The American Jobs Carne Levare LP (Savage Quality)
Savage Quality is almost ten releases deep at this point, and I’m delighted to say I continue to feel a sensation of “where the hell did they find this?” upon spinning each record for the first time. Carne Levare by The American Jobs is a prime example, as this is bizarre lounge-y goth-rock that’s full of character,particularly in a genre where it often seems like bands purposely try not to stand out. With plenty of sax, pianos and additional percussion guiding the ghost ship, I frequently find myself picking up a Slaves vibe (the turn-of-the-millenium ex-VSS band – it’s about time someone sounded like them!). The American Jobs are playing goth-rock for the bacchanal, not the funeral – “Black Tar” is the type of track you’d expect to hear wafting out of an expensive Sonos player as a naked man with a white python on his shoulders dances over to the baby grand, where a woman in pearls is perched, playing the high notes with her toes. Naturally, I like it! I’m even reminded of Darkside at certain points, when The American Jobs lock into a slow-motion cocaine-groove, even though they were probably listening to Eyeless In Gaza and Death In June for inspiration. None of Carne Levare feels like a put-on, so when there’s a track that’s just singing, sax, piano and birds tweeting, you can’t help but search for Eyes Wide Shut masks on eBay, even if you don’t actually place a bid.

Blazing Eye Blazing Eye 7″ (Overdose)
Hardcore cannot live on cassette alone, so it was great to see Blazing Eye make their way onto vinyl after one of the hottest hardcore demos of the last year. They’re a Los Angeles hardcore quartet who are clearly obsessed with Japanese hardcore, but a very specific strain of such – the more metallic, fearsome end of things, of which Zouo, G.I.S.M. and Outo are prominent. It’s all in the vocals, really – the singer has clearly mastered the intimidating bark of Cherry Nishida and the mangled mutant scowl of Sakevi, much more than any other hardcore band of the past couple decades that I can recall, and that’s probably at least half of the reason I’m raving about Blazing Eye right now. The other half is the music, which doesn’t reach Unlawful Hardcore Assembly speeds, but rather pogos itself straight to hell, clearly following the hardcore drum-structure that Hoax set into motion as the modern default a couple years ago. It’s simple stuff, but also highly effective – who doesn’t want to jump up and down while the son of Satan scalds your face with his hot breath? And the strangely psychedelic guitar leads on “Devil” reveal plenty of room for Blazing Eye to expand their sound without sapping the energy from their core. I can only hope more records are on the way!

Bruce Not Stochastic 12″ (Hessle Audio)
I pretty much flipped for the other 12″ Bruce dropped, and when I saw that he was already working with the formidable Hessle Audio team, who could rightfully deny it? Well, maybe I got a little ahead of myself, because while this three-track EP is cool, it’s not doing it for me quite like the other. “Not Stochastic” was apparently some heavily-mixed track (a guy whose name rhymes with “Roy Orbison” apparently took a strong liking in particular), and it has a nice effervescent feel as it tumbles by, but nothing really happens? It’s like one interesting part, looped endlessly and mixed at different volume levels, and while I dig the same tricky use of monotony when displayed by labelmates Bandshell or Elgato, it’s not quite doing it for me here. “Trip” has even less going on, and while it would make for an excellent primer coat (you know, before the painting actually begins), it’s kind of bland on its own. “My Legs Wouldn’t Go Quick Enough” brings in a bit more excitement, with a fluctuating beat and a high tone hovering in the clouds, but I can’t tell if it’s actually lively or just in comparison to its neighbors. Definitely eager for more Bruce, because why not, but I can safely say that only the deepest post-techno tweakers need to locate this one.

Chevel Tank / Beaviane 12″ (Mistry)
I actually checked out this Chevel 12″ for a silly reason – I couldn’t help but think of the late ’90s alt-metal band Chevelle and laugh at the idea of them reincarnated as a post-dubstep act. That’s all it takes for me to pick up a record sometimes! To be fair though, I knew the new Mistry label is on a pretty cool tip, so again I say, why not? I’m glad I did, because “Tank” is quality modern experimental bass music. There aren’t a whole lot of sounds clogging the mix, just one thick brown slab of down-tuned bass chords, a popped soap bubble and a Ginsu hi-hat, all of which eventually falls aside to drift anchorless before coming back to shore. “Beaviane” drops a heavy set of drums from the get-go, like something off Demdike Stare’s Testpressing series, and soon enough a robust kick sends all glassware flying off your speakers, vibrating not just your downstairs neighbor but the guy who lives in the basement too. Two highly enjoyable tracks, both very much in the hyper-modern realm of Boomkat techno, but not so specific as to lose their flavor a couple months from now. I see that Chevel has a pretty deep discography too, dating back a few years… do I dare dig for more?

