Advent Pain & Suffering 12″ (Bridge Nine)
Here’s some proof that you can’t always judge a book by its cover, even when it comes to hardcore records. The design of this Advent EP comes straight from the Youth Attack / Deranged handbook – imposing Old English fonts, grainy images of ancient occult violence… I had to scratch at the band’s name on the cover to make sure it wasn’t just a sticker covering Total Abuse’s name beneath. I throw the record on, expecting a noisy, reverb-laden tribute to Hoax and Gag, but Advent have no time for anything but the purest form of metal-core. I’m hearing Hatebreed, Strife, all those heavy classics in the four songs Advent offer here. Pristine recording quality, prime chug, gruff barked vocals (but clear enough that the lyrics are intelligible), group backing vocals into mosh breakdowns, mosh breakdowns into extended pit violence, etc., all the hallmarks of classic ’90s metal-core are tightened up and in full effect, with four tracks all clocking over four minutes a piece. I assumed people were still playing music like this (has any strain of hardcore-punk, since its inception, ever truly disappeared?) but I was surprised to hear it here, in this format. It sounds tight – Advent are clearly well polished, and I guess I can’t blame them for not doing the whole “blurred live band photo stretched out as a background with pixelated Varsity font logo” design style I’m used to accompanying bands who sound like this. Some things aren’t due for a comeback quite yet, I suppose.

Allegory Chapel Ltd. Without Tears: Noise In Theory & Practice LP (Throne Heap)
Allegory Chapel Ltd. is a noise fixture dating back to the ’80s, the sort of name that might come up over polite dinner conversation about The Haters or Hijokaidan. I had no idea it was an ongoing concern (the limited split-tape noise scene has passed me by) but was glad to grip Without Tears. It’s a fine album, one that manages to clearly fit within the noise genre without feeling overtly harsh or grating (at least by my standards) – there’s no confusing this with Merzbow or Whitehouse. Rather, Allegory Chapel Ltd. constructs long strands of feedback and distorted synth, all tightly edited and processed to include sounds of seagulls at the beach and futuristic spoken word. This often leads to an oddly therapeutic sensation, like I’m trapped inside one of those falsely-pleasant alternate universes that exist only in prescription drug commercials. (This record often feels like I’m watching a grandpa play catch with a golden retriever while a voice-over says “may cause immediate heart failure or dysrhythmia”.) The b-side surprisingly enters electro-wave territory and sticks with it for a while, like a particularly unsettling Magas track, before abruptly entering into a live recording of human confusion and twinkly drone processes. Swish!

Annie Anxiety Soul Possession LP (Dais)
I can’t be the only one who got into punk in the mid-’90s and met Crass Records and their associated offshoots with knee-jerk confusion and derision, can I? Besides their actual punk rock tunes, it didn’t make sense to my teenage self, so it’s been a joy discovering just how damn great so much of it is (you can imagine my shock when I first heard Poison Girls in my mid 20s and realized they were utterly sick). Annie Anxiety is another great example of Crass Records’ outstanding reach, herself a teenage punk who moved to the UK and got into all sorts of strange and artsy music scenes, blended righteously on her debut album Soul Possession. It first came out in 1984, and it manages to combine some of the coolest sounds 1984 had to offer – Crass’s anarchic drum circles, the burgeoning hip-hop of a Celluloid 12″, On U-Sound’s funky dub, industrial music’s white-knuckled tension… it’s all smushed in there. While I listen to Soul Possession, I imagine Jean-Michel Basquiat tagging up a squat in North London with The Pop Group practicing on a different floor. And yet, Anxiety’s music sounds so fresh and current, as her hazy, hypnotic beats and vocal style recalls LA Vampires and would easily sneak onto Not Not Fun’s upcoming release Soundcloud without being revealed as a thirty year-old relic. Dais continues to be keen excavators of punk’s dark and art-driven underbelly and Soul Possession‘s attraction is immediate.

Bear Bones, Lay Low Hacia La Luz LP (No ‘Label’)
Bear Bones, Lay Low is the curious moniker of one Ernesto González, who I believe has some sort of indirect connection with Morphosis, not to mention a thick pile of releases on labels like Sloow Tapes and (K-RAA-K)³, and one way or another I ended up checking out his newest album, Hacia La Luz. It’s been a real treat, the rare psychedelic electronic record that can be fulfilling in settings both solo and communal. It opens with “Lightning Eyelids”, a fifteen-minute jubilation that recalls Morphosis at his most spiritual – a clopping rhythm is used as the base for ascending synths, an excursion that goes as deep as the listener is willing to go. The four tracks that follow all seem to exist in its wake, but not in a bad way – Hacia La Luz works monastic drones and techno percussion into wondrous journeys of the psyche, as if you went so deep into Brainticket’s catalog that you unlocked a secret level and received Bear Bones, Lay Low as the reward. Spacey krautrock and underground techno are easily bridged if you have the right tools for the job; González is a keen and sophisticated guide.

