Auxiliary Mammals Auxiliary Mammals LP (no label)
Auxiliary Mammals feature ex-members of Charm City Suicides, whom I consider to be the finest punk band to ever come out of Baltimore (if I’m wrong, please tell me why), so naturally I was excited to check out the ‘Mammals self-titled debut. The cover is a thick piece of cardboard folded in half and colorfully screen-printed, so I was already vaguely thinking of Arab On Radar before I dropped the needle and the band hit that comparison home. Very, very strong Arab On Radar vibes here: mosquito-in-your-ear guitars that play entirely different parts than the bass, which locks into the tumbling, math-rock-inspired drumming and a vocalist that angrily shouts in time. Mercifully, Drew Bena doesn’t follow Eric Paul’s vocal lead – rather than sounding like a pervert on helium, Bena shouts along at a normal tone, closer to Unsane’s Chris Spencer perhaps. I’m an Arab On Radar fan for sure, and it’s nice to hear a new band doing something similar, pairing caustic guitar-scree with tightly-fastened bass and drums and a vocalist comfortable enough to shout over all of it. Now all they need to do is cover Charm City Suicides’ classic “Down At The Reservoir” and I’m all set.

Container Vegetation EP 12″ (Diagonal)
Container releasing an EP on Diagonal is the sort of musical courtship that seemed inevitable if not tardy, as both Container and Powell share a mutual love for twisted, aggressive techno that may or may not work in a crowded room. I couldn’t resist checking it out myself, and Container doesn’t disappoint, offering five urgent and occasionally menacing tracks. The opening title track sets the tone, tapping out a little pattern that is quickly met by an alarmingly fast snare, not so much a call to dance as a call to evacuate the premises immediately. “Soak” follows with a repetitive fill on a corroded drum machine, a jam made for over-caffeinated booties where twerking isn’t a sexual dance but an involuntary twitch. “Funnel” is most Powell-like via its cartoonish poing, as though an ogre was carrying you around by your suspenders (all in and out in under three minutes), whereas “Radiator” falls back on booty-bass filled with NBA dribbling theatrics and your roommate’s hairdryer. “Insulation” wraps things up in similar fashion, another truncated episode of wiggling body-parts under harsh neon lights. Container has certainly come into his own, offering a distinct style beyond the many post-industrial techno players from which he arrived, and this 12″ is more evidence to prove it, slapped wetly into your lap.

Copeland & Gast Sisters Of Control 7″ (All Bone)
I’m at the point where I realize I should’ve really checked out Inga Copeland’s work years ago – the name “Hype Williams” was just so annoyingly on-trend for the non-contextual re-purposing of ’90s nostalgia that I passed it by, but I get it now that both Copeland and Hype Williams co-conspirator Dean Blunt are exactly the sort of weirdo electronic provocateurs that I’d dig. This new and limited white-label 7″ by Copeland and John Gast offers a seductive and mysterious cut of post-trip-hop experimental pop. Picture the icy textures and somber vocals of AGF with the slinky backbeat of Machines Of Loving Grace’s “Golgotha Tenement Blues” stabilizing things into a pop structure. Great use of cymbals as coloring and various additional sonic seasonings to reward repeated listenings. “Sisters Of Control (Version)” isn’t just a throw-away edit, but a weighty dubstep rumination on the original, recalling the brutish swing of Mala or the rest of the DMZ crew circa 2005. Wish there was more than just this one song to enjoy, but Copeland has never been shy about releasing a ton of music in the past and I’ve got plenty of catching up to do anyway.

CO/R Gudrun 12″ (Hinge Finger)
A name like CO/R isn’t going to catch my eye, but the label Hinge Finger does, as it’s the infrequent imprint of Joy Orbison, a post-dubstep producer who has fallen out of the spotlight in recent years while I’ve remained a fan (in spite of the name, of course). Turns out CO/R is a new collaboration between Joy Orbison and Herron, and together they offer four songs of deftly-composed experimental techno (with a focus on “techno”, not “experimental”). The clearest reference I’m picking up is that of T++, in that way that CO/R utilize punchy kicks and sharp snares while patches of white noise, faded rave motifs and radio interference skitter about. A cut like “Bells, Walking” could easily be transformed into a big-room EDM anthem if it weren’t so enticed by the unconventional darkness explored by Blawan and Surgeon, and “Dripback” comes right out of Andy Stott’s playbook (with essentially the same level of quality). I’d almost say Gudrun would be a nice fit for the Downwards label, except that CO/R are much more nuanced and detail-obsessive than your average Downwards steamroller; it’s like they take the concept of post-industrial techno and run one of Nicolas Jaar’s fine-toothed combs over it. It has to be increasingly difficult to make this sort of thing sound fresh or interesting in 2016, what with so many players in the game, but CO/R are something special.

