Actors It Will Come To You LP (Artoffact)
Vancouver’s Actors are a pro-‘tude synth-wave group, and after spending the past few years dishing out a number of EPs, their debut album, It Will Come To You, has finally come to you. They clearly are going for it, what with publicity, promotion, touring, social media, etc., and in an increasingly hostile and unsustainable industry (that of non-megastar live bands), I can’t blame them for doing whatever they can to survive. Aesthetically, they do all the things you’d expect a group like this to do: seem emotionally distant and wounded; wear all black all the time (and sunglasses indoors); channel New Order’s synths with the radio-rock bombast of The Killers; call to mind Cold Cave and The Faint on their debut LP. Lead vocalist Jason Corbett occasionally channels a goth-night Josh Homme with his voice, and I have to say it does the trick, a tense falsetto straining over stock beats. I might actually raise my arms over my head while dancing if “Hit To The Head” came on in a club! Nothing groundbreaking, that’s for sure, but they’ve clearly oiled this machine well, and I’d much rather people follow and react to a living human group like Actors than an algorithmically-formulated fake-artist Spotify playlist for their gloomy dance-pop needs, which is the Black Mirror episode our mainstream future seems to be gazing toward.

Borusiade Silent 12″ (Cómeme)
Here’s how it worked for me: Lena Willikens’s great 2015 EP on Cómeme turned me on to the German techno label, who recently released this 12″ by the intriguingly-named Borusiade, whose striking cover image of a submerged human head sealed the deal. I guess that’s all it takes sometimes, because I purchased a copy, and I’m glad I did, as it’s a different vibe from both Willikens (and Cómeme label-head Matias Aguayo) but delectable nonetheless. “Silent” is a great slice of booming goth-techno – I’m reminded of a less dramatic Gazelle Twin, or a recent-ish Downwards offering (say, Oake or Talker) with all the chest-bursting power and none of the hazardous radiation. It’s eerie and majestic but you can easily dance to it, either jamming at its normal tempo or stomping in half-time to its pummeling kick/snare pattern. Makes me wish I was friends with more vampires, honestly. (Borusiade is Romanian-born, so clearly she’s close to the original blood-lusting source.) Khidja offers a remix of “Silent” on the flip, tilting back a little bit in order to bring out the track’s inherent groove, pulled from the cobwebbed catacombs and onto a nearby club ‘floor with the persistent bass pattern and a quick wipe of disinfectant out of respect to whoever uses it next. Borusiade just dropped an album, and Silent ensures I’ll be seeking it out as well.

Cave Curse Future Dust LP (FDH / P. Trash)
Cave Curse follow their debut 7″ (and as is the requisite today, a cassette filled with demos and previously released recordings) with an LP, and if you liked their debut, you won’t leave Future Dust feeling disappointed. I wasn’t a fan myself, however, and this album cements that fact. It’s the distinct combination of styles and sounds that doesn’t work for me: Jay Reatard-aping vocals, Tubeway Army-esque synths playing overly familiar melodies, and live drums that pound wildly along. I could enjoy any of those aspects separately, or maybe even a combination of two of them, but Cave Curse’s final product sounds as though a garage-rocker was tricked into believing that Reggie & The Full Effect’s debut album was the OG template for dark-wave and then took their own stab at it after raiding Guitar Center’s keyboard section. Just check “Drones (We’re All)” and you’ll hear exactly what I mean, from the glammy vocal warble to the pop-punk drumming and basic four-chord melody. At the very least, Cave Curse seems well intentioned, so hopefully someone out there likes this?

CCR Headcleaner CCR Headcleaner 7″ (Pollen Season)
Always a pleasure to obtain a new offering from the Bay Area’s CCR Headcleaner, a group of at least five people that seem to feed off each other’s sweaty energy in the creation of their unhinged, punk-adjacent stoner noise. Can’t go wrong with these four new home-recorded tunes, that’s for sure – opener “Mission Control” sounds like early ’80s GG Allin (musically, not vocally) until it’s caught up in a cloud of High Rise-style combustion. That’s my favorite tune here, but the rest are great too, like a slightly more focused Hospitals, Timmy’s Organism without any sense of kitsch, or perhaps if Keiji Haino was granted full conductorship of his favorite Chrome tunes. You can really sense the paranoia and frustration that comes with living in a once hippie-centric enclave that is increasingly eaten alive by Silicon Valley tech-bro gentrification (particularly in the tune “Ipso Facto Alcohol”), and I’m thankful that these folks react by channeling psych-rock with the same free-wheeling insanity of Royal Trux. I hope that CCR Headcleaner can continue to survive in this hostile environment, or at least take some pigs out with ’em when they go.

