Actress AZD 2xLP (Ninja Tune)
Actress has been a Yellow Green Red favorite for essentially both of our existences, so how could I resist picking up this new album in its fancy-edition silver bag? (Turns out this wasn’t the best idea, as it comes with a big sticky flap that greatly inhibits the ability to remove the LPs from the packaging, but alas.) Actress’s last one, Ghettoville, seemed to slowly crumble and decay until there was nothing but debris on the ground and dust in the air, so as I prepped myself for AZD‘s barely-there, beatless wasteland, it came as a bit of a relief to hear Actress up to his old tricks, pairing intricate and microscopic tones with hallucinogenic beats, as though you are at once both up-close and in the distance. AZD is distinct in that vocals are more prominent, if usually in the form of repetitive samples (including the great Rammellzee), but something like “Untitled 7” is classic Actress, even as his style’s imitators continue to increase in number. The biggest surprise for me is the presence of a straightforward club hit, “X22RME”, which has the smoothest little synth hook this side of Galcher Lustwerk, and debuted with a gorgeous music video that re-imagines major league sports as a Rei Kawakubo exhibition. Praise be to download cards, as I’ve been blasting AZD in slightly-diminished digital Bluetooth resolution while I stare longingly at the LPs trapped inside their unripped silver bag, just as Actress would want it I’m sure.

Body Four Body Four LP (Brunette Editions)
Body Four is the name John Roberts has chosen for this suite of unique electronic explorations, both artist and title, and I’m excited to tell you about it! I wish I knew what sort of gear Roberts is using here, but it’s clearly quite specific and unusual… sounds like an electrified cello (?) either struck with mallets or plucked with fingers, then played back in reverse and occasionally aided by vocals that seem to undergo the same process. It shares the intimate feel (and odd pursuit of melody) as much of Arthur Russell’s solo work, but in the context of modern industrial techno. Maybe if Vessel tried to remix Arthur Russell with his homemade gear, it’d come out like this. There are fourteen “tracks” here, although most are under two minutes (and some under a minute), and they act more like fancy little sketches and curious ideas than fully sculpted tracks. I think this is probably the best way for Roberts to deliver them, though, as the sounds themselves are so engaging and lush and bizarre, I kinda just want to witness his investigation of them, as opposed to “proper” tracks that were designed with much deliberation. One of the most pleasant and sonically-unique records I’ve heard so far this year, no doubt.

Bruce Before You Sleep / In Line / Sweat 12″ (Hemlock Recordings)
Not trying to brag, but I’m fairly confident that this website has one of the largest depositories of Bruce reviews on the web. If Bruce called me up and asked me to run his personal archive, I would book the first flight over, I’ll tell you that! This new 12″ is his first for 2017, and it favors the abstract, pushing deeper into unknown territory, where dancing is a foreign concept and the very chemical makeup of the atmosphere is in question. “Before You Sleep” greets you with a mechanical heartbeat, a constant force in a track that utilizes neon rain, invisible puffs of parfum and drifting keys to invoke a strange sensuality. “In Line” picks up the energy with a hotstepping Hessle-ish percussive motif, and “Sweat” sounds like the basic structure of an Adam X track that is mercilessly bullied by Terminators, which of course is one of Bruce’s recurring production techniques. Each track comes in under five minutes, with the full understanding that our time is precious and nothing less than the best will do. Here’s hoping for another great year, Bruce!

Charly Bliss Guppy LP (Barsuk)
Your pop-punk record of the summer has arrived, folks! It’s right here care of Brooklyn’s Charly Bliss, a band whose name I’ve seen around here and there but never thought twice about (like many of you, I’m not particularly enticed by the idea of “Brooklyn pop-punk”). It’s their debut full-length, and I truly cannot recall the last time a pop-punk album blew me away like Guppy – probably the Exploding Hearts’ Guitar Romantic some fifteen years ago? Charly Bliss cherry-pick from a who’s who of pop-punk / emo / alt-grunge: there’s substantial doses of Weezer, Fallout Boy, The Strokes, Reggie & The Full Effect, Paramore, New Found Glory and Veruca Salt in the mix (alongside lower-tier personal faves like The Rentals and The Stereo). It’s by no means a list of underground obscurities, and Charly Bliss certainly isn’t the first group to find such sonic inspiration, but few have distilled the form to this extremely palatable end, a zone in which Charly Bliss are peerless as far as I’m concerned. Five songs per side, and each one is packed with at least two award-winning hooks, thanks in no small part to the outrageously high-pitched voice of Eva Hendricks, whose first line in “Percolator” demands a little getting used to (in the same way that one might have to re-adjust their personal sensory parameters upon tasting ice cream for the very first time). Her lyrics are hilarious and captivating, her voice is golden, and I just keep flipping it over and over. Truly having difficulty describing how much I love this record, and I don’t care if that’s weird!