Ian William Craig Meaning Turns To Whispers LP (Aguirre)
Ian William Craig has been firing off a flurry of albums in 2016, and while there are at least two others I still need to peep, I caught up with Meaning Turns To Whispers on the Belgian Aguirre label. I really loved Cradle For The Wanting from late last year, an album of complex ambient vocal compositions, so I was a little surprised by the absence of Craig’s vocals here. I thought they were his trademark, like he could walk into a Wire magazine convention and be like “hey it’s me, the ambient choir vocal guy”, but clearly he’s working with a variety of sounds and instrumentation, and that’s cool with me. Meaning Turns To Whispers is a suite of piano improvisations run through various processes (or none at all), often broken up with tarnished tape erosion, as though he was playing back his music on a reel-to-reel that slowly caught fire. It’s not an entirely original conceit, but it sounds really nice here, his babbling piano consumed by harsh static or sanded down until the final notes blow like dust in the breeze. Meaning Turns To Whispers finally answers the question of “what would a Nils Frahm album sound like if someone buried it under a ton of sediment?”, and it’s a sweet way to go out.

Denim & Leather II 7″ (Milk Run)
You’d think Denim & Leather would be the perfect name for a Brazilian heavy metal band, not a Mancunian hardcore-punk band, but according to Discogs they both exist! This one is the latter, as you may have expected, and they feature a shot of an ostensible band member in a Calvin-esque pose, only to reveal on the back cover that “no pissing” is allowed, taking the theme so far as to release the 7″ EP on neon yellow vinyl. Can’t say I fully comprehend their aesthetics besides a random hodgepodge of naughtiness (and the ever-classic mushroom cloud collage insert), but none of this would matter if their music stunk, which isn’t the case. No, they’re a quite capable group, reminding me of The Shitty Limits, Career Suicide or someplace in between the two – close your eyes and imagine a Sorry State distro update circa 2011 and you’ll hear it too. I like their mellowest moment, “Pink Flamingos”, the most, as it offers a bit more personality and a playful vocal compared to the faster (and more straightforward) tracks (the fastest has me thinking of What Happens Next?, in fact). Cool enough band, I’d just warn them about associating with urine too strongly! It has its downsides.

Downtown Boys Downtown Boys LP (One Percent Press)
Downtown Boys have been designated America’s Most Exciting Punk Band by more than one news source, and not without reason – I can’t think of a current punk band whose between-song banter / build-ups have more visceral human energy. Makes sense then that a label would want to give their self-released debut cassette from 2012 a tidy vinyl pressing, which is what I’m reviewing here. Downtown Boys certainly shows the band in their infancy: their enthusiasm and constantly-peaking energy burst through these flailing, sloppy party-punk tunes. They’ve certainly gained technical prowess since 2012, but skilled performance doesn’t interest me as much as unhinged righteous screaming, demonstrated nicely on this early version of housing anthem “Slumlord Sal”, as well as Victoria Ruiz’s incensed vocal tantrum at the end of “Maldito”. People who only listen to music for judgment of its pure sonic waves and live in a vacuum separate from any message that might accompany it may want to pass on this one, as Downtown Boys slam and worm with an amateurish glee that some classic hardcore-punk re-enactors find irksome. I probably won’t listen to this one much myself, as Downtown Boys continue to get better as both agitators and musicians (I love their most recent material and can’t wait to hear what they do next!), but if there’s a modern punk band whose earliest moves are worthy of proper vinyl documentation it’s the ‘Boys, for sure.