Church Shuttle Natural Disaster 7″ (Soft Abuse)
I always thought the label name “Soft Abuse” was an intriguing one, paradoxical and a little creepy, and I’m not sure any record on the label has embodied that vibe as much as this Church Shuttle single. It’s an audio-collage of despair: low-humming tones (the dishwasher? a malfunctioning phone charger?), lonesome mumbling, clocks ticking, even a little guitar and piano (or so they allege). It’s the sound of being awake at an hour that is meant for sleep, as if some sort of stressful event, physical or mental, is preventing the body and mind from rest. I’m reminded of Prick Decay without the harsh noise factor, or a less humorous Glands Of External Secretion in the way these two pieces unfold (haphazardly and with little explanation). Church Shuttle is the work of Chris Durham (he of Roachclip and The Bibs), and while I thought his Quilt Boy solo-project was his personal clearinghouse of sonic detritus, apparently he needed to take things one step further into unlistenability with Church Shuttle. I’d say he should get in touch with I Dischi Del Barone, if only to swap tapes of like-minded nonsense, but he probably already has… these types of freaks are always good at finding each other.

C. Memi Heavenly Peace 12″ (Bitter Lake)
Bitter Lake’s second release continues their mission statement of reissuing truly oddball Japanese obscurities in the realm of synth-wave / post-punk. This one comes from C. Memi, an artist that’s new to me but I’m glad to have discovered. This 12″ EP is a reissue of C. Memi’s sole 7″ EP, and seeing as these five tracks aren’t exactly short, the extra vinyl square-inchage is appreciated. C. Memi seems to come from that time and era when people knew they wanted to play different music than what they were hearing, but the underground was yet to be fully codified and genre-stabilized. This is evident as the moody opener “Ishin-Denshin” recalls early Cabaret Voltaire or Phew’s debut LP and it’s followed up by “C’est Une Chanson”, a cheesy accordion-based circus dance, the sort of thing that comes pre-programmed in a children’s carousel. The stylistic changes continue to baffle on the b-side, with a baroque piece for piano and voice called “For Monster Of Dr. Frankenstein” that gives way to “Hitojichi”, psychotic minimal-synth ala Systematics which ends in a cascade of fireworks. Heavenly Peace closes with a somber little new-age ballad, something you’d find in Kate Bush’s wastebasket circa 1982. Very bizarre, and I personally wish C. Memi explored more of her avant-garde side while leaving the cheese-pop aspirations on the shelf, but Heavenly Peace might not be as endearing if that were the case. What’ll Bitter Lake dig up next?

Control Test Verdadero Criminal 7″ (Iron Lung)
I wonder how many people quickly purchased this from the Iron Lung shop assuming it was some sort of Total Control test pressing? A sale’s a sale, and I can’t imagine too many customers would be disappointed in the end. Maybe I’ll call my next band Colored Vinyl Sleep LP. Anyway, Control Test is a Seattle-based synth-punk group, heavy emphasis on synth (there are no guitars from what I can tell, just live drums and keyboards). To be fair, there’s a heavy emphasis on punk too, as these four tunes rattle through the speakers with a ferociousness usually reserved for a Disclose clone. The synths bleep and bloop in that early ’00s way (think Le Shok or Virgin Mega Whore), and vocalist Anthony Gaviria (whom you might recognize from Lysol) screams til he sweats through his leather jacket, as though The Screamers and In/Humanity somehow melded into one. I like it best when things are a little less manic, like b-side opener “Abuso”, which taps out an angry computer virus with the same one-finger precision of Count Vertigo, but it’s clear Control Test exist for the purpose of spazzing out as much as possible. Each copy comes in a uniquely “hand-stained” sleeve, as if putting together records as a DIY label wasn’t punishing enough already. Respect.