Bleeding Gums II 7″ (Neck Chop)
Is it possible to read this band’s name and not instinctively think “Murphy” directly after? Surely I’m not the only one with this problem. Anyway, they’re a wild punk group from Chicago, and they do well with the eight tracks offered here (along with an intro). I’d place them on the end of the garage-rock spectrum that is so frantic and slamming that it becomes hardcore, quite similar to The Dwarves in both sound and delivery. The vocalist tries to get the most out of his vowels, howling them out as though he were trying, stork-like, to catch any errantly-tossed beer directly in his gullet. The guitarist is solo-ready, and the insert comes with a sharp illustration of a punk drinking booze upside-down next to some garbage cans and vermin, because naturally every new crazy hardcore-punk band aspires to someday live in a dumpster. Better than the suburbs, no doubt!

Brown Angel Shutout LP (Sleeping Giant Glossolalia)
Brown Angel have been dishing out their dense and burly noise-rock for at least a decade now, and if you’re a fan of Harvey Milk, Evehategod, Melvins and Neurosis and wished you had a new chunk of fat to chew on, I highly suggest Shutout. They get straight to the point on their third album and stick there for its full duration; this is clearly the work of a band who have already established their parameters and continue to refine and intensify their work rather than seek out new environs. Each track has plenty of slow-motion chug, and the guitars are coated with a particularly abrasive form of synthetic distortion, a sensation similar to when you think you’re stepping into a shallow puddle but it’s actually a mud-hole that goes past your shin. Brown Angel are so adept at this particular form of heavy, patient noise-rock that the Chrome and Hüsker Dü covers that appear on the b-side could easily be mistaken for original Brown Angel material, as they are rendered with a similar dreadful intensity. I’m fairly certain you can still smoke in most Pittsburgh bars, which makes sense, as Brown Angel sound like a band that is used to performing in a cloud of unventilated human pollution.

Cereal Killer Demos 7″ (Neck Chop / Anti Fade)
I was recently talking to some pals about the idea of whether or not every town should have their own Lumpy & The Dumpers. On one hand, childish and grotesque punk rock should never be withheld from the people, but on the other, why are you putting out records if your identity seems to mirror other current bands so acutely? Cereal Killer feature some Ausmuteants personnel, whom I dig, and this group seems to be their Lumpy tribute, from the visual aesthetic down to the sound of the music. Their insert features an ugly, scatologically-porny character (the “Cereal Killer” himself) and their songs are thrashing, slimy pogo-punk played vigorously with a frantic and zany vocalist. I wouldn’t be surprised if they bring out their own slime pit during shows, but fill it with reduced-fat milk and Weet-Bix instead. Before I sound like I completely hate fun, I’ll say that Cereal Killer sound perfectly fine and their songs are more than adequate, it’s just that when it comes to bands willingly entering the international stage by releasing records and getting their name out there, I value creativity much higher than a successful imitation of one’s peers. Punk bands copying each other is of course a tradition practically as old as punk itself (just ask Discharge) but when you’re doing things so similarly in practically every way to another great band that exists simultaneously, it mostly just makes me want to listen to that other band, or even worse, neither.

Concealed Blade Concealed Blade LP (Beach Impediment)
Concealed Blade’s demo (reissued on 7″ by Beach Impediment) was a true hardcore stomper, the sort of effort that sticks out thanks to its audaciousness and swagger, and the Pittsburgh group do right for themselves on this follow-up LP. They still have a burly American hardcore sound, with clear praise of X-Claim!’s discography, yet their songs feel more like original creations than cut-and-paste homages (you won’t spend your time figuring out specifically which DYS drumbeat or Negative FX riff they’re borrowing). What truly elevates them, however, is the feeling that they’re playing hardcore music to fill stadiums, that their songs are meant to echo across Glastonbury Fest at sunset with a sea of humans headwalking each other – Concealed Blade clearly celebrate the larger-than-life sensation that often comes with being in a loud guitar group. The guitars are constantly on overdrive, dive-bombing and squealing out solos if there is ever a slight break (or just as often, wailing away over the rest of the group). The vocalist has a classically meaty vocal approach, somewhere between Boston Strangler’s Ban Reilly and Crucial Youth’s Joe Crucial, and it is the perfect companion to the music, tough without taking himself too seriously. If you were seeking out 2017 hardcore’s answer to Queen, stop right here!