Fadensonnen Gutter Wanderer LP (Fadensonnen)
Wow, I love when a record like this shows up on my doorstep, a project I’ve never heard of (and surely few have) that completely slays, free from the restraints of modern society or, even worse, the music biz. Fadensonnen hail from Brooklyn, and I’ll have to forgive them for that, as Gutter Wanderer is an immaculate long-play record of pointless guitar fireworks. It sounds like the first Purling Hiss album (the one that was all scorching-hot solos and no songs), with less in-the-red distortion and more notes – endless, endless notes. Many of these tracks sound like the folks behind Fadensonnen left the Tascam four-track on fast-forward and decided to riff along with it, in wild swirls of guitar that recall five Demo Moe tracks playing at once, or Borbetomagus if their instrumentation was two guitars and a tape deck. I’m certain that at some point, there was a coherent riff or two, but Fadensonnen stacks a pile of guitars so large that one’s brain cannot focus on anything but its vast outline. What I’m describing could easily be a Merzbow-esque squall that you automatically tune out after a couple minutes, but Gutter Wanderer is constantly moving, bouncing off walls and stumbling over garbage cans like they’re chased by the cops. The confusing hand-made sleeve, wherein you have to fold this tiny little flap open in order to read any liner notes, is the perfect inconvenience to top off this mighty slab of hostile guitar music.

Finished Cum Inside Me Bro LP (Load)
Yep, the album is called Cum Inside Me Bro and has a couple meme-people hugging on the cover with fonts taken from Microsoft Word’s 1995 collection. This is the sort of unfriendly garbage that Load Records built its reputation on, and I’m delighted to see that now, long after any sort of noise-rock trend has completely passed by, Load are still doing what they love simply because they love to do it. Musically, Finished fit the bill perfectly too – they play a loud, cavernous form of garage-y noise-rock that would fit well between Homostupids and White Load, not only sonically but aesthetically (so many dudes fascinated by their own sweaty body parts). It’s pretty traditional sounding stuff, not far from Thee Hydrogen Terrors or even Vaz, where the intensity rarely relents, perhaps only at the end of a track where the vocalist unleashes a loud expletive. “Secret Scum” has a particularly nice Kilslug swing, but there’s no fault to be found with any of Cum Inside Me Bro. May the Northeast continue to produce gnarly and gross guitar bands until the Atlantic finally swallows it up.

Good Throb Good Throb 7″ (La Vida Es Un Mus)
By now you surely know I’m a huge Good Throb fan, so chances are high I’ll be praising this, what may very well be their final record (continental bandmate relocations will do that), but trust me when I say that Good Throb have truly outdone themselves on this four-song EP. Opener “Scum” is a revelation, with soaring, evil guitar that feels like Klaus Fluoride trying out black metal and a rugged oom-pah that beats Dawn Of Humans at their own game. They follow it with “Slick Dicks”, which is more in line with the material on Good Throb’s album (which I had the pleasure of co-releasing) – how they get that bass to sound so thin, ugly and rubbery I’ll never know. Same goes for “The Queen Sucks Nazi Cock”, a shifty punk slam with a very Good Throb song title, so demure and sweet, and the EP wraps up with the tumbling “Welcome Break”, like a colander of hot pasta water dumped over your shoulders. I’m fairly certain Good Throb started as one of those “let’s all play instruments we’ve never played before” bands, and it’s amazing to hear how sharp and tight they’ve become without losing the venomous piss that inhabits every crevice of their music. I’m sad to see them go, but when it comes to briefly existing as a punk band, I’m not sure you can do it any better than Good Throb.

Heart Beach Counting / Relief 7″ (Rough Skies)
I gotta get to Hobart, Tasmania sometime before I croak, just to see if it’s as gloriously quaint of a town as I imagine it to be. I picture Native Cats riding bicycles with flowers and fresh eggs in their baskets, and Heart Beach working at the bodega that rents surfboards near the beach, listening to rare Dead C records on the company turntable. They’ve put together a pleasant and tender two-song single here on the local Rough Skies label, mastered by Mikey Young (who else?) and limited to a scant 150 copies. “Counting” offers a sweet splash of minimal pop, with Claire Jansen and Jonathon McCarthy sharing the wordy vocal lines much like friends sharing a sundae, calling to mind Look Blue Go Purple with a touch of Felt’s resigned worry. “Relief” is a soft and hesitant little strummer, punctuated by a cool drum pattern that sort of stutters the song forward. I wasn’t sure if the results of Google image-searching “Heart Beach” suited the group, but the corny romance of foot-drawn hearts in sand aren’t as incongruous with this group as I may have initially thought.