De Beren Gieren Dug Out Skyscrapers LP (Sdban Ultra)
Not a lot of jazz discussed on these pages, probably for a lot of reasons (both valid and flimsy), but I’m tempted to revamp the entire site into a jazzbo’s paradise if there are enough jazz ensembles as quizzically sweet and insidious as De Beren Gieren out of Gent, Belgium. They’re a trio featuring piano, double bass and drums, and their compositions on Dug Out Skyscrapers really speak to me. I’d call it “espionage jazz” – it’s chilly and occasionally foreboding, but also baroque and heartfelt, steeped in the tradition of classical music but also clearly aware of cool things like dub-techno and avant-noise. They get quite technical and weird, but it’s never without a point, nor do they ever drift into improvised confusion. I can’t help but think of the great British crime drama Wallander when listening, as though the titular police inspector is rifling through documents late into the night, gathering clues and piecing the puzzle together as it’s revealed that he is under surveillance by a masked intruder. This is sophisticated and icy music, pleasant enough for background-listening while preparing dinner but exotically European too, full of sharp details and ear-catching twists for those who intentionally focus. Meanwhile, I’m just waiting for a suspicious murder to occur on my block so I can blare Dug Out Skyscrapers out an open window.

Eye Cocktail Mexico 10″ (Knekelhuis)
Can’t stop won’t stop snagging the newest Knekelhuis releases, including this 10″ by Eye. Not to be confused with any member of the Boredoms, this Eye is one Laurène Exposito, and she makes a very fashionable and entertaining form of DIY synth-wave here (as well as on her debut album from a couple years back). The four tunes here move pretty quickly but are certainly worth repeating so it all evens out. I’m reminded of the earliest Marie Davidson productions, Eva Geist’s dirtier cuts, maybe some of the minimal-wave material of the early ’80s (like Deux or Comix), or a Chrisma track with all the guitars sucked out. Classic to that lineage but by no means a retro act or any sort of aesthetic put-on. Exposito has a great disaffected vocal delivery (with no shortage of echo), and her drum machines and synths all teeter on the edge of collapse, levels occasionally flaring unexpectedly and rhythms that take dangerous shapes. I prefer my minimal-wave to come with this homespun, out-of-the-bedroom feel so I’m proud to welcome Cocktail Mexico into my home, no matter what room of the house it originated from.

Fossil Fuel Punk Rock Karate Chop EP 7″ (SPHC)
Thank goodness unheralded punk labels like SPHC are putting in the work, promoting and releasing truly garbage-pail music in the best possible sense. Although apparently releasing tapes and CD-rs since the mid ’90s, I had no idea that Fossil Fuel existed until now, and I truly thank SPHC for it, as this group (featuring at least one member of Sockeye and coming from the Wheelchair Full Of Old Men camp) is moronic genius. Here’s the rub: two guys (named “Gun” and “Knife”) provide mostly-spoken vocals and lo-fi guitar over pre-programmed Casio beats (not a big Casio either, one of those eighteen-inchers you could buy at a toy store). It’s a fairly basic musical concept, but it’s the lyrics where Fossil Fuel really shine (as is often the case with Sockeye-related projects) – “Brocore Movement” is a startlingly hilarious indictment of any dude who ever liked hardcore, just pure uncoated sarcasm from a crotchety old guy who clearly has no horse left in the race. The rest of the EP is cool too, although it drifts into the realm of awkward comedy sketches more than scene commentary (see song titles such as “I Took Beer” and “Back Pain Bobby”). Looks like Fossil Fuel also released an album called Who Gives A Fuck? L.P. Dick and I clearly need to locate a copy in case they wrote more “Brocore Movement”-caliber hits.

Geld Perfect Texture LP (Iron Lung)
Iron Lung reaches across the Pacific to bring us the debut album from Melbourne’s Geld. They might be new, but they’ve got dudes from d-beaters Krömosom and pub-rockers Power in their lineup, so it’s no surprise their first offering is fully matured and storming right out of the gate. Perfect Texture is solid stuff, a strain of violent and heavy hardcore that only a fool could find fault with. As I listen I’m frequently reminded of Nine Shocks Terror, particularly due to the buzzsaw riffing (and buzzsaw vocal delivery), but Geld mix things up a bit more than Nine Shocks ever did, integrating over-the-top effects (and even an electro-industrial instrumental segue) and leaning into black/thrash-metal motifs and Motörhead-style exhaust fumes on occasion. It’s top-shelf Japanese hardcore worship (I’m thinking Contrast Attitude and Zyanose), but they use it as a jumping off point for their own particular style as opposed to a direct rip (thankfully there are no song titles in purposely-butchered-English, a move I always found a little distasteful). Geld do a fine job of maintaining a direct assault without becoming overly repetitive, which is the key tightrope that any chaotic hardcore band must walk. Thumbs up!