Control / Exit Hippies split 7″ (Paank Levyt)
Another buy-on-sight transmission from Exit Hippies and their current residence, Paank Levyt. I own more Exit Hippies records than I know what to do with, and yet it’s still not enough. Some of their prior split-record partners have been dubious (not sure I ever need to hear The Wankys or Lotus Fucker again) but Control were a nice addition. They’re violent, thrashing hardcore, with the bass high in the mix, a snare drum that sounds to be made of tin and guitar that is as atonal as Philip Corner’s Coldwater Basin, and they maintain an unwavering intensity throughout these three songs, almost to render them not intense but soothing. Of course, we’re all here for the ‘Hippies, and they open their side with the distant thump of after-hours techno (has Exit Hippies gone Burial on us?) before cracking open the universe with the standard aspects of noise-core (drums, gutteral vocals, distorted guitars) soaring past independently of each other, as if someone finally disassembled the space-time continuum in order to listen to Napalm Death’s Scum. The rest of us continue to exist in the long shadow of Exit Hippies.

De-Bons-en-Pierre Crepes 12″ (Dark Entries)
I’ve spent the last six months twiddling my thumbs impatiently as I await Beau Wanzer’s third full-length (I was told pressing plant issues are to blame), but mercifully this De-Bons-en-Pierre EP dropped out of nowhere, a fresh new collaboration between Wanzer and Maoupa Mazzocchetti. Am I the only one who thought Dark Entries just did reissues? Whatever the case, I am eternally grateful for this record, six tracks of transmogrified EBM and gutter electronics. I have such high expectations for Wanzer at this point, but Crepes still impresses, with its insistent thwack, seasick synths and uneasy sense that the sewer is going to back up through my speakers at any given moment. De-Bons-en-Pierre sure sounds like peak Wanzer to me, which has me wondering what Mazzocchetti’s involvement was – even if he just sat back and sizzled up some crepes while Wanzer went at it, I appreciate his contribution. (There are some French(?) vocals glazed across a few of these tunes, so I’m looking in his direction for those.) Each track kicks butt, although the syrupy shimmer of “The Mud Man Is Coming” raises my neck hairs like one of those wire scalp-massaging tongs. The cover and insert feature both men wearing crepes on their face, looking like an edible version of Lightning Bolt, and I couldn’t be more pleased.

Emptyset Borders LP (Thrill Jockey)
I had wrongly assumed that James Ginzburg and Paul Purgas had said all they needed to say with their Emptyset project, but they came back for one more round, this time on American indie Thrill Jockey in an album that I can only assume pays homage to one of the finest American CD and book sellers to recently go bankrupt. Emptyset’s first few albums (and Collapsed EP in particular) have bludgeoned me like nothing else, before or since, but they started to lose me a bit on the last few records that assessed ambient sound and the relation of drone to its architectural habitat – there was far less to chew on, at least for a low-minded ECW fan like myself. Nice to hear that they got back into various simplistic and painfully throbbing patterns on Borders, although I kept waiting for something unexpected to develop, or some new level of sonic sludge to materialize (which I realize very well may be impossible). Emptyset’s music isn’t about the sound itself, so much as the sound of its deployment – the various sensations of vibrating speaker cones, burning wires and overloaded amps was just as crucial to Emptyset’s recordings as the synths or electronics they use, and that remains intact here. I had hoped Emptyset were coming out of semi-retirement to snap my skull back all over again, but instead they’re offering another eleven tracks of violent thud and molten reggaeton rhythms, which works just as fine.

Exek Biased Advice LP (Another Dark Age)
Another Dark Age very well might be the finest Berlin-based Australian label, I’m just gonna go ahead and say it. This Exek LP is full of sumptuous, dark n’ dubby post-punk and it fits in perfectly within the techno / noise / punk axis Another Dark Age has stuck its flag into. Nothing about Exek is particularly new or inventive, and yet I find Biased Advice utterly tantalizing – they’re just effortlessly cool about a style of music that demands such presentation. Their equation is basically Anika’s sparse, dubby post-punk sound (right down to the muffled snare) with the nicotine-laced guitars of vintage Birthday Party; picture Anika’s “Masters Of War” with the guitar stabs of “Big Jesus Trash Can” and you’ve zoomed in on Exek’s street-view. The vocalist has the perfect disinterested moan to go along with the music, the sort of half-there sneer that has me assuming he has double duty as a guitarist or something (just checked the personnel listing and I am correct). Exek songs tend to drift beyond five minutes more than not, but it feels like the only way to play these songs, moderately-paced and narcotic. If I move to Berlin, do I get to start a band like this too? Please?