C.H.E.W. Demo 7″ (Neck Chop)
Here’s a pointless tidbit that I enjoy ruminating upon: C.H.E.W used to go by “Chew”, but now it’s an acronym, albeit one that doesn’t actually stand for anything. Can you still say “Chew” or do they go by “see aitch eee double-you”? I hereby dub them Chicago’s Hardest Ear Wrestlers, as they play a scrappy, writhing form of hardcore-punk, and hail from Chicago. Neck Chop is a big proponent of pressing demos to wax, a move of which I’m often wary, but these seven tracks work nicely as a 7″ EP. They definitely have that modern sound, rooted in classic American hardcore (Black Flag, Die Kreuzen and Necros are evident) with a touch of the Swedish d-beat chug and the seedy sense of mischief that is rife in Toxic State’s back catalog. The vocalist rarely wavers from an avian screech, maintaining her intensity through straightforward blasts and the intricately twisting riffs of “Fine Tuning” as though no force can move her. Overall, I’d rate them on the plus side of average, but it’s just a demo after all. Only time will tell if C.H.E.W. go big league.

Civilized Chopping Block LP (Youth Attack)
Youth Attack’s evolution has been an interesting one, often honing in on particular regional scenes, such as Boston or the Midwest. Now they’re the official hub for Denver hardcore, a city with a less-celebrated (and less existent?) history of hardcore-punk, and Civilized’s debut album is fresh for 2017. I have to say, I’m really feeling it! It’s far more traditional straight-edge-sounding than I would expect Youth Attack to deliver, but Civilized push the style into an uncomfortable mess, much to my delight. Normally I can’t stand any group with Ray Cappo-esque vocals (I’m looking at you, Committed and Redemption 87), but vocalist Zach Reini sounds more like he’s choking Cappo out, frothy spit flying in every direction, with a touch of whoever sang for ’90s politi-crust dollar-binners Civil Disobedience (highly underrated!). The music structurally comes from Youth Of Today, Turning Point and Project X, but they clearly saw Hoax and Cult Ritual when they came through on tour years ago, and they apply that same sort of unhinged menace and tangled noise to their under-a-minute blasts. I wish the cover was a pencil sketch of two faceless edgemen in cloak-like hoodies high-fiving while grinding a meth lab with their Powell-Peraltas, but Youth Attack insists on being artsy-cool, even when presenting youthful American hardcore.

Egyptrixx Pure, Beyond Reproach 2xLP (Halocline Trance)
My expectations were high for Egyptrixx’s fourth full-length – the Toronto-based producer seemed to figure something out with 2013’s A/B Til Infinity and 2015’s Transfer Of Energy [Feelings Of Power] built upon it masterfully. Pure, Beyond Reproach is a sick title, the sort of thing you’d expect some alien god to utter before boring a hole through Earth with his starship blaster, and while it certainly still sounds like the Egyptrixx I know and love, it hasn’t connected with me in the same fashion as his last two. Before, it always felt like Egyptrixx was a club DJ who succumbed to the pull of hyper-modern sound design as a form of social commentary, as though he was trying to say “if my music can sound like this, it should be clear that sentient technology will soon be waging war on humanity and we’re screwed” while making a room full of drunk people dance. Now, Egyptrixx is pretty firmly in the “avant-garde sound artist” camp, going further into the intricate software processes that morph images of polished chrome and 3D-printed latex organisms into their corresponding sounds. It’s still cool, and I bet if I listened to this album a hundred times all of its contours and babbling water samples and sharp metallic pings would really resonate with me, but for where I’m at now, it plays out more as a collection of highly-advanced sound architecture: interesting to peer into but ultimately kind of hollow.

