B-Ball Joints Blue Boy Joints LP (PRR! PRR!)
The PRR! PRR! label is my go-to for top-notch techno tricksters… last year’s Battle Break “compilation” was a stone-cold killer of hardcore techno absurdity, and the An Ultimate DJ 12″ from two years ago melded riotous banging with an acoustic guitar cover of “Wicked Game” to glorious results. So now B-Ball Joints (which I believe to be another of one Low Jack’s aliases) gets their own album, delivering the same sort of cartoonish menace that made Battle Break so strangely pleasing. There’s a ton of tracks here, and they go all over the place, from aggressive EBM to choppy breaks to techno you’d expect to accompany the Power Rangers into battle. It can be pretty cheesy, but that’s the point, riotous techno with a ’90s aesthetic, the sort of thing you’re supposed to blast while eating five bowls of sugary cereal on a Saturday morning. The vocals (of which there are a bunch inserted within) sound more like characters from He-Man’s Evil Horde than human beings, and the intensity is not unlike a small child physically threatening an adult twice their size. If Cobra Commander ever gets the DJ residency at Berghain that he’s been pushing for, I’d imagine he’d be packing Blue Boy Joints in his titanium-reinforced flight case.

Mark Cone Now Showing LP (Neck Chop)
The name “Mark Cone” had me a little confused at first: this solo synth-punk provocateur isn’t Mark Winter of the Coneheads, but actually Jackie McDermott of Urochromes. Is this some sort of intra-scene potshot, or just a strange coincidence? Whatever the case, I’ve enjoyed spending my time with Mark Cone, who behaves like Geza X on the set of a Roger Waters film, throwing around cheap props and rattling his drum machine until its AAA batteries fall out. If he doesn’t sport one of those waxed twisty moustaches and a rumpled suit while playing his aggressive punk songs on a vintage karaoke machine, he should understand that this project affords him the circumstances to do so, just like the man with the pained grimace on the cover (or could that be him?). Very manic and aggressive delivery for something that is guitar-less and driven only by pre-set keyboard sounds and carnivalesque rhythms, but McDermott sells it hard. He even reduces the music to a single repetitive plink on “Intermission (If The Cone Fits)”, but his intense confidence makes it a standout cut, displaying his microphone mastery on a song that would surely falter for a lesser vocalist, recalling vintage Ed Schrader’s Music Beat. Now Mark Winter just needs to start a project called Jacky Chrome and the circle may be complete.

Arve Henriksen Towards Language LP (Rune Grammofon)
I try to move a little slower in the sweltering summer months, so a record like Towards Language by Norwegian trumpeter Arve Henriksen has really been hitting the spot. He’s some sort of vanguard experimental jazz trumpeter, and I’m sheepish to admit this is the first I’ve heard of him (I don’t want word getting around that I’m not up on exceptional Norwegian experimental trumpeters), but it’s a very easy record to like, no learning curve needed. Towards Language features nine tracks of sedated and smooth motifs, all locating different points on the emotional spectrum: pensive, ebullient, playful, remorseful and inquisitive. Electronics, guitar, bass and sampler all provide the understated framework that Henriksen’s trumpet fills with color, at times reaching a gratifying sound that has me imaging a particularly tender Chet Baker sessioning with Jóhann Jóhannsson. It’s a record that rewards close listening with its various tics and strange forces, but you can just as easily toss it on while napping a small child or toasting your morning bagel and feel nourished by its sound. What good is experimental jazz if it’s not versatile? Oh, and the vinyl edition comes with a CD, which reminds me of that Mitch Hedberg bit where someone handing you a flyer might as well be saying “hey, can you throw this out for me?”

Intensive Care Voyeurism 12″ (Anthems Of The Undesirable / Divergent Series)
No sooner had I assumed I wouldn’t encounter any more harsh-noise-laced power-violence this year than Intensive Care show up with Voyeurism. Like a great deal of the hardcore records that are being released these days, it’s mastered by Will Killingsworth at Dead Air, and if you’re a particularly observant nerd, you know that he’s also in No Faith, the other recent noise-infused grindcore group I’ve reviewed. I have to say, while I admire Intensive Care for pursuing such a noble form of music, Voyeurism isn’t quite cutting it for me. They’re a bass/drums duo, and historically those have a tough time reaching the level of brutality that the style demands (I’m looking at you, Godstomper and No Comply, although both of you had your moments). Intensive Care are victims to this peril as well – their riffs aren’t strong enough, nor is the sole bass heavy enough to carry these songs, reminiscent in song-form to Phobia at their most straightforward and Black Army Jacket at their shiftiest. The noise is the best part, various harsh collages and effects looping around and through some of the tracks (not unlike Gasp), but it’s not enough to save Voyeurism from the discount hardcore bin full of other solid close-calls with greatness.