FNU Clone, Inc. Binary Or Die LP (Total Punk)
FNU Clone, Inc. is an off-shoot / mutation of FNU Ronnies, who I believe were one of the finest punk groups to ever perform and implode in the ’00s. Amazingly, I think FNU Clone, Inc. manages to top the greatness of the Ronnies with Binary Or Die, the first more-or-less official release under this moniker. Let me explain why! FNU Clone takes the hot street-garbage vibe of FNU Ronnies’ more esoteric tracks (the Golem EP in particular) and applies it to what is basically some classic old-school bashing punk rock, riffs that were probably fondled by Circle Jerks and The Lewd decades prior. Thus, the inherent catchiness and energy of the dawn of West Coast hardcore-punk is given a molten lava makeover, care of vocalist (and sole member?) Jim Vail’s bridge-troll vocalizations and what sounds like an infected scab covering each specific instrument, from the digital drums to the guitar (is he playing it out of a cigarette-box amp turned all the way up?). It’s as if Timmy’s Organism tried to sound like Crazy Spirit instead of Chrome, perhaps, but at the same time, greater than any half-baked comparison would lead you to believe. It’s so primitive, it’s post-modern, just as vile and menacing and unfriendly as I’d want any punk band to sound in 2017.

Ruth Garbus & Friends Hello Everybody 7″ (OSR)
I’m not entirely sure, but I think OSR put out like twenty releases in the past month or so? I’m trying to figure out the logistics at work there, maybe this is a “let’s empty our bank accounts on fun stuff because nuclear Armageddon is nigh” move, but whatever the case, it’s been fun catching up with all these OSR joints if mostly just because they’re all quite good. Ruth Garbus entered my life via her participation in the far-too-short-lived group Happy Birthday, but her solo material is nearly as compelling, indie-pop that is as idiosyncratic and lyrically anomalous as it is smooth and upbeat. “Hello Everybody” opens with the line “Hello everybody / there’s a Nazi living in my head” and goes from there to call out Doritos by name, for example. There are four tracks here, fleshed out by percussion, bass, tapes, clarinet and extra guitars, all welcome additions to her arrangements – the pots n’ pans percussion of “Black Bag” lends a breezy Bohemian feel that I find particularly rousing. Garbus and crew seem to gather and make music with the same nonchalant conviviality of regular people getting together for dinner, although I bet they also put together some damn fine meals, too.

Housewives Housewives 12″ (Ever/Never)
There must be a million bands named Housewives, but this one hails from London, and this 12″ EP is actually a reissue of their debut cassette from 2013. I assume the band still exists, otherwise this vinyl release will be even less profitable than usual, and I certainly hope they still exist as they play a fine form of traditional early no-wave rock (at least if “traditional no-wave” could ever exist). Their frantic rhythms, tense behavior and guitar-as-weaponry aesthetic reveal a band in full control of their sound, which recalls Mars and DNA in some highly pleasant ways. The bass wildly jaywalks into a propulsive drum pattern, the guitar imitates barnyard animals and the flutter of a horn wriggles itself past the rest – great stuff! They bust out some Teenage Jesus-ish atonal strum on “Almost Anything” and thump like Troubleman recording artists Numbers, with the sprawling song structures that have me thinking Housewives could’ve easily found space in Cold Storage some 35 years ago. I’m throwing around a lot of old names here, but Housewives feels less like an adoring tribute and more like its own distinctly rude burst of life, which is really the only way to do no-wave if you’re gonna.