James Arthur’s Manhunt Digital Clubbing LP (12XU)
James Arthur is an Austin-based garage-rock institution, the sort of guy whose previous band history reads like the full schedule of any given Gonerfest. He’s checked in with his Manhunt recently in the form of Digital Clubbing, a new album with a misleading title and a mysterious cover image, complete with a small scab that I can’t stop staring at. Anyway, these four fully-grown boys (including Orville Neeley of OBN IIIs on the skins) continue their lifetime commitment to loud, blaring garage-rock. Theirs is a refined style, one that borrows from fringe psychedelia, hardcore-punk and outlaw country while never deferring to any of those territories – there’s a strict BPM range at play here and James Arthur’s Manhunt are content to work within those tried-and-true garage-rock lines. It’s a little too traditional and polished to get me too riled up, but personal preference aside, I certainly appreciate that James Arthur’s Manhunt are seasoned players who continue to hone their craft rather than rely on former glories. It’s a little strange, living in this modern world where rock n’ roll is almost exclusively the domain of adults, but I think I can learn to accept it.

JK Flesh Nothing Is Free 12″ (Downwards)
JK Flesh (short for “Just Kidding Flesh”) is one of Justin Broadrick’s newest monikers, wherein he tries his hand at the brutal and sludgy techno game that so many find so enticing (myself included). Naturally, he’s got a hand for this sort of thing, particularly when opting for primitive beats, which is the case on the title track. It sounds like one of the earliest The Bug demos played through a blown-out JVC Kaboom Box, with a brittle hi-hat keeping time over a plodding and dank bass-line that might turn Aardvarck’s head. Surgeon remixes “Nothing Is Free” in double-time to follow; pretty classic Surgeon style that keeps the moody top-line intact while tidying up the bass for the club. “Kontorted” might be my pick of the bunch though – it utilizes the same sonic template as “Nothing Is Free”, but in a snappy two-step rhythm and with bass that seems dead set on imitating the heinous flatulence of an adult grey whale. For much of the track, there are no more than three to five sounds happening at the same time, a modest setup that allows the listener to concentrate purely on how ugly and warbly bass can be. Sneak this one into your next DJ night and watch as the jocks run to the bathroom before their bowels get the best of them!

Steven Julien Fallen 2xLP (Apron)
Steven Julien has recorded as both Funkineven and St. Julien, whose releases have graced these pages, and Fallen is his debut album, the first to be released under his full name. His productions have ranged from forward-sounding tech-house to warped experimental synth (my personal favorite being the wonderfully-peculiar self-titled St. Julien 12″), and both styles inform Fallen, although I’d classify it as entirely its own beast. The majority of the record is based on obscure funk, soul and disco samples, either meticulously re-created or ganked straight from the source, not entirely unlike the MF Doom’s instrumental mixes or Madlib’s Quasimoto productions. Very Waxpoetics, which I mean as a compliment – much of Fallen has me thinking of one of Mingering Mike’s imaginary bands with Joe Zawinul behind the keys. That said, this is far from a tastefully standard suite of instrumental hip-hop / house reproductions. Julien always manages to squeeze a little sour into the mix, tilting his sunkissed funk into unexpected directions. “Chantal” is one of my favorites, starting off with what sounds like clinical minimal-synth not unlike Systematics before settling into a g-funk groove, and “Begins” kicks things off with a melody that is oddly discordant, like a K. Leimer track that Sympathy Nervous tweaked into submission. And even with all that, I can still picture Too Short rapping over basically all of Fallen. Well done!

Kaleidoscope Vol. 2 No. 1 7″ (Katorga Works)
Kaleidoscope is the “solo” project of New York guitarist / artist Shiva Addanki, he of Deformity, Ivy and JJ Doll, the last of whom I recently fell in love with. Under the Kaleidoscope guise, I’ve read that he often leaves the earthly plane of hardcore/punk for more psychedelic odysseys, linking up all sorts of pedals and releasing colorful tapes that document the results. Either I’m understanding things wrong (very possible) or Addanki decided to play it fairly straight for his vinyl debut, which feels like teenage hardcore-punk circa 1982 Southern California, just as the goth started to seep in. Imagine early TSOL at their sloppiest, or perhaps Rikk Agnew delivering his strangest tunes to Subterranean for release. Most of the songs are raucous while defying standard punk timing, which occasionally has me thinking of the Dark Sarcasm 7″ on Gravity, for better or worse. I think for me, this sort of project comes down to the vocals, and Addanki’s voice just kind of fades into the background… his is a boomy, lo-fi shout that seems to hold place for where one would expect vocals to be, like a box he knew to check off. For the full Kaleidoscope effect, I probably need to be in the backseat of a Ford Aerostar that hasn’t been vacuumed once in its existence, traveling across the middle of nowhere when someone puts in a dubbed Kaleidoscope tape, but for now I’m kinda just wishing Addanki would spend more of his spare time with his friends in JJ Doll and crank out another record or two ASAP.

