly joyously-drunk vibe, like you’re hanging out with Robin Hood’s merry men and they started jamming on parts of the Kinks and Velvet Underground songs they could remember. They’re clearly having a lot of fun, and both of these songs are memorable without being simplistic and goofy without being stupid. Either The Strapping Fieldhands have gotten better, or I’ve finally loosened up.

Technicolor Teeth Blood Pool / Drips 7″ (Accidental Guest)
I saw Technicolor Teeth earlier this year, and I swear I wasn’t dreaming their aggressive math-rock grooves with multiple effects pedals per member (drummer most likely excluded). I’m just gonna ignore that memory, because the two songs on this 7″ are far sweeter and softer than anything I thought I remembered them playing. “Blood Pool” has a pretty intense My Bloody Valentine / Slowdive vibe, just spraying out guitars like a hose filled with Smart Water, some beautifully chiming while others seem to soar through the melody, carving the notes into the air. Amongst the airy guitars, the bass is nice and substantial, and the vocals coo some unintelligible lyric in a repetitive chorus that I don’t necessarily want to end. I don’t usually dig modern bands doing this sort of thing – you know, too much gear and not enough songs, but Technicolor Teeth are an exception! “Drips” has the same dreamy feel but without all the rocket-fueled guitars; this song is content to pick daisies in a field and get drunk on Riesling, bouncing along like there aren’t any mosquitoes or ticks to worry about. Cool feel on that one too, and while I prefer the straight-forward guitar blast and vocal hook of “Blood Pool”, there’s no one telling me I can’t have both. Time to see these guys again, hopefully with my brain in working order…

Tellusian Karnival / Eight Years Of Rest 7″ (Pillowscars)
‘Tis the season for Swedish metal-core, so let’s all give Tellusian a warm welcome. These four lads play frantic, down-tuned metal-core the way it was meant to be – loud guitars, drums up in the mix, big throaty unintelligible vocals, blast-y fast parts and dirge-y slow parts, and a level of technicality that most Guitar Hero experts couldn’t hang with. Besides the brief and lonely guitar intro on “Karnival”, both songs recall classic Cave In and Converge, the days when collecting all the colored vinyl versions of every Hydra Head release really meant something. I’m being silly of course, but I will always enjoy music like this when it’s done well and not too stupid, and Tellusian meet both of my guidelines. I feel like this band is good enough that they deserve more words than I’ve given them, but their music is so tried-and-true and, well, generic, that there really isn’t a whole lot else to say. If this is your thing, by all means, look these gents up!

Transfix Transfix LP (Dutch Tilt)
You wanted more ethereal goth-punk, you got it, care of Olympia, WA’s Transfix. They’re a new group, featuring members of other fairly new Olympian groups as well, and it’s pretty cool. Many of these songs make me think of an American Iceage, which is to say the same sloppy, wounded goth-rock music without the Dutch accent (but with the obviously-forced deep vocal, of course), with maybe even a touch of the lo-fi militance of Marching Church. Add in a clear working knowledge of the Toxic State crew (I wouldn’t be surprised if Transfix borrowed Anasazi’s smoke machine once or twice) and you’re pretty close to the Transfix experience. They mix it up pretty well – there’s even one song with a King Dude-style death vocal, and they go from chiming and Cure-ish to solipsistic noise pretty seamlessly. Transfix has a Lord Of The Flies-style societal regression that seems to appeal to so much of today’s youth, a sort of fantasy anarchy-world where goth kids wear facepaint and club the rest of society with stones. Can’t say I’ve fallen in love with this one, but it’s a cool listen for sure, just more proof that the last Antioch Arrow album was released fifteen years too soon.

Umberto From The Grave LP (Permanent)
I value “coolness” probably more than any grown man should, particularly when it comes to music. And for me, coolness is a distinct necessity when it comes to anyone who is making horror movie soundtracks, fictional or otherwise. I have to truly feel like the music is coming from some pit of ungodly dispair, or from someone who wears black sunglasses in the middle of the night, not some greenhorn rookie looking to dabble. I never paid attention to Umberto before, always just assuming he was a little too self-aware and trying to be cool, rather than just being cool. Now I’m sitting here with From The Grave, and I can safely say that while Umberto is no trainspotting poseur, he’s not one of the top names in the game, either. The song titles take the movie thing stringently, from “Opening Titles” to “End Credits”, and while that seems kind of corny, the music within is a very serviceable addition to any collection filled with lavish Goblin reissues and deluxe Death Waltz editions. Umberto has a wider range of sound than your standard Moroder palate (I’m looking at you, M. Akers), and he puts it all to pretty tasteful effect, even if many of these tracks have me envisioning John Travolta in a polyester club-suit rather than hordes of the undead eating families in an abandoned shopping mall. More like The Twerking Dead, am I right?

The Ukiah Drag Jazz Mama Is Cryin 12″ (no label)
As far as hardcore bands go, I can’t think of a group that has had a wider variety of bizarrely great bands form in its wake than Cult Ritual. Just off the top of my head, members have gone on to Neon Blud, Cottaging, Merchandise, and now The Ukiah Drag. And as of this very moment, The Ukiah Drag might be my favorite of the bunch – they play a form of swampy, artsy blues rock that oozes swagger and dangles an unashed cigarette for a dangerously long time from its chapped lips. The spacious emptiness of their songs reminds me of Slaves, but The Ukiah Drag mostly just sound like Earth’s spaghetti-western phase mixed with the sardonic, backstabbing menace of Haunted George. Or maybe if you found TV Ghost’s best songs and played them on the wrong speed (33 instead of 45), it might crawl out at you like this. I think some of The Ukiah Drag were in American Snakeskin (or maybe they just share a similar peer group), and while I dug that band, The Ukiah Drag have seemingly nailed this vibe from the very start – I plan on keeping up with their future output closely. The perfect soundtrack for slow-motion scenes of snitches being doused in gasoline or locked in rooms with venomous snakes, or any sort of exploitation flick where law is taken into the hands of a ruthless dictator or unruly mob. Jazz Mama Is Cryin makes me want to buy a Zippo with a skull on it and start hunting criminals for cash, which is really the only way I ever want to be moved by art.