Grace Sings Sludge Life With Dick LP (Empty Cellar)
I sincerely hope that anyone who reads this website on a semi-frequent basis would be just as interested in checking out an artist named “Grace Sings Sludge” doing an album called Life With Dick as I was. It just lures you in! I couldn’t help but assume I was in for some actual sludge, just one woman on stage doing her best to sound like Cattlepress and Seven Foot Spleen, but in actuality her music is far more tender. She’s Grace Cooper, who previously played in The Sandwitches and The Fresh & Onlys, two bands I mostly avoided, writing them off as hookless, trendy hippie-garage of the late ’00s (I can be unreasonably cruel sometimes, just like anyone else). Grace Sings Sludge isn’t that either, but rather solo, confessional-style singing and guitar. A track like “Runaway (Bad Timing)” comes with a strong whiff of Cat Power, but other tracks are less tense and more tender, as if Meg Baird covered Terry Manning and classed it up in the process. There’s no shortage of this style going on out there: vaguely precious, sorta haunted, rainy-day, acoustic bedroom troubadours, but there’s something about Grace Sings Sludge that is undeniably captivating and intriguing… it starts with the name and goes from there.

Killerkume Industrial Sunbath LP (Gaffer / DDT / Cosmic Tentacles / Politburó Recording Fiasco)
The album’s called Industrial Sunbath, the band is from Bilbao, and the only two artists referenced in their one-sheet are Throbbing Gristle and Peter Brötzmann, so it sounds like we’ve got a fierce and harsh squealer of a record on our hands, right? My hopes were high, and sadly, quickly snuffed when I put on Industrial Sunbath only to learn Killerkume are a guitar / drums duo that basically play standard-issue math-rock with long stretches of predictable improvisation. I mean, it’s fine and all, they’ve definitely got some chops, but don’t have me thinking you sound like Esplendor Geometrico on acid only to sound like a band that would open for Oxes in 2002 and be the least memorable part of the show, please. I might be more into it if they really flipped their The Champs-style rock grooves into overdrive, or if there was some level of Chris Corsano / Bill Orcutt wizardry going on during their unstructured passages, but neither aspect captivates. The improv in particular strikes me as rote, which is a bummer. It’s also possible that I simply have a thing against records that more than three labels joined up to release, Evil Moisture / Cock ESP split 5″ notwithstanding.

Hermann Kopp Cantos Y Llantos 7″ (Galakthorrö)
Who can resist a trip into the Weird World of Hermann Kopp, perennial outsider of pretty much any music scene, the Galakthorrö label included. This new four-track EP is quite satisfying, as is all the Kopp I’ve heard, in that it transports me to foreign places rich with a sense of dangerous and inexplicable phenomena. These four tracks take us from Kopp’s native Germany to an unidentified Spanish-speaking territory, where industrial drumming, foreboding strings and romantic pianos gather under his stern tutelage. These songs feel stolen from a week-long Hermann Nitsch play, or perhaps deep within a cave that Indiana Jones would haplessly stumble upon, their meaning clouded with a sense of occult magic. My Spanish is certainly rusty, but Kopp seems to be invoking death and demons through these tracks; my personal favorite is “El Odio”, which pulls a mournful violin through some backwards processing, the sort of thing you might expect to see Mr. and Mrs. Arafna listening to if they lived in Westworld. Long may Herr Kopp thrive.