Liberation Liberation LP (Night School)
Allow me to present you with a nice surprise, the debut LP by Liberation, David West’s newest solo venture. Surely you know him from Rat Columns, Total Control, Rank/Xerox, Lace Curtains or various other punk and electronic outings, and his debut as Liberation offers that same understated, curiously defiant feel as West’s previous work, this time in the form of sleazy synth-pop that fits right in on the Night School roster. The sounds here are often familiar but out-of-context, like seeing an old friend in a place you’d never expect them. Liberation will pair the recognizable tones of Kraftwerk’s Computer World with the hazy fuzz that you’d wipe off a 100% Silk production, or a classic Gary Numan synth that only hints at pop accessibility. My favorite track is probably “Cold And Blue”, a perfectly-programmed new-wave pop hit that hints at Fast Eddie and Madonna, but then West’s vocals neuter the whole thing – his voice is so wounded and meek that he makes The Postal Service sound like Andrew WK. And for as unabashedly pop as most of Liberation is, much of the music comes with a disarming awkwardness, like you’re watching a robot try to walk for the first time. As far as Liberation goes, it’s the kind of uncomfortable first-date that I love reliving.

LSDogs Creeps / Yr Done 7″ (Total Punk)
At this point, there would be seemingly no difference between the most earnest Total Punk group and one that viciously sends-up the genre with a ridiculous piss-take. The line between self-parody and sincerity has never been blurrier, as is the case with this LSDogs 7″ on Total Punk, featuring, you guessed it, a tossed-off pencil drawing of a dog on the cover. Musically it’s in line with what you’d expect Total Punk to offer – brash guitars up front in the mix, poor drumming, snotty vocals. I’m a little more partial to the glum riffing of “Yr Done” than the trad-punk “Creeps”, but anyone outright denigrating the music offered by LSDogs is just punking themselves (pun intended), as they play a form of punk rock as standard and dependable as black leather Doc Marten 8-Eyes. Of course, there’s nothing particularly exciting happening here either, but I get the impression that our shared excitement was never the basis for LSDogs existence, anyway. They probably just thought the name was funny and decided to form a band around it.

Mordecai Want To Be / Pictures Of Her W/ Them 7″ (Richie)
Mordecai probably has more back-stock sitting around than the other two Richie Records Summer Singles Series artists combined (Homostupids and Watery Love), but they probably don’t care, and it’s not their fault anyway if the record-buying public isn’t charmed by this lazy group of dudes from Montana. They’re really quite good, and this two-song single displays their mellower side, turning the amps down so that the cats don’t run out of the room while they record. “Want To Be” is a leisurely ride through an abandoned development, like Eat Skull without all the caffeine or The Clean without the ambition. The track actually seems to stop and then start over again, which is an interesting trick. “Pictures Of Her W/ Them” plays out similarly, like Garbage & The Flowers if it was mostly just garbage chilling there, fading through a couple recordings as well in a handsome haze. In my 20+ years of watching amateur live music on stage, Mordecai remain the single drunkest band I’ve ever seen, so it goes without saying that they will always have my respect.

Musk Musk 2: The Second Skumming LP (12XU)
Following their 2014 debut on Holy Mountain, Musk hop over to another highly-respectable American guitar label for the sequel. Here’s a band that has their aesthetic down pat: each album comes with intricately-detailed color paintings of flesh, random shapes of organic material that you can picture writhing and seething on the floor, pathetic, gross and barely sentient. Plus, they’re called Musk, and if this band doesn’t physically stink, something is deeply wrong, as their music is gnarly swamp-rock rife with danger and bad attitudes. I could go for an album’s worth of tracks like “The Hidden Cost”, the album opener that sounds like an old-timey saloon caught fire and was extinguished with a pile of Flying Luttenbachers records, but Musk quickly go into standard song format after that, which is nearly as entertaining. Their sound falls somewhere between Gun Club, Candy Snatchers, the first couple Danzig albums and Lubricated Goat, and probably an actual lubricated goat too. Tracks vary from spastic to somber, but it all fits under Musk’s dank tent. If I didn’t need a shower before listening, I need one now!