Hot Snakes Jericho Sirens LP (Sub Pop)
I can’t think of a nicer rock band to pick up on your semi-corporate indie label than Hot Snakes. Is there a more universally beloved band of advanced-age, hard-rockin’ white guys than them? You can even feel good about liking them on a personal level too, which is rare in this era of well-documented problematic band member behavior that usually comes as unfortunate-at-best baggage for any group of dudes who’ve been putting out records since the ’90s. (At least at the time of this review’s publication, no member of Hot Snakes has assaulted audience members, hatefully ranted on Twitter, or casually associated with the alt-right in an interview.) And if all that wasn’t good enough, Hot Snakes return after a lengthy absence as if they never left, churning out more of their signature heavy strumming joined by the aggressively parched vocals of Rick Froberg. Right off the bat, “I Need A Doctor” ensures that Hot Snakes are giving the kids what they want, and it’s a soothing relief in this time of so much uncertainty. They mix it up a little too, throwing in some near-hardcore thrashers (“Why Don’t It Sink In”) and some simmering post-hardcore (gotta think of the Drive Like Jehu fans too). It all makes for an undeniably successful comeback album, offering more of what made the group so fantastic in the first place while also revealing new paths forward.

ISS ISS 7″ (Sorry State)
Glad I didn’t have to wait too long for more from ISS – they very well may be the only active band crafting songs out of old sampled punk records, but I have no doubt they’re the best, too. (Let us all politely forget that The Yah Mos Def ever existed.) This new EP is four more cuts that are greater than the sum of their parts, taking obscure and familiar hardcore-punk chestnuts and sewing them together for today’s modern cynical fashions. Just as on their LP, ISS sounds strikingly like a real band here, although one out of time or place, as likely to have existed in 1979 palling around with Crass or The Pop Group as something that would fit alongside Mystic Inane and FNU Clone on a contemporary bill (don’t I wish). Clearly a bit of layered thought has gone into these tracks too, with the final shout from Dead Kennedys’ “Nazi Punks Fuck Off” punctuating an anti-Richard Spencer tune, as well as what I presume to be a track tackling today’s mutant-punk uniform (“I can only judge a man by the dangle of his earring” being one choice lyrical quote). That would be an extra slick move, if ISS actually started sampling and roasting their contemporaries in real-time, particularly if they utilized the Mayyors-esque power-fuzz of closing track “Mi Miata” to do it. Maybe they already are!

Jing Adularescence LP (6dimensions)
Taiwan’s Jing hits the scene with this engrossing debut LP of avant-garde sound-art. She mixes the modern post-post-techno production of heavyweight weirdos like Lee Gamble and Mika Vainio with the bizarre vocal recitation of Graham Lambkin – a track like “Permission” is the perfect synthesis, with bass bobbing like one of Wolfgang Voigt’s Kafkatrax productions and a processed adult British male speaking glumly over top. It’s a lot easier to enjoy casually than one might expect from a “short stories accompanied by soundscapes” project… Jing’s productions are colorful and even a little fun, but never at the expense of the bizarre tension that runs through Adularescence. It’s a production I’d expect to witness in a contemporary art gallery in the hip part of town, but a crafty DJ could play many of these tracks in a crowded bar with great success (so long as everyone is already a little buzzed). It moves fast through tracks (monotony is one avant-garde tool Jing avoids), and by the time the woozy closer “Yet To Begin” drops, the room may not be fully spinning but a slight disorientation is guaranteed.

Kilchhofer The Book Room 2xLP (Marionette)
I’d be constantly angry if my last name had two Hs back to back, but Benjamin Kilchhofer is proud and bold, producing music under his surname and simply daring you to try and call him “Kilchofer”! He has a couple other records out but The Book Room is a massive work, twenty tracks across four sides of 12″ vinyl, revealing a complex and dense sonic vocabulary. Normally, I’d balk at twenty tracks of anyone (although one day I’ll have the courage to pony up for a copy of Prince Of Denmark’s eight LP release from late 2016), but Kilchhofer keeps things moving, offering brisk and intriguing new ideas and glimpses of intricate sound-worlds. Some tracks are melancholy and misty, like Boards Of Canada without the samples, whereas others seem to listen in on imagined tribes ala Jon Hassell’s “Fourth World” concept. Picture Shackleton sipping tea with Claude Rodap, the furthest reaches of Growing Bin Records’ “Club Med Esoterica” section, or a calm companion to Peder Mannerfelt’s Swedish Congo Record if you want to imagine the sounds you’ll find in The Book Room. So many flavors at play and I think you might enjoy them all.