Kyo I Musik LP (Posh Isolation)
Kyo wasted no time in following their debut LP Aktuel Musik with I Musik, and I was ready and willing to snag it, myself being a big fan of their “Musik”. Their debut felt like a curious new breeze, filled with traditional orchestral instrumentation, varied sampling and a strong sense of emotional investment. I Musik follows that same path but moves further into a sonic territory that has me envisioning the sprawling sadness of capitalism (maybe it’s just that time of year). The clustered, spiral stairs on the cover are like a window into I Musik, an apt soundtrack for shopping malls after midnight, or any large hub of human consumption emptied and dark, sad and slightly beautiful. Sorry if I’m getting too esoteric here, but Kyo really put me in that zone, as their hovering electronics, interwoven field recordings, loose-limbed percussion and melodic interventions all speak to visual imagery, things of majestic beauty that are either dying or decayed. One track relays a woman’s voice intoning buzz words in a random sequence, not unlike Heatsick’s “Re-Engineering” or much of James Ferraro’s catalog, and another intersperses short bursts of airhorn over an otherwise tender moment, recalling one of Vic Berger’s fantastic political video edits. I’ve examined I Musik up close and from afar, and no matter what the angle it’s a joy to behold.

Lewd Baron Small Sips LP (Weiner Shirt)
What was it, Action Comics #37 where Superman first defeated the Lewd Baron? I’m just playing, they’re a Richmond punk band and I bet they also have something to do with the Weiner Shirt label… just a hunch. Anyway, they play a form of heavy post-punk with strong ’90s noise-rock influences (just influences, not the full scope of their sound). They have bouncy, alternating-note riffs not unlike KARP, just played less forcefully, with the swing of Drive Like Jehu applied to basement-punk optics and the sense that the band is willing to follow any strange thought that might enter their brain (see “Plugfancier”, which feels like one of those avant-garde Dry Rot songs paired with Fucked Up circa Hidden World). Lewd Baron definitely have some interesting ideas of their own, but for my money, they bog them down a bit with the same consistent mid-paced tempo and songs that are either too long or too many. All three members sing, maybe they accidentally let the drummer write some of the songs too? Classic mistake.

Lugweight Yesterday LP (Circle Box / Forcefield)
The trippy neon nonsense floating over an infinite checkerboard that adorns Lugweight’s Yesterday was giving me strong Daniel Lopatin vibes – if I hadn’t noticed that the only credited instrumentation was guitars, vocals and electronics, I would’ve expected some sort of mutated R&B nostalgia thing. But nope, Lugweight genuflects deeply at the altar of the riff, taking Earth’s 2 as Yesterday‘s starting point and, well, kind of its endpoint, too. The guitars take center stage, like an oil spill extending past the horizon, imposing its stoner-friendly grooves for minutes on end. At times, the riffs give way to the imposing weight of drone, but there’s usually some sort of rhythmic form at work, although often outpaced by the drowsiest of turtles. Vocals occasionally mutter through, providing some muddled commentary as the guitars incessantly churn. It’s not a dynamic album, for the most part, as you can drop the needle on any given groove and a thick, meaty guitar chord will surely be ringing. Chances are, if you’re a fan of heavy guitar droning you’ve probably heard this sort of thing before, but you probably also want more of it, which Lugweight happily provides. And if you don’t like it, well, go run a 5K or something, what are you doing here in the first place?

Macho Boys Macho Boys LP (Neck Chop)
Now serving leopard-print, studs n’ spikes hardcore-punk care of Portland, OR’s Macho Boys, who I can assure you are not actually macho boys. They’re pissed off and gonna tell you all about it, with music that recalls ’90s crust-punk like Assrash and ’90s snot-punk like FYP in equal measure, delivered with a crisp amateurism. They are all quite capable players, but something about the general simplicity of songwriting I find highly appealing; I’ve heard it all before and can easily tell where each song is heading, but there’s a soothing comfort in that. The lyrics are mostly from a misandrist-femme point of view (who can argue with that), although there’s one song on here called “Stone Cold” that is an ode to none other than Steve Austin himself. It’s unexpected and impressive, the detail with which vocalist Tekiah Elzey espouses her love for the Texas Rattlesnake: “Shotgun a Steveweiser / And prepare for a pile driver!” she shouts, to which I reply “Aww hell yeah!”, in hopes that she doesn’t stomp a mud hole out of me.