Joint D≠ مخابرات / Intelligence LP (Sorry State)
Been a while since the last Joint D≠ album (four years to be precise), so Sorry State corrected that deficiency by releasing last year’s Scavenger Of Death tape on vinyl. I’m not sure if Joint D≠ are still a “real band” or a studio project or on hiatus or what, but they’ve certainly amassed a righteous discography, merging familiar hardcore/punk influences into a sound that distinctly sounds like them. Like prior records, this one sounds like a mix of The FU’s and Code Of Honor with subtle garage-rock tendencies and the manic, no-breaks delivery of classic Japanese hardcore. I’ll be honest, I haven’t spun any of the earlier Joint D≠ records in a while, so I can’t comment with too much authority on any subtle stylistic shifts, but as far as I can remember this is what Joint D≠ has always sounded like, and they do it well here too. The record seems to be centered around the current global and political chaos, taking shots at the 1% and miserable tyrants controlling our lives, but I will never understand why bands put their lyrics in tiny-printed continuous blocks of text, as if they want to make it as difficult as possible to actually read what they have to say. Images of Ronald Reagan, military planes and a burning copy of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged make for a provocative design, but I wanna know what you’re really saying without having to fetch my magnifying glass.

Leda Gitarrmusik III-X LP (Förlag För Fri Musik)
As I’m always clamoring for more Neutral, I was pleased as punch to see that Leda, Sophie Herner’s solo venture, released a new LP. Took a little finagling to obtain a copy (shout out to the Australian shop Albert’s Basement for sourcing a copy of this Swedish record), but it was worth any financial or logistical struggles I may have faced. The title pretty much sums it up, as this album features eight tracks of “guitar music” (that’s the English translation care of yours truly). Leda usually fires up some sort of looping rhythmic structure, and either piles more sound on it or plays within its vicinity. I’m reminded of solo guitar slingers like Tetuzi Akiyama and Oren Ambarchi, but there’s something about Herner’s playing that feels distinctly PSF, like High Rise’s deconstructed rhythms are in her head and she’s clanging right along (“Gitarrmusik VI” has a particularly psychedelic stoner groove). Other tracks carry the industrial sludge of Hunting Lodge or Laibach to splendid effect. On the whole though, Gitarrmusik III-X unsurprisingly sounds more than a little like Neutral, merely with the colorful and atmospheric haze of electronics and voice stripped away. For a guitar noise record, it sure is entrancing and entertaining, about as easily digestible as this sort of thing can get while still retaining a degraded and tarnished sound. Recommended!

Long Knife Sewers Of Babylon 7″ (Beach Impediment)
Portland, OR’s Long Knife return after a couple years, now with the addition of Keith Testerman of Lebenden Toten on drums. Don’t you wish your inactive punk band could just come back to life with Lebenden Toten’s drummer? Move to Portland, I guess! Anyway, I’m sure they wouldn’t want to hear it, but there’s something about this five-track EP that has me imagining an alternate reality where Fucked Up never released any LPs and just got more and more into Poison Idea, pushing their tempos, raging guitar solos and Motörhead moves into overdrive. (Isn’t Sewers Of Babylon kind of a Fucked Up-y title, too?) I’m generally not a big fan of hardcore where you can understand every word in spite of the singer screaming, but vocalist Colin Jarrell really has the right voice for the job, even adding a welcome touch of melody (in the loosest sense of the word) to “Only A Reflection”, my personal fave of the bunch. It’s really all top notch stuff though, to the point where I was almost kind of surprised at how great Sewers Of Babylon is, even though Beach Impediment is already well established as a Hardcore Label You Can Trust.

The Mad Doctors No Waves, Just Sharks LP (King Pizza)
Brooklyn’s Mad Doctors are so familiarly garage-punk, it’s practically comforting in a time of such global uncertainty. Their album title paints a picture of pulpy beach violence, their band name conjures kooks in lab-coats and goggles, and their label name gleefully reveres garage-punk’s favorite food. It’s like they exist in a choose-your-own-adventure Ramones song, and for what it’s worth, they do the genre no disrespect. They’ve got their Ty Segall, Shannon & The Clams and Nobunny riffs down pat, and if someone isn’t spilling canned domestic beer while crowdsurfing in ripped jeans, something has gone terribly awry. There are a few moments on No Waves, Just Sharks that shake up the formula a little, if not lyrically but musically, like the strange, kinda classic-rocky sway of “Shit Hawks At Blood Beach”. The imposing monotone speakerbox voice works quite well in this setting, and it’s a nice change of pace from the usual blurry, middle-of-the-mix garage-punk holler. I’m probably the only sober geek paying attention to stuff like that, though, as the music of The Mad Doctors is clearly built for unscrupulous partying, not sonic theorizing. Screw it, I’m gonna drop my laptop on the floor, put on one of those human-sized hot dog costumes and see if The Mad Doctors need a roadie.

The Modern Institute The Modern Institute 12″ (Night School)
Sometimes I think I’ve had enough sci-fi synth-punk irritation in my life, and yet I keep buying it – even records like The Modern Institute, where I know the clear PVC sleeve’s toxic properties will eventually wreak havoc on the vinyl itself (if I ever get cancer, I’m blaming my picture disc collection). There’s something about the combination of a bitter electronic pulse and a person’s heavily-affected droll voice that I will always enjoy, and that’s exactly what The Modern Institute are offering, a Glasgow-based group featuring at least one fellow from the righteous Golden Teacher. These electronics are clinical and strict, mostly mid-range or high-pitched tones, twitching like state-of-the-art hospital equipment with a voice so echoed that I can’t even pick up the Scottish accent. Feels pretty American really, calling to mind other pessimistic synth-wavers like German Shepherds (without the depravity) and Voice Farm (without the pop aspirations), although The Normal surely factor in as well. The Modern Institute come across like a group of scientists dismayed that their research funding has been cut, with lyrics like “the universe is meaningless” sprinkled within syrupy synapses and sharp oxide puffs. Guess I’ll follow their lead and use disposable latex gloves to handle this record moving forward.