The Modern Institute Another Exhibition At The Modern Institute 12″ (Diagonal)
Cool pairing here of two electro-agitators, Glasgow’s The Modern Institute and London’s Diagonal. The Modern Institute share personnel with Golden Teacher, but whereas Golden Teacher revel in loose and collective jams, The Modern Institute is as tight as a wedgie that includes not just one’s underwear but one’s dungarees as well. The minimal and high-pitched beats buzz as though The Modern Institute’s hardware overheated to dangerous levels, with bass switched to treble and regular treble pitched up, but you wouldn’t know it from the deadpan vocal delivery of Richard McMaster. It’s enough to garner a clear comparison to The Normal’s T.V.O.D. / Warm Leatherette, but whereas The Normal featured a groove one could conceivably dance to, The Modern Institute is frantic and unhinged, recalling the torturous pacing of labelmates Russell Haswell and Evol. It can be a bit much to take in extended doses, but this is a shortened release, so you’ll presumably be fine (although I make no promises). If you feel the blood vessels around your pupils start to swell, simply gaze into the mirror-reflected cover and remind yourself that this is only art… you’ll be okay.

Sean Morales Call It In LP (Super Secret)
If you’ve been privately writing some songs and finally decide to record them with a full band, you’ve got a good chance of making that dream happen in Austin, TX. That’s where Sean Morales ended up, and on his solo debut he enlists folks from OBN IIIs, James Arthur’s Manhunt, The Golden Boys and Faceless Werewolves to fill in on drums, guitars, saxophone, keyboards, hell even a dobro when necessary. I’d say the effort has paid off, as Morales put together a very fine album of studied rock n’ roll, one that can be enjoyed from both seated and standing positions. I’m thinking he located inspiration from various unheralded rock geniuses, folks like Tom Verlaine and Alex Chilton, or even lesser-knowns (but equally greats?) like Brother JT, Andre Ethier and Dan Melchior. You know the type of cult-followed songwriter: scruffy introverts who are never far from a cigarette and don’t speak often, but when they do, it’s worth overhearing. Morales is not just a willing sponge, but a fine purveyor of his own experiences, and if you can’t find something to enjoy on Call It In I frankly have to question your interest in hearing guitars played at all.

Negative Space Gestalt LP (Drunken Sailor / Always Restrictions)
Negative Space is a fitting moniker for this UK based post-punk (but more punk than post) group, as it implies both an adherence to uniform hardcore-punk band-name behavior (they must be the thousandth “Negative _____” group) as well as an interest in fine art, the use of “negative space” and ooh la-la and all that. They’ve clearly got feet in both camps, happily stirring up mosh-pits while also pondering the philosophical qualities of a flower, smashing a beer-can on one’s forehead after purchasing some experimental poetry chapbooks, that sort of thing. Musically it makes sense, as they come equipped with the hardcore monotony / tuneful drudgery of Ceremony circa Rohnert Park nestled up to tense riffing of Total Control circa Henge Beat, as well as the pogo-based energy of early Institute. That means speedy guitars that rely on an economy of notes, a vocalist who enunciates like a high person attempting to appear sober, and a spiritual kinship to Wire’s Pink Flag. I wouldn’t say Negative Space elevate the genre, but they certainly stand head-to-head with most of the artists referenced in this review – they know their way around a moody anti-riff, the singer’s British voice is exactly what I want to hear on this sort of thing, and there are enough weird little details and accidental hooks to not just keep my attention but stir up a little excitement, too. The labels splurged on a limited gold vinyl edition, and I’d say it was worth every extra penny!