Marbled Eye EP 2 7″ (Melters / Digital Regress)
Marbled Eye are a new-ish punk group out of Oakland, and the immediate stamp of Melters’ approval raised my brows. They’ve got a pretty distinct vibe, if not entirely their own: they play a rigid, minimal form of post-punk, specifically calling to mind Institute, later Ceremony and Crisis. The drummer is almost always keeping time with the floor tom instead of the hi-hat, the guitars are chord-averse and frequently employ extended passages of the same note, and the vocalists (two guys share duties) sound like they’re reading from Lou Reed’s autobiography to their creative-writing class, honing in on a coolly disaffected tone. It’s a very specific musical template, and if there were dozens of bands going in this direction (which there very well might end up being) I’d probably find it a little wearying, but from my vantage point there aren’t too many, and I enjoy them all, Marbled Eye included. Maybe it’s just easy to write interesting, cool songs in this style, or maybe Marbled Eye are particularly talented, too. Plus, is their band name a bread pun? Can’t go wrong with that.

Mattin Songbook #6 LP (Munster / Insulin Addicted / Crudités Tapes)
Who would’ve thought the world would one day be treated to six of Mattin’s “songbooks”? Not me! Everyone’s favorite anti-music provocateur is constantly at it, and I rate this new one on the higher side of his impressively thick discography. The concept here (and for previous “Songbooks”) is that Mattin gathers a few musicians and artists and creates music with them in a severely limited time frame, with some abstract idea guiding the project. (In this case, the lyrics were “used as score”.) Mattin’s ideas are often choked-out by the weight of their conceptualization, but Songbook #6 is a record I’ve honestly wanted to listen to more than once, so I’ll consider it a success. There’s a lot of open space here, as is often the case, but the varied instruments find ways to interject themselves in the proceedings – sometimes it sounds like the players are merely plugging and unplugging their gear, but on certain tracks, like opener “Die Form, Die Sich Selbst Formt”, the tension is nail-biting. Mattin manically screams his words throughout, often with the aid of AutoTune (why don’t more screamers use AutoTune?), and I’m reminded of something Einstürzende Neubauten or Die Tödliche Doris would have discarded on the studio floor and later gathered for a retrospective boxset. I’d say Mattin should try relaxing for a minute, but I’m pretty sure that would result in three LPs filled with violently-edited field recordings of him relaxing.

Moral Panic Moral Panic LP (Slovenly Recordings)
T-shirt check: in the live photo featured on the back cover of Moral Panic’s self-titled debut, the drummer’s sporting a Melvins tee, the guitarist is rocking a classic Negative Approach, and the bassist, I’m not entirely sure… could it be Cinecyde, a wild card? Between the shirts and the band name, I was expecting some by-the-books hardcore, but they’re actually a garage-punk band, and one of fine caliber at that. Throughout, I’m reminded of Video out of Austin, TX, in the way that Moral Panic take classic garage-punk and Killed By Death hooks as their foundation and create something thrilling and vital with it, rather than a studied re-enactment or simply going through the motions to occupy their spare time. Maybe it’s the speed of their songs: they’re never so fast as to become a messy blur, but the energy never lags either. I can’t help but assume that although Moral Panic is a new group, these three dudes have spent years honing their chops, both songwriting and performance, in other bands. They’re from Brooklyn, and no one is really from Brooklyn these days, so I’m fairly confident in my guess. However they arrived there, it’s some of the freshest, best garage-punk I’ve heard in a bit!

Mozart Nasty 7″ (Iron Lung)
Originally, I thought I saw Nasty advertised as a 7″ LP, and I think that odd misprint may in fact be correct – there’s enough ferocious punkness to cover twelve inches slammed onto these seven. Mozart seek chaos in their music, brandishing their lack of finesse with the pride that tech-metal groups show toward their abundance. Opener “LKNB” is the wake-up call, a hive of slams and feedback as vocalist Marissa Magic does her best “alleycat in heat” imitation, squealing like she’s got a particularly unruly litter on the way. I’m reminded of Within’s fantastic debut 1994 EP or Coleman’s 7″ on Heliotrope – records that seemed to come from the emo scene, oddly enough, but obliterated any and all sonic boundaries by sheer physical force and commitment to the form. Of course, Mozart are probably just trying to copy Discharge and Tožibabe, but the end result is a fantastic miss into a territory uniquely their own, a sound far lumpier than anything Lumpy Records would dare to engage with. Love the cover too, each individualized with a black “blob”, looking like something you’d find on Pettibon’s bathroom floor. Not sure what’s up with the title, though – maybe it’s a show of solidarity with Hillary? Just playin’!