Nathan Jonson In The End 12″ (Lo Bit Landscapes)
Lo Bit Landscapes generally has the lock on emo techno this side of Berlin, so my interest was piqued on this Nathan Jonson 12″, a name that’s new to me. I guess I was expecting something a little more avant-garde, or perhaps more specifically I mean “difficult to listen to”, but Jonson plays it pure and sweet here. “In The End” sounds eerily similar to a CD of electric lullabies you might find at the bottom of a baby shower registry, like an album of Foo Fighters or Metallica songs played softly and slowly by only warm, soothing synth tones (this scene exists, I’m telling you). I kept waiting for something to jar Jonson’s sweet and tender arpeggio out of its orbit, but nope, this track glides through their air like Vangelis on his daughter’s wedding day. “Softly” is on the flip and it’s just as pleasant, although the rhythmic chords and spiraling synths at least nod toward some form of techno or house, barely visible on the map below as Jonson soars through the clouds on Falkor’s downy soft back. These songs are so airy and sweet that it’s not quite enough for me, like being served tropical-fruit bubblegum for dinner. Perhaps Jonson drops a heavy 4/4 elsewhere in his life and just wanted to lose touch with gravity for a bit, so I’ll just have to respect his wishes.

Lemonade Pink 7″ (Thrilling Living / Not Normal Tapes)
Thrilling Living is certainly one of modern hardcore-punk’s labels to watch, so if you aren’t already, put on your glasses! Their second release is by Minneapolis-based punk band Lemonade, not to be confused with the half dozen indie-rock and electro-pop Lemonades already out there. Because of all those impostors, I wasn’t immediately receptive to this group, but of course then I put on the 7″ and they won me over instantaneously. Imagine if the frantic-yet-tight drum and strum of The Coneheads was applied to raging hardcore-punk instead of outrageous synth-punk and you’re kinda close to Lemonade’s flavor. Or perhaps, imagine the ferociousness of Die Kreuzen and Mecht Mensch with the unpredictability of Brown Sugar? And then, a song like “Forced Sterilization” sounds like the best track Career Suicide never wrote. I’m not saying Lemonade are instantly quintessential, at least not yet, but they manage to sound both modern and classic without being too strongly beholden to either. Here’s hoping they buck the modern trend of breaking up after six months and stick around to develop what they’ve already delivered on this praiseworthy debut!

Lost System No Meaning No Culture 7″ (Neck Chop)
If any of you fools were thinking about sending me a nasty email insisting that there isn’t a single synth-punk band in Grand Rapids, MI, allow me to bounce this Lost System 7″ off your nose! They’ve got a few ideas on the four songs presented here, all of which are borrowed from familiar sources, but it ultimately works out in the end – imagine the soporific side of classic gothy synth-punk, with flourishes to recall New Order and Suicide. The vocalist kinda reminds me of the guy from Filth (the Dutch group of “Don’t Hide Your Hate” fame) in the way he seems to shout without actually raising his voice, and the music seems interested in reaching similar smoke-machine levels as Lost Tribe or the moody scowl of Pleasure Leftists, but I can’t help but hear a punk band at heart here, trying on some Gary Numan facepaint for the heck of it. Of course, by the time I flip the record, the vocalist is doing his best Ian Curtis on “False Companion” and the synth churns like Cold Cave, so who can really say. Every regional punk scene needs one of these bands, that much I know.

Lysol Wired / Knucklehead 7″ (Total Punk)
Straight out of the grunge mecca Seattle, Lysol is here to gleefully spray themselves in your face. I had seen their name around, usually on flyers for Seattle house-venue The Nuthole (one day I’ll finally crawl inside), and much like Tyvek, I look forward to seeing if their popularity status eventually earns them a cease-and-desist letter. Two tracks here, in the “gone in a flash” vein of Total Punk – pretty sure there’s enough real estate across seven inches of vinyl for at least another seven Lysol tunes. That just gives me the chance to play these two songs over and over again, which I’m happy to do anyway. “Wired” reminds me of No Fraud’s “It’s All Economic” in its frantic stop-start, which leads into a DOA-esque slam device, tightly rendered and gone in sixty seconds. “Knucklehead” is a little longer and a bit more classically melodic, hardcore that leans toward fall-on-the-floor garage-rock (is that a keyboard I hear pittering along?) and a chorus that seems to be saying either “I wanna be like you” or “I don’t wanna be like you”, eventually confirming “I wanna be a knucklehead”. I think it’s safe to say that Lysol will someday become the knuckleheads they aspire to be, bless their hearts.