Nerve Beats Nerve Beats LP (Fine Concepts)
Right off the bat I liked the cut of this album’s jib – screened cover with cool typography and a weirdly disorienting art-style, and Nerve Beats are from Honolulu (or at least wrote and recorded the album there), on the same Oakland label that released that cool Trashies LP from a couple months ago (with the endearing email contact “”). I was fully prepped to get down with whatever Nerve Beats actually sounded like (I’m always ready for more Hawaiian punk), and after a few listens, I dunno, it’s fine I guess, but if I’m going to be honest with you (for a change), I’m a little disappointed. They’re a punk trio that tend to drift toward garage- and post- prefixes, like something between The Intelligence, Eat Skull and The Oh Sees, but without any particular personality quirks of their own, just the most basic delivery of that sort of DIY-leaning, just-a-‘lil-noisy punk rock. There are probably a couple standout tracks here, but the album is overstuffed with eighteen songs (and they’re not short ones, either), so whatever possible gems are distributed throughout are hard to focus upon due to the extended listener-fatigue Nerve Beats carries. A little editing would’ve done wonders for my enjoyment here, but Nerve Beats wanted to give you all they could on their self-titled debut and I was helpless to stop them.

Open City City Of Ash 7″ (Open City)
Following last year’s debut LP, Philadelphian hardcore supergroup Open City (members of Paint It Black and Kid Dynamite, Ceremony, one of Ted Leo’s Pharmacists, etc.) put out this 7″ single on their own label, with more sharp black-and-white photos of metropolitan decline prominently featured. Don’t let the art-gallery aesthetic leave you thinking Open City are capital-M Mysterious, though, as they distro their records through Ebullition for chrissakes, and these two tunes are thoughtfully-considered emo-core ragers, hearkening to a time when “emo” and “-core” weren’t dirty words but signs of sincerity and a deliberate refutation of the mainstream. “City Of Ash” starts off mean and pensive before cutting into one of those trademark Dan Yemin stutter-step breakdowns – there are no “whoa-oh-ohs” so I had to restrain from adding them myself. “A Condition Worth A Mention” isn’t about record grading (I was hoping they were going to tear into the subtleties between VG and VG+), and I almost feel bad about joking about it as whatever vocalist Rachel Rubino’s going off about is clearly no laughing matter. This track takes a different mood, much slower and darker, like some rickety bridge between Grade and His Hero Is Gone at their most forlorn. I was hoping for a happy ending, or at least a glimmer of hope to wrap things up, but Open City aren’t catering to any foolish desires.

Perverts Again Friday Night Light LP (Total Punk)
Cleveland’s Perverts Again have really carved out their own little corner in underground punk, although I’m not sure anyone else is looking to claim it for themselves. Theirs is a world built on humiliation-as-catharsis, and I’m not talking light self-deprecation or amusing personal jabs but an authentic sense that they have comfortably resigned to be dateless dorks for the rest of their lives. They’ve even created their own pathetic mascot cartoon, now rendered in human form on the record cover, a pale shirtless character with large black eyes and both hands shoved in the front of his belted khakis. They’re really reveling in it (and sharply rib-tickling in doing so), with ultra-specific lyrics (opener “Blockbusted” references both Levis 550 jeans and Manchester By The Sea) detailing strange encounters and a profound lack of coolness. The music works great, a well-mannered mid-tempo punk with unwavering drums (floor tom and snare patterns with little to no hi-hat), continual picking and strange little hooks. I’d say they remind me of Life Stinks, but even Life Stinks’s self-pitying doesn’t come close to the self-imposed loserdom exposed on Friday Night Light – Perverts Again truly commit to it, where you can’t tell if the gimmick became their lives or their lives became the gimmick. Next time you’re aimlessly surfing Chat Roulette on a weekend night, getting laughed at by college jocks before they disconnect, make sure Perverts Again is playing on a nearby boombox for an enhanced experience.

Rik & The Pigs Blue Jean Queen 7″ (Feel It)
There’s just no stopping Rik & The Pigs this year, following their fantastic debut LP on Total Punk with this three-track tumbler on Feel It. They’re clearly on a roll, hereby locating the sweet spot between classic punk, glam-rock and good-natured sleaze, with a timeless denim-zip cover and the tunes to back it up. “Blue Jean Queen” and “TV Bloopers” both ricochet around the carpeted basement with zeal and Rik’s signature attitude, offering visions of what it’d be like if Doc Dart stumbled into an early Dangerhouse recording session and shooed the actual singer out of the booth so he could lay down some nasal nastiness. Great stuff! The b-side’s “Off / On” drops the tempo considerably, a comedic drunken waltz, Rik sitting on a sewer grate after being thrown out of the local tavern and sneering at his predicament, right as a car splashes a grey puddle in his face. It practically sounds like something I’d expect G.E. Smith and the Saturday Night Live Band to warm up with, although Rik makes a proper mockery of things. I hope I don’t have to wait too long for this wonderful band to take their live act east!