Mutual Jerk Mutual Jerk 7″ (State Laughter)
I’m consistently impressed by the breadth of Atlanta’s underground rock scene… it’s like the Austin, TX of the South! There are all those cool Scavenger Of Death-related hardcore groups, a rich history of garage-rock, and bands like Mutual Jerk who exist outside of those firm boundaries. They’re definitely punk, but in the way that certain bands pushed back on hardcore’s stylistic limitations by the mid-’80s, going simultaneously mellower and more unhinged than your average 1-2-3-4 thrash outfit. I’m getting a big whiff of No Trend’s perennial classic “Teen Love” on Mutual Jerk’s “He’s Harmless”, the a-side cut: nagging bass-line, moody and inconsistent guitar, and a vocalist angrily reading his term paper / suicide note very much in the way of No Trend’s Jeff Mentges. I almost expected it to be an outlier, with two traditional punk tracks on the flip, but they really take the “Teen Love” aesthetic and flesh it out over the remaining two cuts, somewhere between the shaky gallop of The Fall and like-minded contemporaries US Weekly. I am a sucker for moody post-punk that’s more punk than post with a vocalist seemingly unaware that his saliva-laced soliloquies are receiving musical accompaniment, so I’m giving Mutual Jerk’s vinyl debut a firm thumbs up.

Nag False Anxiety / imsosmall 7″ (Total Punk)
A good part of me was hoping that this Nag 7″ was in fact a solo record from one of my favorite members of The Door & The Window (wouldn’t that be something!), but Nag are in fact yet another fantastic hardcore-punk group out of Atlanta. They’re debuting on Total Punk, an honor that could easily inspire jealousy in their peers, but it’s rightfully earned with these two menacing tracks. “False Anxiety” blares forward with a snaky bassline, bloodshot vocal delivery and a tense rhythm that has me thinking of the speed and control shown by local peers such as Predator and GG King. “imsosmall” cools things off with a zombie march before inexplicably entering into a black-metal death race. Didn’t GG King work black metal aesthetics into his garage-punk too? What’s up with these guys? It takes a little adjusting to, although the power with which the drummer delivers his blasts is enough to win me over. Thankfully, the vocalist maintains his glazed-over sneer, anchoring Nag in the corner of a smoke-filled bar rather than a frostbitten necroforest. I hope to hear more.

Neutral Neutral 7″ (I Dischi Del Barone)
Somehow I didn’t see this coming, but a Neutral EP on the I Dischi Del Barone label makes perfect sense: band and label seem to be friends who live in close proximity, and if there’s one group that exemplifies the anti-song righteousness of I Dischi, it’s Neutral. Needless to say, I was psyched to obtain a copy, and it delivers just the sort of seething, crumbly, hypnotic and occasionally-riffy noise of which I know Neutral to be fine vendors. “A – B – C” is the a-side track, a slow dissolution of guitar strings and imprecise noise that eventually finds live drums to carry it out to sea, right as Sophie Herner whispers Swedish into a sarcophagus. “2 – 0 – 1 – 6” opens the flip with a quick chemical rinse, leading into a “cover” of Le Forte Four, a LAFMS-affiliated group clearly in line with Neutral’s sonic ethos, and easily the goofiest ditty in Neutral’s catalog to date. Can you believe Neutral came all the way to the US just to play two shows in New York last year? I still haven’t forgiven them for not properly touring, but this 7″ is a reasonable way to start making amends.

No Faith Forced Subservience LP (Iron Lung)
Huge, huge missed opportunity here for No Faith to title their second LP More. Would’ve been perfect! That said, I understand that humor doesn’t often factor into No Faith’s brutal music and worldview, and Forced Subservience is an apt setting – the music feels like it’s one decade away from gracing a Cry Now, Cry Later compilation and the title is equally fitting. They’re a power-violence quartet from Amherst, MA, and they do the genre right with their thick, molten riffs, often segmented into doomy dirges that snap into breakneck blasts with surgical precision – I’m thinking of Despise You, Napalm Death and, well, Iron Lung when I listen to this record. No Faith’s uniqueness comes out in the form of their power-electronics interludes and additions; they’re deployed not in the squealing, car-alarm style of Suppression (at least not usually), but the bleak, crumbly, bass-heavy realms of Ramleh or Con Dom. I could almost do for a bit more of their noise, as the balance is like 80% grindcore / 20% noise, and the instrumental / instrument-less passages they have here are quite enjoyable, not merely filler between grind blasts. If you’re looking to buy one power-violence album this year…