Nag No Flag 7″ (Space Taker Sounds)
One cool thing about modern punk is that if I hear a new band and like them, they probably have three other records coming out soon or already available. Feels like I’m still settling into Nag’s perplexing and cool Total Punk 7″ and they’re already offering another new EP. No complaints, just observing! “No Flag” opens this one with a nice unorthodox strut – it has me imagining a world where Mayyors traveled back in time to 1978 in an attempt to influence The Urinals. Heavy snare, snotty vocals somewhere in the hiss, very pleasing all around. We get two more cuts on the flip: “Patterns” plays a little straighter, with an on-trend oom-pah punk beat, one that they play in a fiercely punk manner. Think Reatards more than Dawn Of Humans, although things get pretty slimy. “Walls” is last, a big-mouthed bop that calls to mind Cheap Time if they enlisted Shin Takayama of Framtid for drum duties (and spiritual guidance). Definitely cool, but each track hits quickly, like three little blips on your beach-side metal detector. I can only hope that when it comes to live shows, Nag pull an OFF! and play fifty songs in a standard eighty-minute set.

Natural Causes Natural Causes LP (Sorry State)
Natural Causes aren’t simply my preferred form of death, they’re a synth-friendly garage-punk band out of Carrboro, NC. Both of their prior records (a debut LP and a 7″ single) have been reviewed here, so let’s make it three for three, shall we? This new one comes on the respected Sorry State label, and maybe I’ve just been smacked with a bunch of really superior and distinct punk lately, but Natural Causes isn’t doing a heck of a lot for me. Nothing about the album sucks, they just seem to tiptoe through their songs with caution, like they’re still trying on a new outfit and aren’t entirely sure it’s a proper fit. They’re clearly aiming for territory similar to Ausmuteants and Total Control, but they lack the memorable absurdity of the former and the razor-sharp hooks of the latter. A track like “Like It Should” feels like a Total Control song at 80% strength. They opt for stranger, post-punky tunes here as well (much of their previously noisy atmosphere has been cleaned up this time around), and while it’s perfectly fine, I can’t help but think how a contemporary group like Whatever Brains excels at the same sort of unhinged delirium that Natural Causes seem to be shooting for. There’s plenty of potential here, Natural Causes just need to figure out what makes them special and amplify it.

Newworldaquarium Chubby Knuckles EP 12″ (NWAQ)
Newworldaquarium’s The Dead Bears was one of the first techno full-lengths I really got into, so he’ll always have a soft spot in my heart. But casting nostalgic devotion aside, Jochem Peteri (the man behind Newworldaquarium) keeps kicking butt, like this new EP on his own label. “Chubby Knuckles” is essentially a loop that slowly arrives, hangs and then leaves, but it’s not about the intricacy or difficulty that makes deep-house great, it’s the ability to locate a godlike loop and let it hang in suspension, just as Newworldaquarium does with this one. Jungle flutes, stomping disco kicks, bongos taken out of DJ Fett Burger’s rucksack, funk bass and a two-note guitar additive make “Chubby Knuckles” an immediately satisfying cut, each element locking together to form a Voltron-esque dance imperative. I hate to flip it, but I’ll do it for the sake of “42”, a long cut of sunbleached dub-techno hypnosis that slowly lifts up and dissipates, like fog on a lake. And if that wasn’t chill enough for your tastes, “42 (Yoga Outro)” closes the EP, to ensure all muscles are properly stretched and cramping is avoided. Meet you for green smoothies later?

Niagara Comboios 7″ (Ascender)
Niagara are easily one of the coolest groups going worldwide, and now that I’m hip to them I’m trying to snag all their new EPs, which seem to come at a brisk clip. This new one is on the moving-toward-sad-obsolescence 7″ format, and it’s great. “Ida” is the a-side cut and it’s a rainy-day dub of drum machine patter and either an ancient melodica or an affected harmonica (maybe all that Davy Kehoe listening is getting to me). It’s airy and meditative, a lonesome Portuguese reggae. “Volta” pumps up the beat on the flip with bass guitar, one-two drum kicks, unquestionable harmonica and a stuttered vocal snip, and “Calor” brings it home with a collage of sounds you might hear down by the harbor on holiday: drinks being poured, stomachs growling, waves crashing and the faint hint of last night’s dance party. There seems to be a sonic kinship with the freewheeling dance eclecticism of Dublin’s Wah Wah Wino crew, but Niagara are especially organic, at times recalling what Mi Ami might sound like if they still existed and pushed beyond their comfort levels of experimentation. Crisp and beautiful 7″ EP, it only has me wanting more.