NHK Yx Koyxen Doom Steppy Reverb LP (Diagonal)
When NHK Yx Koyxen dropped the similarly-titled Hallucinogenic Doom Steppy Verbs EP last year, I suspected, possibly naïvely, that it was a random one-off project – the grooves were simply too tweaked to be the work of a consistent producer. I’m glad to have gotten that one wrong, as NHK Yx Koyxen has been stamping his awkward moniker on a bunch of records since, including Doom Steppy Reverb, his full-length debut. Much of what I loved about his first 12″ remains in place here: double-helixing acid lines, snappy drum programming, repetitive grooves that never feel concretely in place. That last aspect is particularly striking here, as throughout these seven tracks, nothing ever feels immovable – from the tiniest tick of a hi-hat to the fluttering bass, any sonic element is prone to sudden or gradual shifts, like a violent tsunami or the subtle pull of high tide. Opener “1073+Snare” might be my favorite of the bunch, and it’s also the most unusual, opening with a good half-minute of silence before an acid worm pokes out of the ground and the rest of the track arrives like a darting school of fish, both monolithic and composed of countless tiny movements. I’ll be damned if this isn’t exactly what “Doom Steppy Reverb” should sound like.

1997EV Love Symposium Alien Spider LP (Boring Machines)
I keep reading the album title and imagining Gwen Stefani designing a clothing line for Hot Topic, anyone feel me on that? Anyway, 1997EV is the work of Andrea Ev, and while it’s my first time listening (there is a rich 1997EV discography dating back to, umm, 1999), I am strongly convinced that No Doubt holds no influence over the project. Rather, this stuff comes out of the England’s Hidden Reverse post-industrial axis, with brooding, occult-friendly post-rock, tantric looping and sensual rhythmic gyrations. I would imagine Ev is a big Coil fan, in the way that the music seems to be guided by an invisible hand, even though 1997EV favor the traditional instrumentation of guitars and drums. Of course, these elements are utilized more as patterns in a tapestry rather than riffs and hooks, dipping in and out as Ev’s spoken vocals attempt to conjure sexy evil spirits, the perfect soundtrack to an obscure movie where Cindy Crawford plays a vampire. When this stuff is truly menacing, I worry for my own spiritual safety while listening, but Love Symposium Alien Spider is innocuous enough that it often feels more like a fully-unraveled gothy post-punk group, like Slaves if they turned into My Cat Is An Alien instead of Pleasure Forever. As someone who never wants to meet an actual ghost, I’m cool with this.

Passed Illuminant / Glory 12″ (Boring Machines)
Passed provides a tantric offering in the form of two lengthy cuts on one side of a 12″, leaving the other to solemnly reflect upon silence (shades of Coil’s How To Destroy Angels, perhaps). “Illuminant” is a slow-grower that incubates as a drone before pulling up a mighty percussive chant, something between a Spartan army’s pre-battle ritual and a sober Crash Worship show. It ends up sounding like really great source material for Demdike Stare or The Haxan Cloak to interpret, but on its own is a fairly indistinguishable cut of looped tribal percussion with heavy bass overtones. “Glory” is a solid blast of melodic jet-engine drone, grand and overbearing, and halfway through the sound of a needy baby bird appears, although it’s actually a man yelling in strained black-metal style. Pretty par for the course, although it’s a course I enjoy inhabiting semi-frequently, one where dark, sweeping gestures and ominous atmospheres help me forget the hours I spend sitting at a desk.

Ravi Shavi Independent 12″ (Almost Ready)
Providence, RI’s Ravi Shavi received my approval on their 2015 debut album, a pure garage-rock album that even someone who doesn’t really care about garage-rock cannot deny (that’d be me). Independent is a nice addendum to that, six more songs on a candy-apple-red 12″ EP, the sort of color I’d expect Ravi Shavi’s tour van to be painted. In comparison with their rougher, buzzier debut, the guitars stick out to me here in that they favor a clean, classic tone – all pedals with funny “fuzz” puns in their name were kept outside of the studio, apparently. The drums are nice and dry, and vocalist Rafay Rashid continues to squeal and sing his way through the set, with enough charisma to sweet-talk his prom date’s parents into letting them stay out past midnight. Perhaps it’s the absence of any and all feedback or distortion that causes a dip in Independent‘s energy, or maybe Ravi Shavi are already “maturing”, but it still works. When I think garage-rock, I just want to hear the Hospitals banging on a contact-miked floor tom, so it says something that not only do I tolerate Ravi Shavi’s thoughtful professionalism, I enjoy it as well.