Open City Open City LP (no label)
As much as I love the idea of four people who barely know how to plug in their instruments wailing away at hardcore-punk, there’s something to be said for those who have decades of practice under their belts too, like the various characters that comprise Open City, one of Philadelphia’s newest hardcore groups. To the myriad followers of PunkNews.Org, Open City is most notable as Dan Yemin’s newest project, he of Lifetime, Kid Dynamite, Paint It Black, etc., and while his presence is overwhelmingly evident in the songwriting, Open City follow a different lineage of hardcore thought. Their sound is strongly beholden to the sincere, dare-I-say-emo hardcore of the mid-’90s – they’re like a refined, well-oiled take on John Henry West and Merel, bold and passionate hardcore that speaks its concerns clearly and directly. I love a lot of that stuff, but Open City aren’t merely re-enacting, as Yemin’ sonic stamp remains distinct – the melodic breakdown of “Black Veils” carries the same uplifting sway of classic Lifetime, and the central riffs of “Hell Hath No Fury” and “On The Spit” could’ve certainly been held over from Kid Dynamite’s songbook. It serves Open City well, paying homage to the fury of their youth while utilizing the talent and insight they’ve since gathered.

Race Car B.Y.O.G.K. 7″ (Neck Chop)
The group is Race Car, and the acronym of their EP title stands for “Build Your Own Go Kart”. Hmm… okay! Not sure I understand where the auto motif is coming from, but at least it’s unusual, and the raucous, semi-synthetic sounds of Race Car are very nice indeed. Minor internet sleuthing has determined they’re from California, but they certainly have a touch of that weird NWI punk vibe, but only a touch – they use a drum machine in a ’90s way, not an early synth-punk way. Race Car sounds like an upbeat, early punk band surrounded by video games, car alarms and pagers all going off simultaneously. Someone jams hard punk riffs on their guitar and a vocalist chirps away from inside his reverb tank (an effect that has great similarity to the Abandos’ earliest offerings). I’m even reminded of Japanese Devo-worshippers Polysics at certain times, in the sense that there is a joyous form of sensory overload at play, but it doesn’t dominate the music or hinder the listening experience. It’s not an entirely foreign sound in 2017, but Race Car attack it with zeal – if there’s a better go-kart-themed punk record released this year I certainly want to hear it.

Roht Roht 7″ (Iron Lung)
Noise-driven Icelandic hardcore-punk: who could find fault with this? Roht are from Reykjavik, and I don’t know if they found Iron Lung or vice versa, but it’s a proper international accord. Immediately, Roht’s feedback is a constant presence, delivered somewhere between Confuse and Cult Ritual, to the point where they don’t even need to be playing their songs to singe your nose hairs – the brief moment of static that announces each song’s arrival is potent enough as is. At least in spirit, they seem to share the youthfully nihilistic, we-don’t-want-friends hardcore style of Sexdrome and the aforementioned Cult Ritual, but Roht’s songwriting is far more primitive. The drummer offers zero in the way of sick fills or style, he simply pounds the bare necessities while the guitar and bass slam appropriately along, a hive of noise expands like vape smoke and the vocalist shouts from what seems to be the far end of a warehouse’s HVAC duct. They offer fast, slow and mid-tempo tracks here, and while an album of music this uniformly grating might even test the patience of a freak like me, this six-song EP hits the spot.