Midnite Snaxxx Chew On This! LP (Pelican Pow Wow)
Tina Luchessi is one of my favorite horizontal-stripes-and-black-leather-jacket-wearing West Coast punk rockers so I was curious to check out Midnite Snaxxx… at least until I found out she was no longer in the group. Oh well! Junk food, being an idiot and punk rock have always meshed excellently, particularly with groups from the Bay Area, and Midnite Snaxxx, although lacking in the Luchessi department, are quite capable with this style. I wonder if Lookout! would be putting out groups like this if it still existed? Midnite Snaxxx are very Burger Records-y at least, with upbeat, bouncy punk to recall Ramones, Pointed Sticks, The Queers and The Briefs, and occasionally Loli & The Chones (although the ‘Snaxxx are far too polished for that sort of comparison to stick). There’s a song called “Attitude” that’s not a Misfits cover, as well as the argumentative double-shot “I’ve Been A Jerk” and “Quit Being A Dick”. I prefer Midnite Snaxxx at their simplest, but they’ve got a number of contemplative power-pop tunes, revealing an interest in Big Star and Cheap Trick (who can blame them). Not gonna listen to this one much more, as it doesn’t really go beyond the tried and true genre confines, but I’m gonna go play “Quit Being A Dick” at myself for saying that.

The Minneapolis Uranium Club All Of Them Naturals 12″ (Fashionable Idiots)
Forty years into punk rock, it’s nearly impossible to carve out a unique style that could still rightfully be considered punk, but I am fairly certain The Minneapolis Uranium Club have done it. Bravo! This new 12″ EP follows up on the sturdy promise of their debut LP, pushing further into some sort of strange everything-corporate, capitalism-as-religion future world that is actually not the future but the here and now. They do so without any heavy-handedness, or overt political messaging, so much as through the sound of their voices, their riffs, their hilarious intros / outros and artwork (I particularly liked the idea of cutting out the center of the record as a mail-in coupon). Musically, I’m hearing plenty of Pink Flag, a slap of The Crucifucks, some Tyvek, the sharp quirk of Devo and the smirking violence of Dangerhouse’s discography, but really there’s no mistaking Uranium Club for anyone but Uranium Club at this point. Their playing is taut and groovy, and the vocals really push their agenda in a way that most other punk bands would be far too timid to try. Essential punk listening for 2017!

Nah Michael LP (Ranch)
Before I start, I’d like to point out that there is both a Nah and a Naaahhh operating in the underground right now. Nah has the lengthier history, and continues to refine his beat-making with Michael, another solid dose of avant-noisy instrumental hip-hop. Nah seems to exist in the same state of mind as the beats behind Death Grips, Clipping and Moor Mother (who actually donates her unflinching verse to one track here), where robotic malfunctions, grimy bleeps and bizarre loops are loaded into an MPC and blasted at full force. Hip-hop has successfully assimilated and processed every other interesting musical strain to some degree, so why not noise and industrial? Nah is particularly crafty, and never gets caught in a specific mood for too long – a pounding washing machine loop will meet some Jan Hammer synths and a chaotic snare roll ala Rashied Ali, and in three minutes’ time, some other entirely separate idea will take its place, maybe a sampled didgeridoo tethered to some Jonzun Crew beats. Sometimes things can get a bit overloaded, but it’s excellent work overall. I encourage you all to wait for my new solo project Nnaaaahhhhh before you decide who you wanna ride with, though.

O$VMV$M O$VMV$M LP (Idle Hands)
So glad I caught this album before the nature of new release promotional schedules slipped it past my periphery forever, as it’s one of the most tantalizingly understated albums I’ve heard in a minute, the sort of simple pleasure I come back to frequently. I still have to look up the name each time I type it, but O$VMV$M is a couple guys in the Young Echo orbit (one of whom does time in the fantastic Gorgon Sound), and on this, their second self-titled album (thanks for the extra confusion, dudes), they’ve put together ten perfect looping miniatures. Imagine short snippets of rhythm and texture snatched from the gear of Actress, Madlib, Oneohtrix Point Never and even Daughn Gibson’s instrumentals, manipulated into beatific loops. It’s like the sonic equivalent of a gorgeous animated GIF, the sort of thing you get unintentionally locked into; or perhaps, if the intro to Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood panned past a Bristol nightclub, these sounds might be located inside. If these tracks were twice as long (most fall under three minutes), I’d still be stuck in their glorious and tender microcosms, but O$VMV$M move quickly, sad as it may be. Considering this is their second album, pardon me while I smash that PayPal in the general direction of whomever’s selling the first.