Cold Foamers All Cold Everything LP (Slugsalt)
Proud to say I live in a city where unintentionally-charming indie-rock bands like Cold Foamers can announce their existence through a sharp DIY-with-friends album like this one. I had never heard of them before, but I’ll be sure to keep an eye out for their name in the show listings now, as they play a style of music I don’t often gravitate toward (nerdy introverted indie-rock) but they do it so well I can’t help but find myself a little smitten. I’m frequently reminded of Modest Mouse, Pavement, Lovesick and Whatever Brains throughout this record, but there’s something about the way Cold Foamers approach their songs that seems entirely their own. Their pacing probably has something to do with it – they play their songs slow, quite slower than other bands would, which often results in weird stoner grooves I wouldn’t have normally expected. When their dork-voiced rock songs are forced into this sort of Bedhead / Screaming Trees pacing, Cold Foamers take on an almost grunge-like groove, and it hits this sweet zone where their catchy hooks can stretch their legs in between dorm-room bong hits. This all makes for one beautifully ugly album, one that I can’t help but love, warts and all.

CP/M Hang / Intl 7″ (no label)
If there’s a different city I’d entrust with Seattle’s legacy of unhappy grunge-rock, it’s gotta be Baltimore – seems like at least fifty groups of heavy-rocking, beer-swilling basement dwellers have come out of there in the past ten years, from the slick semi-professional (Roomrunner) to the inebriated and nihilistic (The New Flesh) and all shades in-between. CP/M is an interesting new entry, perhaps shaping up to be the TAD of Baltimore, with maybe a sprinkle of the first couple Earth records that no one ever thought twice about when they first came out. “Hang” is a fitting title because the riff seems to just, umm, hang in the air, moving up and down the neck of the bass and the guitar playing it, with strained Albini-esque vocals and some random samples peppered in (they add a nice touch of chaos to the somewhat formal riffing). “Intl” almost has a Twin Stumps vibe, in the way the riff sounds like rust being scraped off a steamliner, and it’s even more unwavering in its approach. If you put Clockcleaner and Harvey Milk in a room together, I bet they’d all be too awkward to actually talk to each other, and somewhere within that tension do CP/M exist.

Dreamsalon Soft Stab LP (Dragnet / Sweet Rot)
Within the lush and humid forests of the Pacific Northwest, heavy post-punk art-rock has been thriving like moss, and Dreamsalon are one of its most recent growths. I know they are ex-Love Tan and ex-Intelligence (and maybe an A Frame, or that’s just wishful thinking?), and Soft Stab is a pretty good album. While their influences might date to the late ’70s and early ’80s (or not, I’m just guessing), they sound pretty contemporary, as bands like Nots, Evening Meetings, Guinea Worms, Mordecai and Naomi Punk all come to mind while Soft Stab spins. It certainly has that “Sweet Rot” sound, which is to say, slightly aggressive, slightly noisy, more-than-a-little weird garage-rock that makes few concessions to the mainstream (while still tidy and respectable enough as to receive considerable KEXP airtime). While you might stumble upon the occasional wacked-out sound effect within Soft Stab, I’m pretty sure this is a synth-free record, and Dreamsalon are entirely capable to create their post-punk in this traditional format. I mentioned eight other bands in this review, and if you enjoy four or more of them, I recommend you start typing “Dreamsalon Bandcamp” into your search bar immediately – I won’t even be offended if you close this tab.

Elli And Bev Might Not Look Like It To You 12″ (Albert’s Basement / Quemada)
Always nice to receive a new transmission from the Albert’s Basement / Quemada camp, and this one is as quietly delicate as any, another soft hand-knitted sock draped across the couch. The name “Elli And Bev” makes me think of two old friends, ostensibly blue-haired senior citizens with reserved seats at bingo night, and while the two behind this project surely have the better part of their lives ahead of them, that same sort of adorable camaraderie is evident here. Their songs often start with the buzz of a tiny electric organ or clink of an even tinier drum machine, followed with some softly-spoken vocals and maybe a guitar or two. Mood-wise, it has kind of a minimal indie-pop feel, but on the dirge end of things, like whatever the slowest 14 Iced Bears song is, or Brighter at their most ominous. Or perhaps Tori Kudo overseeing production of a new Floating Di Morel album? Might Not Look Like It To You is far simpler than all these comparisons I’m throwing about, but it’s a simplicity that leads to such wild dreaming, and I like it.