Shackleton & Ernesto Tomasini Devotional Songs 2×12″ (Honest Jon’s)
Without a doubt one of the most exciting electronic producers of the ’10s, I was starting to notice Shackleton’s absence in the past year or so, so it was great to hear about this new album that features vocalist Ernesto Tomasini. Shackleton is about as visionary as a post-dubstep producer can be, always forging new ground while keeping his personal DNA firmly intact, and he continues to move into unexpected territory with Devotional Songs. That said, while I continue to admire his free-spirited creativity, I’m not sure I’ll be coming back to Devotional Songs too often. Shackleton’s productions are almost entirely divorced from dance music here, opting for acoustic percussion, chimes, classical arrangements and only smears and dabs of sound from clearly electronic origin. That much I dig, particularly as Shackleton’s trademarked poly-rhythms remain instantly recognizable even removed from the construction of the club, but Tomasini’s vocals, while technically talented I’m sure, add an air of Ren Faire drama-club elocution that I find distracting and kind of silly. There is certainly an audience for this, but it has me thinking of Art Bears or Current 93 or Comus before I listened to enough Comus where it no longer irked me (this being the exception, not the rule), where the flair of an over-dramatic vocalist distracts more than enhances. That said, I wouldn’t want Shackleton any other way, and as his name implies, I look forward to his continued journey into the unknown.

Sick Thoughts 18 And Free / Choose Death 7″ (Total Punk)
It really seems like there is an arms race over at Total Punk as far as which band can actively show that they care the least – just look at this Sick Thoughts 7″, which not only omits their name from the cover, it features a skull and crossbones so lame that I’m almost no longer scared of pirates. Someone needs to remind all these bands that GG Allin actually wanted to be a rock star! These two songs are apparently archival tracks from Sick Thoughts’ humble beginnings in 2013, so hop in your time machine and give it a whirl. “18 And Free” is fairly by-the-books negi-garage, landing somewhere between The Reatards and The Rip Offs with maybe a touch of The Final Solutions’ self-aware Killed By Death-isms. “Choose Death” is the b-side, and probably a phrase that Black Label Society prints on their merch, and it’s a phrase used repeatedly on this track, cruising a simplistic death-ray riff as DD Owen’s purposely ugly vocals push it through the crowd, staining your shirt with a mixture of blood, sweat and burger grease. It’s punk, to be sure, but I’m not sure it needed to follow us into 2016.

Tanz Ohne Musik Infinity LP (Galakthorrö)
What, like I’m not going to pick up every new Galakthorrö release? Sure, nothing beats Haus Arafna and November Növelet, but I love the way that Mr. and Mrs. Arafna continue to find projects that fit seamlessly into Galakthorrö’s universe, somehow avoiding the redundancy that such similarities could cause. Tanz Ohne Musik (which translates to “Dancing Without Music”, a name I am tempted to steal) are clearly perfect candidates, after releasing a number of albums and singles on Red Cavity and coming across big with Infinity. It is strikingly similar to November Növelet in particular, with relaxed tempos, creepy sung vocals (put through some excellent processing) and a general sense of beautiful gothic despair, as if Frankenstein and Eyes Wide Shut were edited together so that it was impossible to determine where the creepy horror ends and the deviant sexual excess begins. The vocals are attributed to a guy named “Babywolf” and his confidence carries Infinity beyond a good genre exercise and into something I want to listen to frequently. I plan to enhance my listening by setting up a bunch of Betty Page posters and chemistry beakers filled with bubbling green liquids around my room, wearing rubber clothes and softly cackling to myself.