Priests Nothing Feels Natural LP (Sister Polygon)
Surely it’s a bit of a burden to be considered one of DIY punk’s greatest hopes, especially in a time of political horror where no one knows what to do and each day brings some new awful news. There are a lot of people looking to Priests for answers, but Priests manage to evade liberal reassurance or dogmatic pledges like the prevailing and cunning post-punk group they are. And naturally, as any exceptional underground rock group would, they push forward into new and unexpected territory (and that’s coming from me, someone who thought they already knew what Priests were all about) while retaining the core qualities that made them so cool from the start. They still rock, with more than a couple tom-heavy, minimalist punk explosions on offer, but vocalist and lyricist Katie Alice Greer isn’t afraid to turn down the burners, filling each tune with the pathos and mood they demand (which, of course, still might involve red-faced shouting). Their mutated surf-rock sound often yields to sophisticated instrumentation, resulting in confident and strange new-wave music, the sort of tracks that I’ll hear on a mix, love, and then research to find out it’s Maximum Joy from 1983 or the third Raincoats album. It’s a startling development, especially for a band that gets sweaty and crawls through the crowd each time I’ve seen them, but Priests clearly always had this cosmopolitan approach to DIY punk rock and hadn’t had the chance to get these songs out until now (which took two recording sessions along with all their mental energy and money). World tour happening now… go give them some of your mental energy and physical money!

Rank/Xerox M.Y.T.H. 12″ (Adagio830)
Not sure what strings Adagio830 had to pull to snag such a rare and coveted group for release, but I’m certainly glad it happened as I had essentially assumed we had heard all there was to hear from Rank/Xerox. It’s been years since they’d done anything, and as guitarist/vocalist David West is clearly busy with a dozen other projects at any given time, I figured that was it. Not so – here’s four great new tunes, recorded last year and put out on flashy silver vinyl (rightfully so). I have to say, I’m picking up a strong Total Control vibe here, and as David West is closely tied (and has played in?) that group, it can’t be too surprising. But whereas many other bands do their best to impersonate Total Control and come up short, these tunes match Total Control in the way that this frosty, synth-laden post-punk (with the emphasis on punk) music comes with big hooks and immediate gratification. The title track’s chorus is already indelibly etched into my skull, and after the whip snaps of the first three tunes, they stretch out “Deletion” for all of the (still quite brief) b-side, somewhere between Mission Of Burma and Wire at their most uncaged and tense. Pretty flawless, as far as post-punk can get, and I can’t help but yearn for more.

Rik & The Pigs Don’t Tell On Me 7″ (Total Punk)
Rik & The Pigs have made fine work of various rock styles (punk, garage and hardcore thus far), and their chameleonic tendencies continue on this single, which is sassy bubblegum glam, of all things. Turns out that this might be their best fit yet, as “Don’t Tell On Me” struts into the room in rhinestone platforms, sweeter than Sweet and looking to bum all your smokes. Interestingly, Rik steps back on this one, softly (yet firmly) sneering his words while the infinite solos of one Mick Liebgrin (not his real name) steal the spotlight. In keeping with the theme, for the b-side they cover an obscure early Saturday Night Live song (written by Paul Shaffer and Gilda Radner) that sends up the main ‘Stones stud, a song that would compositionally-speaking fit perfectly within The Wrestling Album but is handled with all the boombox fuzz and lo-fi ‘tude that you’d expect of Rik & The Pigs (and Total Punk). Very cool, and it even comes with a big fold-out newsprint insert, a first for Total Punk’s low-budget style. I’d like to take this time to pose a formal challenge to Rik & The Pigs for their next single: 2 Tone ska. Your move, Rik.

Shackleton & Vengeance Tenfold Sferic Ghost Transmits 2xLP (Honest Jon’s)
I know, I first read this as “Shackleton & Avenged Sevenfold” too, and was thrilled at the prospect of Shackleton’s dank tribal-dystopia getting a teenage mall-metal makeover, but alas, Vengeance Tenfold is a spoken-word artist who’s appeared with Shackleton previously (he contributed vocals to Music For The Quiet Hour). Sferic Ghost Transmits follows Shackleton’s other album-length vocal collaboration (with Ernesto Tomasini), and it feels a bit more like home for him, or at least for me. For this project, Shackleton brought his usual box of tricks, with plenty of space-aged hand percussion, chiming bells and the specific strain of tumbling, Tantric rhythms that Shackleton solely claims. These tracks are all pretty lengthy, allowing Vengeance Tenfold plenty of space for his lines, sometimes approached like occult hymns, at other times conjuring a hazy post-techno version of Comus’ First Utterance. England’s witchy past soaks into much of Sferic Ghost Transmits; if David Keenan’s England’s Hidden Reverse continued past Coil, Nurse With Wound and Current 93 into the ’00s and ’10s, a Shackleton chapter would be a necessity. I still prefer Shackleton’s solo, vocal-less works that acknowledge the club, at least obliquely, but I’m not about to interrupt a séance such as this.