Molly Nilsson Imaginations LP (Night School / Dark Skies Association)
Molly Nilsson hit my radar last year via 2015’s Zenith and I was immediately hooked – her music felt so fresh, catchy and strange, it was as if moody synth-pop didn’t exist before her. And to my delight, she had a reservoir of previous albums (five prior to 2015!), so I slowly submerged myself in her world, one of amazing consistency, aesthetic uniformity and of course her unique voice, androgynous and soulful and slightly inhuman, the Gollum to Nico’s Smeagol. I was quick to grab Imaginations upon release, and for whatever reason, it didn’t immediately grab me like her previous records, so I’ve spent some time with it, listening mid-day, at night, while checking my phone and while laying on the floor, eyes closed in concentration. The sounds are all in place: Caribbean moonlit grooves, Eastern Europe karaoke-machine beats, pensive melodies and Nilsson’s distinctly captivating voice, just as I’d hoped. I guess I’m just not picking up the same hooks, or disarming wordplay I’ve come to relish – a song like “Let’s Talk About Privileges” is a great concept that hits a little too bluntly, and “Not Today Satan” overtly borrows from RuPaul’s Drag Race in a way that feels more like a musical meme than classically beguiling Nilsson verse. Imaginations is a grower for sure, and it’s growing on me, but with so much Molly Nilsson to choose from (even her recent 7″ of album outtakes is catchier and more immediately gratifying), I can’t offer Imaginations monogamy.

Bill Orcutt Bill Orcutt LP (Palilalia)
Here’s a crappy game-show I’d love to watch: Bill Orcutt interprets Top 40 hits on his guitar and contestants have to buzz in to guess. That’s kind of what he’s doing here on this self-titled album, the latest in his heavy string of releases since his return to the scene in 2009. His obsession with the Great American Songbook has popped up on other releases and continues here, what is somehow his first solo electric guitar record, and also one of his most somber, tender and somnambulant. He takes traditionals like “Ol Man River”, “White Christmas”, “Over The Rainbow” and “When You Wish Upon A Star” as starting points for the unique journeys his brain likes to carve out, offering a familiar chord change within sparkling clusters of notes and string-based conversations of his own creation. These tracks are slow-burning and moody, yet serene and occasionally joyous – I can’t help but imagine Orcutt having his “I’m having a fucking moment here!” outburst at any given point through the record, like he’s so damn in love with his guitar that he’ll fight you for disturbing it even slightly (search YouTube for “Bill Orcutt having a moment” and revel in its glory). If Bill Orcutt wasn’t already positioned alongside John Fahey, Loren Connors and Jack Rose in the pantheon of iconoclast guitarists, Bill Orcutt should certainly nudge him into such a noble and elite group.

Parris Your Kiss Is Sour 12″ (Hemlock Recordings)
I don’t just enjoy listening to techno, I enjoy reading about it too, which is how I first came across Parris. Articles and reviews made him out to be this future-techno visionary, juxtaposing strange styles into a vibrant new hybrid all his own, and well, what was I waiting for? This new 12″ on Hemlock seemed like a fine place to start, and I have to say, the music threw me for a loop. Not because it was even more forward-thinking than I had imagined, but because it’s so sparse and practically empty, to the point where it almost feels like he’s putting us on. “Your Kiss Is Sour” feels like a mid ’10s Hessle Audio production with the majority of its stems muted: you get one wavy loop, a strange vocal here or there, maybe a florescent drip into a koi pond, and they just move throughout the room for six minutes. “Flowering In Three’s” is next, the only track with a functioning beat, although it’s as rudimentary as they come, augmented by crashing waves, electronic droplets and a couple other foreign synthetic tones. By the time “My Beautiful Fantasy” is reached, one can’t help but wonder if the actual music is still coming later and this is all a ruse, but it’s just as fractured and empty as the rest, coming across like an Actress cut through a stereo with the left speaker unplugged. Listening to Parris is like looking at a painting that was abandoned halfway through completion: kind of annoying at first, but if you can get past your initial disappointment, there’s a certain twisted beauty to be discovered.

Perverts Again My Accident / My Embarrassment 7″ (Total Punk)
Just when I was certain I had finally reached my quota of intentionally-demented Cleveland punk, this 7″ by Perverts Again lands in my lap and I feel like I’m ready to go another ten rounds. “My Accident” kicks it off just right: smooth, subtle, groovy punk, like Flipper with a fistful of Cheetos instead of acid and heroin. The vocalist has a great delivery, too – not overly kooky, no fake accident, but rather a well-enunciated delivery that jives with his strange tale of a doctor’s visit gone wrong. “My Embarrassment” has the same basic deal – floor toms and snare driving a mid-paced beat, with down-picked guitar/bass and the vocalist’s conversational tone, this time with the solid hook of “underneath your clothes you’re not naked”, with “naked” given the high-pitch treatment, a weird-punk calling card that never fails to please. Seriously considering crowd-sourcing the funds to cover a fancy dinner attended by the members of Bad Noids, Folded Shirt, Wet Brain, Perverts Again and Bulsch, just to sit in and listen to these guys actually speak to each other and carry on conversation. Or do they just erupt into a food fight immediately?