Vincas Deep In The Well LP (Learning Curve)
Atlanta seems overly ripe with hard-rockin’ punk and garage bands these days, which is startling when you consider they still allow smoking inside venues there (yuck). So many musicians, young and old, braving cancer for a chance to rock out with friends and admirers, and I find their dedication noble, Vincas included. They did an album back in 2012 on the venerable Douchemaster label and are back again, peddling their particular stew of strung-out blues and steely post-hardcore. Throughout Deep In The Well (whose cover looks like a chilling Italian horror film circa ’79), I’m imagining a band like Refused or Drive Like Jehu getting sick on Cramps and Gun Club records, doing their best to recreate a strip-tease in the bayou while still performing their music like intense professionals. I’m reminded of early OBN IIIs and late TV Ghost at times too, alongside the Nirvana / Birthday Party mash-up of “Black Rose” and “Murder”, which sounds like Rikk Agnew re-interpreting Bush’s “Come Down”. If that description tantalizes you, it should, as Vincas manage to mine death-rock without becoming a goth punchline, not to mention that they write catchy and distinct tunes. Hope to catch ’em live sometime!

The Wad The Wad 7″ (Lumpy)
Nowhere on this 7″ by The Wad does it mention it’s a Lumpy Records release, and while I appreciate the hermetic design, this is a record any punk label should be proud to put out! I know little about The Wad, but I know that I love the snotty synth-punk they are peddling. “Ron Is Wrong” kicks off the a-side and it’s a barnstormer – picture Ed Schrader’s Music Beat covering a Count Vertigo tune as they interrogate Atom’s package in the corner, just to be mean. “Nog Bag” whizzes through on a frantic floor-tom, choogly bass guitar and meek, undistorted guitar lick, not unlike a particularly focused Coneheads tune. “Atomic” is the b-side’s sole inhabitant and it’s a maniacal slice of circus-punk (the good kind, not Gogol Bordello), which has me imagining Geza X’s “Isotope Soap” were it produced by Mel Blanc. There are a million projects out there similar on paper to The Wad (a couple dorks with a keyboard and a microphone attempt to irritate), but these three songs demonstrate a keen ear for what works, how to be zany without missing the point, and how to never lose sight of punk’s sneer even in the face of novelty sound-effects. Looking forward to more!

Watery Love Ned’s Dreamcatcher / Meg’s Dreamcatcher 7″ (Richie)
A new Watery Love 7″ is a big enough pull around these parts to accept that you’re forced into picking up two other singles just to obtain it, as is this case with the first-annual (?) Richie Records Summer Singles Series. I’ve been lucky enough to watch this band perform for years, and their evolution (and occasional devolution) has been fascinating. In case you’re still enjoying the casual nihilism of Decorative Feeding, they go nearly pop-rock on here, like White Boy And The Average Rat Band or some Mutha release from 1986 that never became collectible. Case in point is “Ned’s Dreamcatcher”, a nimble groove with riotous guitar soloing (it tastes like a cocktail of lemon juice and vinegar) and vocalist Richie Charles ranting about the ways in which you might perish, quite similar to Cyanamid’s “This Is Hell” in every aspect of the vocals and lyrics. “Meg’s Dreamcatcher” is a re-recorded version of their previously drum-less take on a split 7″ with Kurt Vile that only came with Pitchfork magazine (how these apes sneaked in there I’ll never know), and within seconds that trademark three-note guitar soloing is back, like a nagging case of athlete’s foot. Pretty sure the riff here is the same as the one used in The Ultimate Warrior’s theme song, so if you want to violently shake some ropes and kick Roddy Piper in the kilt when this one hits, that explains it. Summer, your jams have arrived!

Tendres Ténèbres compilation LP (Crudités Tapes)
Tendres Ténèbres is a compilation that tasked its artists with applying the theme of sleep and/or lullabies to their music. I love a good themed comp, so long as it’s not pop-punk bands covering ’80s hits or TV themes (okay, I actually do like those too), and this one is a nice and varied trip through the French nocturnal underworld. Most groups take the concept pretty seriously, opting for hushed melodies not far removed from a child’s music-box, or perhaps a woozy collage of airy loops and warm tones, like Throbbing Gristle had they started Morr Music instead of Industrial Records. Of course, some bands throw the concept to the wind – b-side opener Nicolalala offers two minutes of sloppy post-punk, a nice little jolt among the more passive compositions. There’s a “C side” of digital-only tracks as well (imagine agreeing to be on a comp only to find out you’re on the “digital-only C side”, ouch) and I haven’t checked that out, although the presence of an artist named Discombobulatrix has me intrigued. Perhaps it’s best if I just doze off tonight and dream about them instead.