Sparrow Steeple Steeple II LP (Richie)
Sparrow Steeple’s debut album (there is no Steeple I that I’m aware of) ignores the age-old question of “can old guys rock?”, instead answering “can old guys shamelessly have fun being weirdos without caring who’s noticing?”. It’s a resounding “you betcha”, of course, and a true achievement in what can only be dubbed Old New Weird America. I’m under the impression that most of this album was recorded in Sparrow Steeple’s practice space, deep in the heart of some forgotten Philadelphian court, but it has the flavor of a late-night fireside jam, each member picking up either a stringed instrument or a percussive device to wildly jam on while they wait for their sausages to flame broil. I was expecting something much more traditional, in the garage- or college-rock canon, but Sparrow Steeple sound like Sunburned Hand Of The Man if they were raised on scratchy flea-market 45s, like they’re absolute acid freaks who can somehow recite every Jan & Dean or Hollies lyric by heart, or perhaps the red white and blue reflection of Träd, Gräs Och Stenar (Trees, Grass & Cheesesteaks?). Lots of good food-themed songs here too, my favorite being “Chocolate Memories”… if you can’t ad lib some avant-rock with your friends and stuff your face while doing it, what kinda life are you living anyway?

S-21 Year Zero 7″ (Slugsalt / World Gone Mad)
Intermittent Philadelphia punk label Slugsalt has a fine track record, including this, S-21’s debut EP. They’re a Philadelphia group as well, barely a year old, and they play a very raw form of hardcore-punk, the sort of sounds emanating from non-flyered, ask-a-punk DIY shows far removed from any sort of lawful club system. Like many groups today, they favor riffs on the uglier side of classic hardcore, closer to Chaotic Dischord and Hellhammer in melody than Teen Idles or Necros, propelled by a mid-paced oompah beat, which has clearly dominated underground hardcore-punk in the past decade. (I swear, I feel like if you pinpointed where this became the beat of choice it would lead directly back to Bone Awl, but I digress.) S-21’s drummer doesn’t have much in the way of finesse, which actually makes it stand out positively – hardcore-punk bands in their infancy are often the most exciting, S-21 certainly carrying plenty of energy and grisly slop. Is it too early to compare another band to Krimewatch? Anyway, one of these days I’m going to finally ask a punk, in hopes of witnessing S-21’s basement assault before what will surely be an abrupt demise (either theirs or Earth’s).

The Trendees Go To Town 7″ (Epic Sweep)
What good would this site be if I didn’t tell you about crazy and limited punk 7″s from New Zealand every once in a while? That’s the story with The Trendees and their debut 7″, which has all the unfiltered energy of the early Savage / Shake catalog and a severe impulse to boil their songs alive ala Danny & The Dressmakers. “Horror Watching Youth Watching Horror Watching Youth” is the closest thing I’ve heard to Maniax since Maniax themselves, and they follow it with “Be A Rebel”, which shoplifts Fang’s riff from “The Money Will Roll Right In” and obliterates any sense of professionalism thanks in no small part to the squawking vocalist who seems incapable of emitting anything but vowel sounds. If this were a group from 1980, I’d be scrambling to sell blood platelets so that I might go big on Discogs, but from what I can tell The Trendees are very much a real band alive today (there’s even a video for the Eat Skull-esque “Abandonded Hospital” on YouTube). Will you email the label, just as I did, and figure out how to awkwardly PayPal them far too much for a single 7″ and the necessary shipping costs in order to secure one of the mere hundred copies that exist? I can only hope so.

T-Tops Face Of Depression 7″ (no label)
Pittsburgh’s T-Tops continue their fierce interrogation of AmRep riffage on this new four-song 7″. I feel like there are plenty of folks wishing someone would come along and fill KARP’s void, and while I can’t say T-Tops are quite on that level, they’re still wielding a mighty force. Their guitars are aiming downhill, with just enough technicality so as not to interrupt the necessary flow, and aided by a hoarse vocalist and a drummer who knows when to fill and when to put all his effort into making each hit count. They mix it up a bit with the extraneous recording collage that opens “Pig Of Hell”, but eventually dig back into a riff you’d expect Rob Zombie to have stolen from Clutch in 1996. No frills to be sure, which is clearly how T-Tops like it, and I’m right there with ’em.