Piece War Apathy 12″ (Square One Again)
Good friends Tina Pihema and Barbara Rocha lived in Auckland, NZ back in 2014, and decided to do a band. Intriguingly titled “Piece War”, they recorded a few tunes and released a 10″ lathe cut (limited to thirty copies, as lathe cuts often are), now rescued from the deepest depths of obscurity by Square One Again (to what will surely be a slightly more elevated level of obscurity). They’ve got a good thing going here, which makes the reissue understandable: Pihema and Rocha play a stripped-down form of rock music that splits the difference between forlorn indie-rock and jagged post-punk. There’s just one guitar along with the drums, but it never feels empty or lacking, as though additional guitar or bass would simply crowd things. I’m picking up moments that recall Red Monkey, The Courtneys and even The Make-Up through Apathy, but Piece War are clearly just doing their own thing, with poignant and thoughtful lyrics (that I mostly had to read to understand, thanks to the guitar’s up-front jangle) capping it off nicely. Kind of bittersweet that this is probably the only thing we’ll ever hear from Piece War, but I’m trying to learn to appreciate what I already have rather than endlessly wish for more.

Pinch Water Bomb / Cold New Worlds 12″ (Cold Recordings)
When it comes to quality, non-corny dubstep, Pinch is always there (in a pinch?) to make your next crossfit playlist extra ‘eavy. I have probably taken him for granted over the years, but this new 12″ is a refreshing wake up call, reminding me just how satisfying that big, hairy-chested dubstep aggression can be. There’s really no better way to describe “Water Bomb” than its title, which truly sounds like either giant explosive-laced aquariums crashing on the street, or those spiked floating mines blowing up underwater (are those real, or a Super Mario creation?). It’s such a great sound, I’m surprised he didn’t craft an entire album around it. “Cold New Worlds” on the b-side feels like an industrial-strength, steroid-abusing remix of Girl Unit’s “IRL”, like you brought in your Chevy Lumina for a tire rotation and when you came back it was a canary-yellow Polaris Slingshot. If someone in your household hates loud video game noises, they’re going to ask you to turn this one down (or more likely, off entirely), but you can always wait until they leave to work on your solo dubstep moshing, right?

Powell New Beta Vol. 1 12″ (Diagonal)
Without sufficient warning, Powell recently dropped a new 12″ “mini-album” on his own Diagonal label following last year’s high profile XL release. I’m a huge fan so I snatched it with the quickness, although it’s taken me a few weeks of listening and processing to really get a handle on it. Time will tell if this is a random divergence from the usual Powell sound or if he’s making stylistic moves, but most of what I recognize in Powell’s music is absent here: odd post-punk / no-wave samples, lurching drums, fat acid squiggles as bass, repetitive vocal snippets snatched from an early Rough Trade 45. Powell really built up his own form through multiple 12″s and culminating with 2016’s Sport, but New Beta Vol. 1 follows an alternate evolutionary path. Rather, these tracks are mostly rudimentary drum-machine workouts, bolstered by antsy synth arpeggios and rapid rhythms. I’m reminded of the “deconstructed ’90s trance” style of Lorenzo Senni at times, in the way that this EP seems to toy with early rave sounds, trying to stunt them into a modern form, indebted to ’90s pirate radio jungle sessions instead of early industrial and electro. At first I was disappointed, but now I’m appreciative of these tunes, although I’d still take Club Music or Sport over New Beta Vol. 1 any day. Maybe, as the title implies, Powell’s just working out some bugs.

Rat Columns Candle Power LP (Upset The Rhythm)
Been thinking I should change the name of Yellow Green Red to David West New Release Update Center. Doesn’t roll off the tongue the same way, but it’s more fitting, as beloved Aussie musician David West just keeps on churning them out: new records by Liberation and Rank/Xerox are still fresh, there’s a substantial (and great) album under his own name from last year, and rumors of a new Total Control record in the near future, too. And this is only what I’m aware of! It’s a blessing that he finds himself in the studio setting so frequently, as this new LP by his group Rat Columns is great, the sort of thing I didn’t know I needed until it arrived. He moves away from emo-rock to pastoral indie bliss on this one, delivering the scotchy scent of Belle & Sebastian, with humming organs buffering the billowy guitars and West’s soft vocal delivery leading the way. I haven’t kept up with Belle & Sebastian, but aren’t they a disco group now? Regardless, Rat Columns beat them at that game with “Blinded By The Shadow”, the album’s catchy pinnacle, which feels like the holy consummation of Young Marble Giants and ABBA (yes, there’s a brief violin solo), with lyrics that the Gallagher brothers only wish they wrote: “I was blinded by the shadow that you cast”. I can only hope West finds the time to take the show on the road at some point, perhaps some sort of greatest hits extravaganza spanning all his groups. I can already picture Mikey Young in a sequined tuxedo, somewhere toward the back of the stage, holding down rhythm guitar with a smile on his face.