Face The Rail Learning To Die LP (Katorga Works)
Upping the ante from “punks standing in front of a brick wall”, Face The Rail opt for “punks hanging in a cave” for their album photos, and the change is appreciated. Don’t expect any sort of cave-sounding punk, though – Face The Rail are speedy, downer-melodic hardcore-punk more akin to foreclosed suburban developments and oil-stained 24-hour convenience stores than any sort of erosion-formed habitat. They’re pretty tight, and have found their own musical voice, one that leaves plenty of room for lightly-distorted (and heavily flanged) guitars and rapid-fire melodic leads. Sure, there’s a good deal of Bad Religion, Minor Threat and The Adolescents in their sound, but I’m also picking up Hüsker Dü and the fast-hardcore end of late ’80s emo, like The Hated or Rites Of Spring at their most ferocious. Face The Rail are songwriters, too, not just stylists, and they’ve crafted a surprisingly mature and well-considered album in Learning To Die. Go on, Face The Rail, son; hear what’s written there.

Fallopian Disco Force Black Larvenroller LP (Ill Yacumama)
Did I stutter? This is Fallopian Disco Force I’m talking about. They’re a Japanese band that verges on art-collective, and their energy is palpable, from their eye-popping cover collages to the crazy music they create. Their bio claims that they have shared the stage with Ruins and Melt Banana on numerous occasions, and I can certainly picture that – on Black Larvenroller, the ‘Disco Force sound like Astral Social Club or Leprechaun Catering raised on hours of Lightning Bolt and Boredoms YouTube videos. Which is to say, there is plenty of octopus-armed drumming to carry the various homemade noise-boxes, modified guitars and duct-taped synths forward. It’s been a while since I heard this sort of thing (and part of me is depressed to know that Load isn’t releasing nearly as much of this stuff as they used to), and maybe it’s just the flashy cover and attitude that is sucking me in, but I think Fallopian Disco Force are pretty fantastic. Weirdness like this never goes out of style.

James Fella Weak Left Input LP (Gilgongo)
I gotta say, it’s pretty cool that when I or any other nerds I know think of “underground music from Arizona”, James Fella and his Gilgongo label would gather top points, Family Feud-style. He’s a fine representative of a state the rest of us have little interest in visiting, and it’s cool that his energy remains tireless, even in all that dry heat. Weak Left Input is a reissue of a cassette that was released in 2009, then on CD in 2014, and now in edited form on vinyl. All I can think is, why? I haven’t heard either of the earlier extended versions, but this is an album of fairly standard Thurston Moore- or Bruce Russell-style guitar drone / manipulation. I can easily render the mental image of a daisy-chain of pedals clicked on and off and Fella crouched over them, his back to whatever audience may have been present. It’s fine, but can’t you just make more of this whenever you want? Save reissues for Led Zeppelin and Phish on Record Store Day, why not churn out some more, perhaps better, sun-baked guitar improvisations rather than pay to press it again? And if it’s from 2009, surely you’re onto something cooler and more interesting by now anyway, right? I do not understand Fella’s intentions, but just as we have the freedom to not buy Weak Left Input if we don’t want to, he has the freedom to keep on pressing it, Bluray coming soon.

The Frightening Lights The Frightening Lights LP (Bruit Direct Disques)
So when you’re in a band, it sucks if people keep comparing you over and over to the same specific band, usually one that you never particularly set out to sound like in the first place, even if that other band is good. Well, sorry The Frightening Lights, I know how it feels, but I’ll be damned if you don’t sound almost exactly like Hope Sandoval & The Warm Intentions. I sit around all day listening to music and picking apart its subtle differences, and even as I consider myself a Hope Sandoval fan, I could’ve been easily tricked here if someone told me this was some lost Hope Sandoval session from 2001 or something. Elizabeth Downey softly strums darkly romantic, red-wine-appropriate chords on her guitar and coos in a breathy, curiously wounded voice I thought only one other person on Earth possessed, with various spirals of organ and bass evaporating into the chilly night air around her. It’s a lovely record, but it kind of feels like going on a date with the doppelganger of an ex – it would be really nice if it wasn’t so eerie.

Fugazi First Demo 12″ (Dischord)
Ah cool, been meaning to check this band out! But seriously, Dischord’s archives are so rich with groundbreaking American music that I don’t mind their shift toward reissues, and if you’re complaining about it, you need to go watch the news or something and find something actually worthy of outrage. That said, I never really listened to Fugazi (either a punishable offense or a lucky break, depending on who you ask these days), unless you count hearing “Waiting Room” played for a few seconds prior to every NPR segment about healthcare. I recently watched Instrument though, a sort of self-forced schooling, and while I find their music to be okay, cool, kind of dull or way too funky (depending on the moment), it was certainly nice to see so many baggy-panted freaks dancing Peanuts-style on stage with them, not to mention all the ethics they instilled in punk that we can now ignore and/or take for granted. So I guess really, you tell me: do you want to hear Fugazi’s first demo?