Vaaska / Impalers split 7″ (Beach Impediment)
Here’s a fitting two-fer of Austin, TX hardcore, replete with skulls choking out skulls and barbed-wire in another skull and creepy eyeballs on the cover – basically, your standard hardcore-punk hello. I recently heard Vaaska on their split 7″ with Skizophrenia, and unfortunately they are the lesser of two sides yet again. Their hardcore is perfectly fine, sounding as if Los Crudos suffered from a Motörhead fetish, but there’s really nothing to sink my teeth into – it’s not raw enough, not great enough, or not lousy enough for my tastes… it’s just kinda there. If Vaaska was a dessert, they’d be store-bought, not home-baked. Impalers, on the other hand, deliver an LP-worthy blast with “Fight ‘Em All”, so expertly tight it practically sounds like the world’s smartest computer program put together a synthetic form of raging hardcore-punk and this is the result. Same goes for “Anyone” – if there is another hardcore band today writing better 16th-note down-picked riffs, I’d like to hear them! If you don’t already own the Impalers album, fix that problem, but if you do, this split may be just the dose for those in need of more.

Vatican Shadow Remember Your Black Day LP (Hospital Productions)
I’ve been a Vatican Shadow fan for probably as long as the project has been going, keeping up with roughly 75% of the vinyl (all the good cassettes make it to vinyl anyway) and watching a live YouTube or two… but I don’t know, anyone else listen to Remember Your Black Day and start to feel like we’re just getting duped at this point? By some counts, this is the first proper Vatican Shadow “album”, and it’s certainly distanced from Vatican Shadow’s earliest material. No longer is he cutting us in and out of primitive, barely-changing industrial loops, now Vatty Shad is toying with different tempos, a cornucopia of electronic sounds and just as many textural production tricks. And in all this, I think it’s kind of clear that while Dom Fernow is an amazing conceptualist and artist, he’s not really much of a musician. His melodies generally follow obvious and simple progressions, and if you think long enough about his open Muslimgauze obsession, you start to wonder if the actual music on Vatican Shadow records isn’t the least-considered aspect of the project. I’ll admit, “Enter Paradise” sounds like a bad techno remix of Sepultura that you’d find at the end of an imported CD single (which I mean as praise), and “Not The Son Of Desert Storm, But The Child Of Chechnya” is pretty sweet when blasted loudly (I can picture Regis giving this track a sly wink as he walks by), so there are some notably enjoyable moments here. It’s just that the majority of Remember Your Black Day sounds like what I’d expect out of some ex-noise-guy Vatican Shadow acolyte figuring his way through a laptop, not the man himself.

Vice Device / Void Vision split LP (Accident Prone)
New Void Vision material isn’t something that comes around too often, so while I continue to wait for their debut album, this Vice Device split is a nice way to tide me over. Let’s start with Vice Device, who are the a-side group, and new to me. They’re a pretty good fit, as they are clearly a rock group, but overtly goth and synthed-out, kind of like if Interpol’s dancier material got jumbled up with one of those black-eyeliner GSL groups, like Subtonix or Love Life. Not too far from Industrial Park or Blessure Grave or any of the many second-tier goth-rock groups giving it a go today, but slightly better, I’d say. Void Vision, on the other hand, deliver an unwavering dose of cold-wave synth-pop in their three songs, as thoughtful and catchy as I could’ve hoped: “A Version” is the peak-time goth-club hit, “Not Much Of Anything” has a delirious Crash Course In Science vibe, and their cover of Queen’s “Take My Breath Away” is an airy dance with death. Each track is pretty different, even though they are clearly the work of the same analog mind. Really beautiful stuff, and Vice Device are a fine (if not as impressive) pairing. It’s cold out now, and records like this don’t make it any warmer!

White Poppy White Poppy LP (Not Not Fun)
I like to think I have my finger on the pulse of electronic music’s deep underground set, but I swear, Not Not Fun and 100% Silk just keep finding these folks I’ve never heard of before. I appreciate that they are always digging, and even if I don’t always (or often) connect with their records, I am sure that someone else is. Like this White Poppy album, for example – I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s the work of one person in her bedroom, as opposed to a full band, and it kinda just wooshes around in an ’80s new-wave by-way-of ’90s shoegaze haze. Picture Tamaryn replacing Ian Curtis in Joy Division, with the creamy vocal production of Tropic Of Cancer. Basically, these chilled out ’80s post-punk / wave rhythms are slathered in cyclical vocal echo, like an old black and white photograph of a factory that someone painted pastel clouds over top, and they come with the feel of a million-and-one musical influences, just like everything else that comes out today. I certainly don’t mind White Poppy, but records like this never really stick to my subconscious – I actually tried to mention this record to a friend earlier today, and was calling it “White Bloom” the whole time by accident (seriously, how many “White (noun)” band names can one person be expected to remember?). If you have a better memory than me, and wish all your favorite romantically-sad music from decades’ past were merged into one pale dessert, I can only foresee positive results from giving White Poppy a whirl.