The Rememberables The Rememberables LP (Adagio830)
I’d love to tell you all about this record, but I really can’t recall a thing about it. Just kidding! The Rememberables appears to be DC-centric hardcore dudes trying out commercial guitar-rock, a divergence that makes sense to me. There are only so many songs a band like Coke Bust can write, and the allure of putting together a collection of pop hooks better than the pros pulls at any musician who’s toured a bit and wondered what it’d be like to play the main stage instead of the basement below. I have to say, The Rememberables came out of the box well formed, perfectly mixing Weezer’s quiet / loud guitars and thick sound with the vaguely serious emo-isms of early Foo Fighters. It’s not a distinct sound, but it certainly gets the job done: a track like “If You Should” could’ve been a Killers single before they discovered Bruce Springsteen. There’s just enough pre-mainstream emo-pop to keep it from sounding too bland (some Clarity-era Jimmy Eat World-inspired melodies here), and a laid-back vocal delivery that falls somewhere between Merchandise’s Carson Cox and Sponge’s Vinnie Dombroski (just check “Walk” and see if you aren’t picking up those vibes). My instinct was to write The Rememberables off as a ‘mersh vanity project, but I can’t deny a solid set of pop hooks when I hear them, and this concise debut has plenty.

Roll The Dice Born To Ruin LP (The New Black)
Seems like Peder Mannerfelt’s been leaving his Swedish fingerprints all over the electronic underground lately, remixing, producing and releasing a dazzling array of projects. Roll The Dice is his long-running duo with Malcolm Pardon, and this new one is glorious, hyper-focused and sinister. Songs vary wildly in tempo, but all come with a sense of intense concentration, focusing on repetitive rhythms and dark, shadowy tones. What makes it stand out is the frequent addition of Per Johansson’s saxophone, released in staccato bursts that punctuate the rhythms like exclamation points. The maddening repetitive qualities and violent horn assault often has me thinking of Swans circa Children Of God mixed with Wolfgang Voigt’s Freiland Klaviermusik – the opener “The Derailed” is a fine example of this comparison, and also why Born To Ruin sounds so good. They also behave like some sort of cyber-punk reimagination of The Stooges with a cut like “Cannonball”, although that may be pushing it, and drop a mighty piano plonk on a particularly aggressive sax line with “Bright Lights, Dark Hearts”. For such a clear set of rules, Roll The Dice express a wide range of ideas within its confines, all of which I’ve been happy to spend time exploring.

Ben Schumacher & Eric Schmid Vienna Acid 7″ (FQW)
The Fusetron description for this one pulled me right in: “Ben and Eric mock each and their careers other over a crap techno song.” Sounded like the sort of thing I’d enjoy, and as that Los Tres Pericos album still gets plenty of play around my parlor, I thought my new thing might be Musical Side-Projects Of Serious Contemporary Artists. And yet, while that brief description is a spot-on explanation for what happens here, I’ve come to regret this purchase. The a-side is an acapella version (no music, just two male voices, seemingly taken from voicemail recordings, possibly in exaggerated accents, occasionally edited with minor effects), and as I let it spin, I slowly felt the desire to slather my face in grease makeup, so that I might resemble the clown I knew I had become. I love garbled nonsense, but nothing about the a-side pulled me in, or gave me any sense beyond “yep, this is a recording of hard-to-decipher inside jokes and complaints between two dudes I don’t personally know”. The b-side slightly makes up for it, as it does indeed come with an acid-house track, spacious and lonely and amateurish, like someone’s first attempt at copying Tin Man using free software, while the exact same vocals are laid over top. Far more tolerable, but still fairly unsatisfying. Of course, the more I research the FQW label’s offerings (acapella covers of “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, “talking (German / English)”, and “an improvised audio drama”), I feel a strong urge to purchase them in spite of myself. Somebody scramble the password to my PayPal account, quick!

Sick Thoughts Songs About People You Hate LP (Neck Chop)
Just when I thought Sick Thoughts’ Drew Owen might have turned a new page and opened up his heart to joy and happiness, I checked the album title… Songs About People You Hate. What an irrepressible rapscallion! There’s probably no accurate classification, but I get the impression that Sick Things is his “main” project, maybe because it’s released the most records and the fidelity is on the higher end of the basement-fi spectrum. As far as snot-nosed leather-jacket pop-punk is concerned, Songs About People You Hate is pretty undeniable. The riffs are simplistic and familiar, the drumming is steady and mean, and Owen’s voice is ripe for the job, as if an alternate reality existed where Wavves never learned how to skate and make friends. Buck Biloxi seems like the strongest spiritual figure for Owens, though, as the majority of Sick Thoughts songs discuss their disgust, hatred, annoyance or boredom in crude and convincing fashion, with music that veers between the poppy garage-punk of Rip Off Records and classic Killed By Death standards. Not really music to truly hate yourself by, as much as songs like “Young And Suicidal” and “Wasting My Youth” seem to hope, but rather music through which you might enjoy the idea of hating yourself.