Glacial23 Untitled 12″ (Savage Quality)
Savage Quality has been wowing me since their inception, but it was only a matter of time before our tastes diverged, which can be pinpointed through the existence of this 12″ by Northeast Ohio techno artist Glacial23. Nevermind that the name sounds like a username I would’ve talked to in AOL Emo Chat in 1998 – Glacial23 is purely a techno project, and maybe that’s part of my problem. All of this four-track EP just sounds like Acid Techno 101, the most basic, primary-color techno one can hear. If a community college offered a “make your own techno” class, I could picture these tracks being turned in as final projects, and while they’d receive passing grades, it makes for a very boring listen to anyone who has heard anything like this before. And yet amazingly, Glacial23 has been releasing music out for years! There are no tricks up their sleeves, no intriguing twist, no foreign sound-banks, just the basics. I’m sure Northeast Ohio is lucky to have someone like this, to throw parties and help create a scene where there might not be one otherwise, but for me, listening to Glacial23 is like getting psyched on going to a Levi’s outlet: if I have to go with a friend who needs cheap jeans, that’s fine, just don’t expect me to get excited about it.

Jock Club After Hours LP (540)
Jock Club is the work of Andrew Flores, a Phoenix-based guy perhaps more famously in the psych-rock band Destruction Unit, and this is his tech-house project. I’m feeling pretty conflicted about After Hours, his first proper LP, so I’ll go ahead and explain. On one hand, it seems pretty evident that this is poseur-house of the highest order. The beats and sound-banks are all boring pre-sets with little thought behind them (and the dull “slowly add another aspect until the track ends” song construction is constant), and while I hate the criticism of “I could do that” when it comes to any form of music, I’ve messed around with samplers and drum machines too, and well, I could make something this rudimentary and basic in a couple hours too; we all could. And judging from the fact that he has released fifteen “albums” (Discogs’s term, not mine or his) since 2013, clearly Jock Club values quantity over quality. Song titles like “Berlin ’94 (vocal mix)” and “Late Night Nile Cruise”…. gimme a break, an advanced computer algorithm could come up with less-generic dance titles. But on the other hand, perhaps vapid, thoughtless and obvious dance music tropes are the point of Jock Club, a sort of ugly mirror held up to the dance world, forcing its empty homogeny to a scrutinous re-examination? And this is more of an artistic commentary than a work of music? That’d be alright, but I’m just gonna assume Flores does Jock Club because it’s fun and easy, and while I can completely appreciate those reasons, I would’ve been better off not hearing it.

Kalmex & The Riffmerchants / Bastard Noise Ultra Sonic Holocaust LP (Hear More)
Wow, now here’s a record that only a tiny fraction of the population will be interested in, but those select few will be delighted. It’s the long-awaited/delayed collaboration of Kalmex & The Riffmerchants (of Plutocracy fame) and Bastard Noise. The sad story of its process is outlined in the fancy booklet that comes with this one, and for as strange and psychedelic as the cover art is, it still doesn’t prepare us for the bizarre music within. Essentially, it’s Kalmex & The Riffmerchants playing songs with Bastard Noise providing instrumental interludes, but all sense of genre and aesthetics are pretty much blown out of the window. This is definitely not a power-violence record! An epic prog-thrash groove will lead into a No Less-inspired dank-core jam, and the next thing you know, you’re listening to some sort of Jethro Tull rip with gore-grind vocals… which leads into some sort of unholy Queensrÿche / Linkin Park mashup. It’s psychedelic in a negative way, like a purposely bad trip because good trips no longer have any effect on Kalmex’s damaged neurons, where dollar-bin metal records mingle with the Slap A Ham discography and generic rock radio. I was hoping for more of a Bastard Noise presence (sadly, Eric Wood doesn’t pick up the bass once), but once I became accustomed to the mangled thrash, collaged noise and weirdo crossover metal served on Ultra Sonic Holocaust, I started to enjoy myself, perhaps a little too much.

Lair Lair LP (Surveillance Investments)
Doesn’t seem to matter how much the rent goes up, Boston will always be crawling with strange underground rock bands, like Lair for instance. This is their debut LP, and it’s a pretty cool melange of classic underground rock sounds (Wire and Mission Of Burma, let’s day) and groups that veer further off the straight and narrow path, like Devo (and maybe even a slight hint of Lightning Bolt). I’m frequently reminded of Yamantaka // Sonic Titan when listening to Lair, in the way that both bands seem to tie down wildly-spiraling prog-rock moves with heavy drums and guitars, but I get the feeling that Lair are the more down to Earth of the two, like they probably just wear jeans and t-shirts on stage in comparison to Yamantaka // Sonic Titan’s capes and facepaint. I’m just guessing here, but I bet Lair look as comfortable perusing slacks at J Crew as they do the “New Arrivals – Used” bin at Weirdo Records, surely enjoying their ability to fit into various levels of society.