Rose Mercie Rose Mercie LP (SDZ / Jelodanti / Monofonus Press)
Here’s an intriguing but appropriate cross-continent label pairing, Austin’s Monofonus Press and Paris-based SDZ (with French wildcard Jelodanti in the mix, too). Can you just imagine the artisanal food trucks that would be inspired by such a rich combination? Anyway, they’ve gathered together to present the debut album by French quartet Rose Mercie. They’ve put together a sound that recalls the earliest non-punk post-punk sounds coming out of Rough Trade’s orbit circa ’78 – ’82 (think The Raincoats or Rosa Yemen) as well as the American DIY indie sounds of the late ’80s / early ’90s (picture a band playing after Mecca Normal but before Tiger Trap at a house show in 1992). There’s clearly a spiritual connection running between those two scenes (as well as up through today, and hopefully into the future too), and Rose Mercie fit nicely in that lineage, all while carving out their own sound. Mostly, I’m surprised at how slow and restrained their songs are – twice, I’ve put on the album and turned the speed from 33 to 45 as I was certain the drums were too deep and floppy and slow to be accurate. Wrong! Rose Mercie operate on a leisurely pace, keys and guitars chiming mildly and voices weirdly harmonizing – one of the singers (maybe they all sing?) has a Devendra Banhart-esque warble and I love the way it sneaks around the other more traditional voices. I’d say it’s the best French post-punk you’ll hear this year but it’s only May and I don’t want to get ahead of myself.

Samaritan Quell Samaritan Quell LP (Monofonus Press)
Happy to tell you about this cool-and-unusual debut LP from Samaritan Quell, a new duo starring Austin acid-king Bill Converse and Sam De La Rosa of Brooklyn’s synth-wavers Led Er Est. Samaritan Quell has the grandeur of epic prog played out on synths and turntables – it’s an unusual setup (you really don’t see “turntables” listed as an instrument much these days) but it’s a highly satisfying sonic journey. Converse’s synths flow from beatless dark-ambience to taut techno rhythms, working as the bedrock of De La Rosa’s edited samples, often some sort of throat singing or tribal chanting that is looped, diced and spread out. It’s a bit of a stretch, but something about Samaritan Quell’s approach shares the “distant alien transmission” feel from the instrumentals laid down on the first Dr. Octagon album – throw in a dusty jazz break and one could only expect Kool Keith to hatch from a nearby egg and start rapping. It’s similarly psychedelic in nature, but as a byproduct of its bizarre circumstances and studied approach, not because these two dudes decided they wanted to try being “psychedelic”. The song titles track the life cycle of “the Black Snake”, which gives some sort of parameter to the syrupy noise of “Healed And Stronger” and the strengthened groove of “Growth Of The Black Snake”, but this album would succeed even if the whole thing went untitled. Really hoping this isn’t a one-off but an ongoing concern, as Samaritan Quell’s unique approach to hallucinatory, hardware-driven electronic music is enticing and rich with promise.

Sex Tourists Sex Tourists LP (Paradise Daily)
“Sex Tourists” sounds like it should be the moniker for one of today’s ambiguously-offensive hardcore bands, so I braced myself for the middle-fingered attack after initially dropping the needle on Sex Tourists. You’ll be relieved to know no such assault came, as Sex Tourists is one of those one- or two-person synth-pop projects, yet another crowded field of musical pursuit. It can be a little tricky to stand out, but Sex Tourists succeed with their formula: busy drum machines, brightly-colored synths and a droll male voice semi-singing acutely personal lyrics over top. Even with the inherent silliness of the band name (and the retro-synth attitude of some of the music), Sex Tourists come across as ponderous and slightly sad, like they’re sulking against the machine instead of raging against it. The lyrics are often quite poignant and descriptive – I can relate to the disconnect felt in “Birthday Party”, and “Exercise Bicycles” comes across like an Aussie Morrissey backed by The Human League (minus whatever grotesque prejudice that may imply). Is it wrong that I want Sex Tourists to stay sad a little longer, at least until they can put together an equally enjoyable follow-up?