Soft Shoulder Songs & Intermissions LP (Gilgongo)
Songs & Intermissions is one of two new LPs by Soft Shoulder, both released by Soft Shoulder leader James Fella’s Gilgongo label. Gilgongo seems more and more like a clearing house for his personal work, a vinyl-based catalog of events, and if he doesn’t mind financing it, why not? The other one that came out, Repeat #4, features two long and drawn-out takes of the same track (again I say: why not?), but Songs & Intermissions is more substantial and diverse, as well as to my liking. They’ve really got a strong handle on disjointed, DIY, no-wave-inspired punk, which is explored in depth here. Echoes of Urinals, Mars, A Frames and Ex-Models persist throughout, as well as the noisy and gruff post-punk of pre-No Age group Wives. The neo-no-wave renaissance is certainly passe at this point, but that’s part of why Soft Shoulder are so satisfying – this is clearly a group making a turbulent racket because it’s a form of music they sincerely believe in, not because it’s what everyone is supposed to play this year. Things move fast and with purpose, from a crash n’ bash punk stomper to a percussion-free post-punk droner, all fitting together and generating a sense of discovery and excitement. Looks like there are at least a dozen rotating members of Soft Shoulder… I wonder if I could just sneak in to a practice someday without anyone noticing.

Taiwan Housing Project Veblen Death Mask LP (Kill Rock Stars)
Taiwan Housing Project’s debut 7″ EP was really good, and they’re a fantastic live force, but I still wasn’t prepared for Veblen Death Mask, the Philadelphia group’s first full-length. I think most sensible people would file Taiwan Housing Project under “no-wave”, but to me, no-wave infers some sort of anti-groove, a nervous and unavoidable tick that ensures rapid irritation. Taiwan Housing Project smell like that, but man do they groove, locking into these mean motorik formations as though they don’t realize every siren is wailing and their house is about implode. It’s as if you applied the chunky stomp of A Frames or The Stooges’ “Fun House” to the entire Lust/Unlust discography (played quadraphonically). And not only do Taiwan Housing Project fall deep in the pocket on many of these tracks, they’ve put together some memorable hits as well – if it takes more than two listens of “Multidimensional Spectrum” and you’re still not singing along to the chorus, I have to wonder what is seriously ailing you. It’s a special and satisfying thing, to find music that buzzes with disjointed noise while simultaneously locking your butt into a beat, so hats off to ’em!

Talker Battle Standards 12″ (Standards & Practices)
Talker is one of the mightiest units operating in the crowded realm of industrial techno – they don’t do anything particularly unique, they simply do it bigger and better. This new EP is the debut for a label run by Talker’s Jon Krohn, and it’s a great way to kick things off, complete with bold and visually-oppressive artwork to match the hard-hitting techno within. “Battle Standard” turns at 45 on the a-side, and it’s a populist take on their sound, replete with a pendulously swinging beat, a moaning wave of mid-range drone and a bass kick to knock the wind from your lungs. It’s a little faster than I feel like Talker usually runs, BPM-wise, but it’s a good fit for peak-time rave antics. “(Gold) Standard” opens the flip with a simplistic punch, dropping a hammer onto steel with a wobbling bass effect and an eventual choir of horns to announce the return of the wolves to the throne room. “Snub Nose” wraps it with a speed-bag workout that shucks and jives, a bit more nimble than the other two but nearly as bludgeoning. Back in 2014, Talker really figured out how to make Sandwell-inspired greyscale techno that is basic and elegant without being generic, and Battle Standards maintains their mastery.

Trans FX Gaslit LP (Jokes Got A Posse)
Trans FX cannot be stopped, following last year’s The Clearing with Gaslit, released on the bafflingly-named Jokers Got A Posse label (which also put out a Trans FX tape, of course). This time around, Trans FX set their sights on the post-rave Brit-pop of the ’90s, with sweeping melodic gestures, layers of keys, booming artificial drums and a vocal that slowly melts over top. They’re going hard on The Verve, The Stone Roses, definitely Spiritualized, music made by mop-topped white boys too drugged to care about anything besides love and loss and the next bag of drugs. Gaslit definitely verges on historical re-enactment at times, really trying to soak every sense in a 1992 issue of NME, right down to the trip-hop beat in “Jest Sane” that has me forcibly containing myself from shouting “you’re unbelievable!” along with it, EMF-style. I guess it’s the atmospheric strangeness, the neon-lit rain of a big city via the endlessly-cloudy home of Trans FX, Olympia, that saves the album from coming across entirely as an homage, but rather their own visualized creative expression. Or maybe Sneaker Pimps recorded an album for 4AD back in the day and Trans FX stole the tapes and slapped their name on it.

USA/Mexico Laredo LP (12XU)
Often, a new group consisting of notable ex-membership doesn’t stack up to its predecessors, but I’m here to tell you that USA/Mexico, the Austin, TX trio consisting of Craig Clouse (Shit & Shine), King Coffey (Butthole Surfers) and Nate Cross (Expensive Shit) exceeds whatever lofty expectation those toilet-centric names might inspire. Laredo is gloriously molten sludge-punk; it’s heavy as hell, just the right amount of dumb, and injects its own personality in each tune, even the Bullets For Pussy and Fall covers. That character comes in the form of rippling digital distortion, which often seems like it’s snapping the songs’ essential tendons, and a strange vocal effect, as though the voice is run through Macronympha’s noise processors or a child’s toy Yak Bak (I’m reminded of the chorus of Dr. Dooom’s “You Live At Home With Your Mom” more than once). USA/Mexico have most in common with Rusted Shut, but they utilize actual riffs more often than not (and never spiral out into ten-minute jam territory), calling to mind Kilslug, Quttinirpaaq and one of those over-fried Stickmen With Rayguns live sessions. I have faith in our youth to surpass the sonic brutality of my musical generation, but I’m wondering if anyone alive today can surpass the elder statesmen of USA/Mexico when it comes to igneous, putrid noise-rock.