Rüdiger Lorenz Invisible Voices LP (Anthology Recordings)
I love it when I check out some random reissue of a private-press electronic-music record from the late ’70s / early ’80s and it sounds eerily fresh and modern, like the artist was truly ahead of their time. Nice as that is, Rüdiger Lorenz’s Invisible Voices isn’t one of those albums: it’s from 1983, and it sounds like it could’ve only been made in 1983. His keyboards, arpeggios and modulated sound-effects vary in heaviness from cloud to pillow, and the melodies they provide range from dark n’ stormy to jubilant. Not a stretch to say that Lorenz is following in the footsteps of Edgar Froese and Klaus Schulze, not breaking new ground but rather setting up a nice little picnic on the fields Froese and Schulze had freshly mowed. It’s fine, but I don’t really understand the point of this reissue, unless there is some sort of vinyl-industry directive to make sure every obscure record from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s is once again lining the shelves. Chances are if you are reading this blog, you have a friend who is making music similar to Lorenz without the backing of a vinyl reissue campaign, so why not go support them with your time and money instead? Unless you need to hear every ambient-prog private-press synth record, that seems like a better solution. Lorenz passed away in 2000, he isn’t going to care.

M//R Gathering Response Data 12″ (Great Circles)
The pristine Great Circles label steps up their packaging game with silk-screened jackets for this newest batch, and it’s a fitting upgrade for the vinyl debut of Philadelphia’s M//R (although he recently moved to the suburbs and well, I’d be lying if I said that didn’t sting). M//R certainly fits in with the rest of the Great Circles boys though, coming at techno not from the club but the abandoned office space across the highway from the club, running a couple samplers and a broken drum machine off stolen electricity for the entertainment of a couple dozen like-minded individuals. He offers four tracks here, starting with the off-kilter acid swabs of “Adjacent Possible”, a disorienting experience until the kick arrives and you realize you’ve been dancing in 4/4 all along. “Texas Acid” sadly bears little resemblance to Rednex, darting about like electronic ants in a motherboard colony, whereas the flip showcases the patient Joey Anderson-esque chug of “Honey Single” and lastly the after-hours sneak of “Panthers 1”, a Tin Man-esque sad-acid squiggle tip-toeing with a syrupy vocal declaring “here I am”. It’s easy for me to want to support these hometown heroes, I know them and they’re cool, but when the music is as tight as this, I start to wonder if I shouldn’t also learn a few new dance moves out of respect. Time to step up my robot.

(New England) Patriots / Palberta Special Worship LP (Feeding Tube)
For those in need, here’s some more fresh weirdness outta the Boston area. I was previously familiar with neither, but it turns out they’re a good pairing of modern no-wave skronk-rock, and while that scene seems to have mostly dried up, these bands make a solid case for its timeless coolness. (New England) Patriots have a funny name and make some beautifully disjointed art-rock, with plenty of clean-channel guitar warbling, repetitive math-rock rhythms and a vocalist who sounds like he crawled out of a test-tube, wildly ranting in lieu of physical dominance. It sounds a hell of a lot like The Crainium to me, and as I can only really take The Crainium in short doses, the three (New England) Patriots tracks here are the perfect serving. Speaking of bizarre DC bands, Palberta remind me of a mix of Meltdown and Et At It, rifling through bits and pieces of riffs with the occasional damaged guitar solo ala Daniel Martin-McCormick (let’s just keep the DC comparisons going). Lovely music indeed. Skip that next set of unearthed Mars demo recordings and step into the now with these two instead!

Nots We Are Nots LP (Goner)
My interview with Nots guitarist/vocalist Natalie Hoffman had me really hankering for their debut album, and now that I’ve had ample time to crank it over and over, I can say that whatever Nots album I imagined in my head pales in comparison to the real deal. Beautifully simple, three-chord garage-punk is much like chocolate chip cookies, in that the results can vary wildly depending on the specific ingredients and preparation, and Nots absolutely nail it here (We Are Nots is the perfect mix of chewy and hard). Most riffs are simplistic, minor-key repetitions, most drums involve a floor-tom for time-keeping (I saw them live and was astonished that the drummer’s right arm never fell off), and the vocals never waver in delivery, a spoken snarl often backed by the rest of the band in some sort of intimidating chant. It wouldn’t be incorrect to file them under the Urinals / Dangerhouse lineage, but Alexandra Eastburn’s synth constantly squirts in ways unlike most “synth-punk” bands, and while it’s ever-present, Nots never feel like anything besides a tough and frustrated guitar-based post-punk group, not The Screamers or Devo or something. We Are Nots gets a little samey, for sure, but if I could attain that specific level of sweet sameness, I’d extend it over eleven tracks too.