Static Eyes The Thaw 7″ (Kitschy Manitou)
I must’ve listened to at least a dozen “____ Eyes” bands over the past few years, not to mention the countless skulls on record covers I’ve witnessed, to the point where I have to physically hold and stare directly into this Static Eyes 7″ if I want any hope of remembering it. It’s a pretty cool-looking skull at least, and their time-tested garage-punk does the trick just fine – I’m reminded of The Hunches and The Piranhas, fiery garage-rock bands that push their tempos into speedy punk and feature a vocalist who yowls as if someone just lit his coattails on fire. That said, nothing about these three songs speaks to any sense of originality or new spin on the form, but I wouldn’t expect positive results from anyone really messing with the formula too much anyway. I guess you just have to write unforgettable songs if you want to stand out, which is undoubtedly harder and harder to do as the genre is now old enough to receive AARP mailings. Of course, this is based on the assumption that Static Eyes wish to be one of the greats and not just another good band; there is absolutely nothing wrong with amusing yourself and your friends by playing in a band that sounds just like this.

Wolvon Ease. LP (De Graanrepubliek / Subroutine)
A bearded Dutch trio playing thoughtful and colorful post-punk emo? Sure, why not! Ease. is Wolvon’s second album, and I can get into their take on what I believe to be a fairly American form of underground rock: melodic and shoegazy emo-rock. When I say emo, I’m referring to its pre-mainstream-pop mid-’90s version: bands like The Van Pelt and The Jazz June, with the affected textures of Sonic Youth to fill out the sound (particularly notable as the final mix pushes the vocals way below, often barely audible in the din). When they get particularly energetic, I’m reminded of early alt-rock ala Foo Fighters or Hum, perhaps without the commercial aspirations. One could easily file it as “sensitive-guy” music, particularly as the vocalist’s tone takes on a Mark Kozelek-ish warmth while unobstructed by the music, and I get the feeling that Wolvon wouldn’t be overly bummed out if this were the case. They are certainly guys, after all, and if their music can console other melancholic guys in times of distress or confusion, who am I to get in the way.

Xetas The Tower LP (12XU)
If I were challenged to pick a team on some sort of indie-rock Survivor show (please let this never actually exist), Xetas would be one of my top choices – they’re a versatile, highly-capable rock group with a high level of energy and a sense of authentic passion. This is their second album, and as far as I’m concerned they’re really hitting their stride here. They’ve got the gruff melodic feel of Dillinger Four and The Marked Men, with a similar sense of the magnanimity those bands carry, as if they aren’t satisfied unless everyone in the room is having a good time. They also take things to a rougher degree, calling to mind pre-bongos-and-operatic-choir Fucked Up in the way these songs seem to leave scars upon both vocal cords and fingertips. They aren’t afraid to show “maturity” either, in the tense build of “The Break”, just waiting to soundtrack a particularly grueling Degrassi breakup. I feel like so many bands are trying to accomplish this sort of sound and fall short, probably because it’s deceptively difficult to play modern-sounding anthemic and melodic punk rock and have it sound fresh and unique – there are so many tempting motions that others have gone through countless times before. Xetas, however, wiped all the dust off and are ready to become someone’s favorite band, if not your life.

Absolutely Wino compilation 2xLP (Wah Wah Wino)
The compilation album’s ability to serve as scene document has been crucial to underground music, and it’s one that I’ve always cherished, from Not So Quiet On The Western Front to No New York and countless others. Absolutely Wino takes the temperature of the mysterious Irish scene surrounding Morgan Buckley and friends, and let me tell you, it’s scorching hot! I don’t particularly believe that half of the pseudonyms and aliases (and aliases of pseudonyms) credited here are actually other people and not just Morgan Buckley, Davy Kehoe and Olmo Devin, but who cares? The world they create with their music is fascinating and spirited; it’s rich with the unending quest for freedom found in experimental noise but the studied technique and musicality found within labels like Brain and CTI. Here you get two LPs full of impossible-to-categorize funk, house, krautrock, techno and electro, with a list of instrumentation longer than my arm, and it’s absolutely entrancing. Opener “7000 Years” by Gombeen & Doygen is an instant favorite (it’s like a post-punk take on Ricardo Villalobos’ “What You Say Is More Than I Can Say”), as is the chaotic swing of Wino Wagon’s “Paco’s Ode” and Morgan & Davy’s “Craudrock” (which gives me heavy Rastakraut Pasta feelings), but once I put this comp on I invariably listen to the whole thing – it’s a glorious achievement to behold.