Violence Creeps Ease The Seed Bag 7″ (Drunken Sailor)
Let’s say you’re Violence Creeps, and some British label sends you an email, asking to put out a single. What are you gonna say, no? Of course not, you’re going to dig up some random tracks and send it over, and make a 7″ EP like Ease The Seed Bag. The a-side features a Wormhole “variant” of “Sex Dwarf” (additional cowbell and chorus pedal?) and an “underwater edition” of “Amber Alert”. Both songs were previously released here or there, and these two versions are less direct than the Violence Creeps I’m used to hearing – I’ll take it! The b-side has two more tracks, both new as far as I can tell: “Backhand” alternates between fuzzy bass and static-cling guitar as vocalist Amber Feigel berates them both, then “Gentle” steps in like a sassy punk who just got a fresh mohawk, like something I’d expect out of Rik & The Pigs. Not the first Violence Creeps record I’d tell you to buy, but let’s be real, eventually I’d recommend that you buy them all.

Wiccans Sailing A Crazy Ship LP (Dull Tools)
Brooklyn’s Dull Tools are here to remind you that they also like hardcore-punk, care of the newest LP by Austin, TX’s Wiccans. It’s been five years since we last heard from Wiccans, but I can assure you they had no musical epiphanies since they last checked in, no maturation, no growth, no newfound appreciation of Father John Misty. For as strange and conflicting as their concept can be (they’re called Wiccans, the back cover offers a sci-fi Armageddon backstory, songs are titled “Medusa 3000” and “Sword Of Heaven”, etc.), they play a very straight-forward form of hardcore-punk, one that displays a reverence for all-forms of Black Flag without coming across as a pastiche. What’s impressive is that they take these basic, tried-and-true hardcore moves and stretch them to songs in the three-minute range without losing any intensity or urgency. As this group is a side-project in a realm of side-projects (Wiccans feature members of Video, Bad Sports, Institute and Radioactivity among surely others), it’s no surprise that they have the skill-set to craft sturdy and respectable hardcore-punk without bringing in strange sonic influences or “experimenting”. The experiment happened in 1981, the result being that hardcore was already perfect.

Xylitol Is Toxic To Pigs?? 7″ (Thrilling Living / Total Negativity)
Cretinous and radical punk is on order care of Olympia’s Xylitol, the latest Thrilling Living offering. They’ve got a distinctly modern hardcore-punk style: simplistic and speedy pogo-punk drumming, ugly mutated-street-punk riffs, moshy breakdowns and vocals that emanate from some sort of mythical forest creature (of the Grimm’s fairytale variety that tricks and eats misbehaving children). However, they also offer proof that greatness can be derived from this popular style by sheer force, as well as the ability to go bonkers as a form of catharsis (with just a smidge of nihilism). Vocalist “Mr. Meat” really conjures the heinous stink of evil spirits with her voice, like the Crazy Spirit guy on helium with the suave seductive abilities of the titular creatures in Gremlins. Plus, somehow, these songs simply stick to the inside of my skull more than others: it only took one lyric sheet follow-along for the first verse of “Bisquick” to be permanently stored in my memory, all prepped and ready to sing along (I’d print the lyrics here but they are far too obscene for this unrated website). If the cops are smart, they’ll let Xylitol walk with merely a warning, as who knows what sort of damage they’d do to the inside of a police cruiser.

Horrendous New Wave compilation LP (Fish)
The concept of the “fake punk compilation” has delighted me for years, and I’m not alone: Fat Day more or less did this with Killed By Death #11 (or maybe The Frothy Shakes truly existed at some point?), and Fucked Up did it with their David’s Town LP. There’s something about inhabiting an alternate punk reality that is infinitely exciting and aesthetically freeing, and I am fairly certain that’s what is happening here, care of Lumpy Records (although actually released by “Fish Records”) and various members of “real” bands like Rik & The Pigs, Glitter, Ausmuteants, Janitor Scum, Nosferatu and Trauma Harness, or so I’m told. It’s a pretty apt title, as these various, hilariously-named groups contribute punk-wave nervousness, sloppy synths, hilariously unfunny in-jokes, meaty rock moves and whatever tickles their fancy. You’ve got Dequantize doing a soft instrumental called “Quantize”, Knob Noster Band offering “Butthole Flag On Parade”, Sexual Christians with “Spiritual Headlock” and probably my favorite band name / song title combo, Duty Toot and “Bit By Bozo”. I should also make it clear that while the concept is hilarious and eccentric, the execution is what makes Horrendous New Wave a keeper, as each one of these semi-fictional bands are either very good or extremely great. I can only hope Lumpy and crew are programming a virtual reality headset so that I might get a chance to inhabit the universe where the artists of Fish Records live and play.