Objekt Flatland 2xLP (Pan)
Objekt came on strong in the late 2013 / early 2014 season with a steady sampling of his unique form of razor-sharp industrial techno, so it was with baited breath that I received Flatland, his debut album. So many of my favorite EP-length techno producers often sink when it comes to the long-playing format, and I can understand it’s not easy to maintain that sort of single-based mentality while providing the depth and cohesion an album demands, but I’m relieved to say Flatland was executed with poise and precision – it’s a real treat. Through these eleven tracks, Objekt scales the spectrum, from elastic ambient sputtering to full-on juggernaut techno beats. Flatland never sits in one place too long, nor does it suffer from any sort of ADD either. At times, Objekt’s snare/clap feels so relentlessly prickly, and the BPM always seems just one beat faster than appropriate, that his music causes actual stress – I’d imagine listening to this album while taking any sort of test would assuredly result in a lower score than otherwise. That’s becoming his signature though, abrasive beats that act as sonic paper-cuts, slashing with mechanical precision or obliterating like a rogue Vitamix. I’m tempted to throw a tomato at Flatland just to see what kind of sauce it makes, but I’ve yet to find the courage.

Piano Movers Girlfriend’s Lover / Downtown 2day 7″ (Fruits & Flowers)
Discovering that Piano Movers is the work of Anthony Atlas (of Nodzzz fame) and his buddy Pete Hilton on the drums was like scratching off a lottery ticket and winning twenty bucks – what a nice surprise! These guys have been playing music together since the early ’00s thrash of Down In Flames, and while they have sufficiently mellowed with age, a song as sweetly weird as “Girlfriend’s Lover” is worth the descent into maturity. It’s the simplest sort of easy-breezy guitar pop you can imagine, like Ween at their softest with Home Blitz’s naïveté and Jonathan Richman’s sweetness. A good replacement for those who want to enjoy Mac Demarco’s music but are put-off by the sleazy persona, perhaps? “Downtown 2day” has more of the great “confident nerd” vibe, although it doesn’t serve the same level of disarming pop bliss as “Girlfriend’s Lover”. But what really does?

Pigeon Religion Warm Insides / No Boundaries 7″ (Gilgongo)
Gilgongo decided to spend their hard-earned money on a 7″ reissue of a 2008 cassette by the defunct Phoenix sludge-rock band Pigeon Religion, and well, it’s not how I would’ve spent mine. I always thought they were one of the bands that helped speed up the process of killing the Brainbombs-inspired dirgy noise-punk trend, just by doing such a half-assed job of it, and while it’s been a few years since I last listened to them, that memory quickly resurfaces upon spinning this single. If I wanted to hear the vocal melody of Flipper’s “I Saw You Shine” over some plodding anti-musical riff, I’d just listen to Flipper, but Pigeon Religion offer a similar work without any flair. “No Boundaries” on the flip takes a pop-punk riff and gives it the noise-dirge treatment to equally unexciting results. I don’t know, what am I missing here? This sort of music seems intentionally bad, like falsely bad, yet just as thoughtless as certain forms of actual bad music, and it’s a formula that just really rubs me the wrong way, particularly to imagine that people are paying money to press it on vinyl, presumably out of some sort of friendship or social impulse rather than true musical enjoyment. I am just glad I don’t have to think about this band again, at least until the next one of their tapes is reissued on vinyl and sneaks itself onto my turntable. I gotta get some chicken-wire or something.

Portable Surrender 12″ (Live At Robert Johnson)
You know, Portable’s “Life Magically Is” is one of my favorite techno tracks of all time, so I try to keep up with what he’s doing, but I checked out his recent Sportable 12″ on Perlon and found it so uninspiring that I never got around to writing about it. Just when I thought all hope was lost, Portable dropped “Surrender” on me, and it stung my icy heart like Cupid’s arrow. You’re not gonna hear a more beautiful and romantic house cut this year, or most others – Portable just devastates with the sweet heartbreaking vulnerability displayed here. Probably doesn’t hurt that Portable (that’s him and not frequent collaborator Lcio singing, right?) sounds a hell of a lot like Daughn Gibson on this one, but he floats his voice through weeping flutes, synthetic African drums and a melody that could make Brock Lesnar cry. The 12″ version just comes backed with an instrumental and an acapella, and while I needed to own it, you can take the easy route and go find the music video for it, rife with hot air balloons over a breathtaking landscape. Just make sure you have a loved one close by that you can hug and cry into.

Pura Mania La Estafa Musical 7″ (Cvrecs)
Judging from the evil money-grubbing rat on the cover of this 7″, I was expecting to hear some filthy noise-core punk or something within its orbit, but Pura Manía aren’t going the ear-bleeding route for their punk rock. Rather, they fly through some tight-yet-tuneful hardcore-punk that doesn’t substitute melody for power. I’m reminded of classic “international” hardcore when I listen to this EP, specifically N.O.T.A. and D.O.A. (and surely other acronym-based hardcore). Gruff, shouted vocals take the lead over moderately-paced tunes that manage to make their somewhat longer running length (three-minutes on average) feel appropriate. They’re a Vancouver band doing it all in Spanish, what’s not to like?

Pura Mania Música Para Gente Fea 7″ (Cvrecs)
Nope, not a typo, Pura Manía released another 7″ along with the other. Perhaps an LP would’ve made a lot more sense, financially and physically, but hey, they’re doing their own thing, and if they want to release a set of four 5″s instead, I’m not going to stop them. I think I actually prefer this single of the two: the first track “Sospechoso” has this beautiful chiming guitar lead that I’d expect out of No Hope For The Kids or The Clash even, but Pura Manía are claiming this one for themselves, busting down the doors of Tim Hortons in their jean jackets and chains-for-belts. The vocals are starting to remind me a bit of the guy from RF7’s throaty bark, maybe with a touch of the Raw Power guy, but yeah, no matter who you end up hearing in Pura Manía there’s no denying their time-tested hardcore style.

Ritual Mess Vile Art LP (Clean Plate / Adagio 830)
Don’t you just hate a ritual mess, like when you’re sipping from the blood of Christ and it accidentally dribbles onto your khakis? It’s a decent name, but it would’ve been far more useful if this band went with “Orchid 2.0”, as they have at least three Orchid dudes in it (I cannot be expected to remember four Orchid member names, I just can’t) and it’s ripping in a very similar style. In fact, I kinda wish Ritual Mess happened right after Chaos Is Me, or maybe the 10″ that followed, because there is no unfortunate International Noise Conspiracy-styled “revolution” nonsense here, just an ugly smear of spastic emo-core indebted to One Eyed God Prophecy and Uranus. I suppose there are more nods to early ’80s hardcore in here than Orchid ever revealed, but those moments are brief within the flailing limbs and heavy riffs that fill up Vile Art. It’s amazing how Ritual Mess seems to have picked up so smoothly from Orchid nearly a decade later, and I’m quite glad they did! After all, the less time vocalist Jayson Green is given to spend with Violent Bullshit, the better. This is where he belongs.

Roomrunner Separate 12″ (Accidental Guest)
Roomrunner did some interview with SPIN like a year or so ago, where they were lamenting their lack of success in this endearingly pitiful way. It was the sort of bold honesty underground rock bands rarely allow themselves in an interview, and while I already considered myself a Roomrunner fan, that kinda sealed the deal. That vibe plays into this new EP too, as they provide an alternate reality where Foo Fighters were broke and kept their belongings in their parents’ basements instead of care-free millionaires. Roomrunner have cleaned up considerably on this new one, continuing to raise the vocals in the mix and reducing the fuzz when the choruses invariably kick into their heavy grooves. I’m almost reminded of Quicksand at times, the way Roomrunner effortlessly skip through a gooey rhythm, and songs like “Push Down + Turn” reveal a more nuanced ear for melody than they’ve ever shared before. Killer record, and if Roomrunner do end up somehow becoming rock-star millionaires, I hope they manage to retain some of their sad-sack misery in the process.

Spray Paint Clean Blood, Regular Acid LP (Monofonus Press)
Spray Paint have been kicking their knotty post-punk around Austin for a few years now, but what do you know, this is my first time hearing them. I always heard them described as some sort of searing dual-guitar attack, like they scorched speakers in a manner similar to Aufgehoben covering Arab On Radar (don’t I wish), so I was surprised to hear that they are pretty middle-of-the-road when it comes to their fidelity, attitude, musicianship and annoyance level. I’m listening to Clean Blood, Regular Acid right now, and while the title is clunky, these songs all jab pretty quickly, using familiar notes and progressions and their inherent monotony to chip away at our senses. I’m reminded of Naomi Punk (but not as fuzzy or noisy) and early No Age (but not as catchy) throughout this record, bands that apply the pessimistic gloom of post-punk to basic garage-rock sonics, dashed up with the experience that a healthy record collection brings (surely one of these guys goes digging). Can’t say I’m ready to learn graffiti in homage to this group, but I’ll take a quick spritz of this album every now and then… why not?

Andy Stott Faith In Strangers 2xLP (Modern Love)
Ah yes, just in time for every indie music critic to listen through once and then add it to their year-end best-of list, Andy Stott is back. Don’t get me wrong, I’m right there with the rest of ’em, as Faith In Strangers is undeniably good. What impresses me most is that Stott is somehow able to move forward from the post-industrial techno of his last last three, progressing naturally (but also clearly progressing). On this one, Stott takes it nice and slow, with drones befitting Tor Lundvall opening the record and passing throughout, showcasing smartly disassembled trap beats gliding like a tank on a frozen lake. The frequent vocals of Alison Skidmore are present once again, and they add a somber beauty to Stott’s beleaguered trip-hop rhythms and glacial grooves. And he still manages to mix it up with the Morphosis-like “Science And Industry”, even if it’s “Violence” that makes me want to trick out my car stereo and just drive around looking for red lights to wait at. I wouldn’t have held it against him if he was all out of ideas at this point – Stott has already graced us with three future classics – but I’m starting to get the impression he’s going to continue to impress long into the future, so long as one exists.

The Stroke Band Green And Yellow LP (Anthology Recordings)
Sorry to disappoint, this isn’t yet another Julian Casablancas solo venture, but rather a reissue of an obscure rock group from South Georgia in the late ’70s. The Stroke Band feature art-rock lifer Don Fleming and some of his friends from high school, and it’s a surprisingly sophisticated and debonaire album of off-kilter glam-rock power-pop. I’m reminded of Mike Rep and Pere Ubu, if not necessarily sonically but in spirit, as The Stroke Band share a similar fascination with all forms of rock, be it past, future or present, seemingly unaware of their station as underdogs that will never achieve the fame their hooks demand. I’m also picking up some Brian Protheroe and T. Rex vibes, music coming from a time when the hippie movement had firmly failed and it wasn’t safe to be a weirdo on the street, particularly in South Georgia. Green And Yellow is cool, and while it hasn’t inspired me deeply enough to flip through the twenty page “comprehensive oral history” that comes along with it, maybe I’m just one rainy afternoon away.

Veiled Testimoni 12″ (Anòmia)
I released a Veiled 12″ a couple months ago, and Anòmia, a label run by Veiled’s Arnau Sala, quickly followed it with this one. How cute of us, right? Anyway, Veiled continue to move further from their initial blacklight basement-rave electro sound toward the industrial-techno sewer system that runs beneath the warehouse. On this one, they offer an ambient dirge ala Andy Stott (“Enterrar La Memòria”), a drippy techno jam ala Rrose (“Residual Static”), a blackened house cut ala Jamal Moss (“Testimoni”) and an echo-laced drum machine workout ala Beau Wanzer (“Washing The Surface”). It’s varied but also singular, all the tracks circling the same bleak drain with greyscale sonics and static as a musical instrument. It’s easy for me to get excited about Veiled, knowing what cool and authentic lovers of transgressive techno they are, but those of you who will never meet the men of Veiled in person will have just as easy a time digging into the soiled grooves of Testimoni.

Chris Weisman Monet In The 90’s LP (OSR Tapes)
Chris Weisman is somehow related to the King Tuff gang (cousins? best friends? it remains unclear), and I enjoyed the dense double-LP release he had on Feeding Tube a year or two ago. This new one picks right up, and just like Fresh Sip, it opens with its stand-out track, this time being “Working On My Skateboarding”. It could be a pop hit if anyone outside of Weisman’s Facebook friends heard it, but I’m sure Weisman doesn’t particularly care, he just wants to write tunes. The rest of the album sort of plays out like Benjamin Button, slowly getting more and more cutesy/fragile/childish until it’s like you’re listening to an adorable baby cooing on a toy ukelele. But through that trip, these friendly little micro-pop songs are mostly a delight, even if you don’t have a toddler on your lap to clap along with. Someone’s gotta hook up the youth with quality guitar/piano pop, and if I were Dan Zanes I’d start watching my back.

Hartley C. White This Is Not What You Expect LP (OSR Tapes)
Mr. White isn’t kidding around – no one could possibly expect an album as uniquely strange as this one, following his own creative path not just in lyrics, melodies or tone but in the very nature of song structure itself. Seriously, this guy is on his own trip, and it’s a delight to hear, even if I can only comprehend half of it. I’d say he falls somewhere between The Ziggy Stardust Band, The Last Poets and a Tim & Eric supporting actor. It’s quite silly (dollar-store drum machines, squealing sax, honked horns, probably a keytar), but you’d be a fool to call this a joke – White is clearly taking himself as serious as Prurient, and I can’t help but do the same. It’s as if he writes his lyrics first, spouts them off in whatever jagged cadence he decides fits best, and then the music is written around that, no matter how incongruous or disjointed it may sound. Fans of Johnny Noise, Mad Nanna, Television Personalities, Fuckin’ Flyin’ A-Heads, Smelly Feet, etc. in need of a strong fix of weird look no further – Hartley C. White comes highly recommended!