The Skids Crooked Cop 7″ (Shipping Steel)
Melbourne’s The Skids surely aren’t the first punk band to be named The Skids, but they very well might be the first Australian one, if my squad of unionized fact-checkers are providing me with accurate intel. Judging from the neon logo and name, I was expecting some sort of Bomp!-style punk n’ roll, like The Lurkers or Jet Bronx or something equally harmless and fun, but The Skids are walking around with gravel in their boots, carrying a green glass bottle full of either piss or vinegar (take your pick!). I’m actually reminded of New Jersey working-class heroes The Wretched Ones in the way that The Skids deliver these four tunes, like they just got off work at some physically-demanding factory and want nothing more than to drown their memories in domestic beer until it’s time to get on stage. Resigned to their calloused fingers and stained collars but all the tougher for it. The songs move slowly but with energy, anthemic and angrily railing against crooked cops and other restrictive forces. All four band members are wearing sunglasses for the back-cover mugshots, presumably hiding at least one shiner from last night’s skirmish.

Strange Passage Shine And Scatter 12″ (Syncro System)
It’s amazing that understated indie-rock has proliferated so successfully in a town known for their Bosstones and Murphys, but Boston’s Strange Passage are one of the latest outfits to come out fully-formed, confident and cool. This four-song 12″ EP is a nice introduction for sure, full of late ’80s college-rock jangle, with detailed and literary lyrics that probably go over my head and a warm emotional resonance that avoids naïveté. Imagine if the nascent REM only ever put out a couple EPs on Sarah Records before petering out and you might be close to Strange Passage’s vibe, although Renato Montenegro’s lead vocals are slightly deeper (but no less tender). Shine And Scatter is certainly ripe for the consumption of twee-based audiences, but there’s a tautness to the rhythm section and natural lack of wimpiness that might cause your paintball-enthusiast neighbor with the big Monster Energy sticker on his jeep to wipe a single tear from his eye. “People Being People” is my favorite, with its rippling guitar work and assertive vocal delivery, bridging the little gaps between Major Stars and Mission Of Burma and Cuffs in Boston’s rick underground-rock tapestry.

Trash Monkeys Trash Monkey Universe 7″ (Almost Ready)
Gotta love when Almost Ready pulls out something like this: a 7″ EP of mid-’80s nonsense-rock featuring Bill Orcutt and Mark Feehan in the prime of their youth (both later of Harry Pussy, among many others). I’ve always enjoyed the music made by those two guys, and it’s at least partly because they come from such a goofball background, one that values humor and idiocy over pretentious seriousness. On this four-song EP, I’m hearing plenty of silly pop ala Bunnybrains or The Frogs and a little post-thrash ‘core like fellow Floridians No Fraud or Roach Motel (at least on “Hitchhiking For Housewives”). Two of the tracks reference “housewives” in their titles for some reason, and for as dorky as Trash Monkeys proudly are, these songs are quite listenable – had they pursued the group a little further, I could picture Placebo Records eventually sticking them on a comp with Meat Puppets, Mighty Sphincter and Sun City Girls. What really makes this band for me is the fact that one ex-member has taken to Discogs to complain that this 7″ is an unofficial scam, as if there were massive royalties to be gleaned from the release of this highly-niche 7″ EP and he was unfairly getting screwed (and I quote: “This company is trying to rob me.”). I just love when old punk weirdos reveal their narcissistic delusions, and the fact that one of those characters was in Trash Monkeys 30+ years ago only endears the group to me further.

Ubik Ubik 7″ (Aarght!)
Turns out this is the eighteenth artist named “Ubik” on Discogs – who knew it was such a popular name? Anyway, this one wields the name as though it were an evil corporation in an ’80s sci-fi thriller, what with the menacingly sparkling logo on the cover, and it’s a decent setting for Ubik’s ominous post-punk. They’re from Melbourne and they’ve got more than enough eyeliner to go around, setting up shop with a warbly, ’80s goth-punk bass tone, guitars that scrape and simmer, drums that pound it out with zero subtlety and a vocalist who is as likely to conjure a circle pit as she is to release the bats. The song title “Andrew Bolts Twitter Account” seems out of character for such a dour group (what kinda self-respecting goth would use such a specific inside joke as a title?), so there’s a good chance they’re far more nuanced than I’m hearing here. It’s pretty cool, but I can’t help but wish Ubik would focus in on the classic ’82-style Brit-punk vibe and leave some of their murkier, gothier elements by the wayside – that sorta stuff doesn’t quite do it for me. That’s just me speaking personally though, and I’m certain that they are many people who are delighted that Ubik opt for gloomy riffing and solemn vocal echo amidst the feeble punk backbone. I promise not to step on your cloaks as you enter the club.

Warm Bodies Warm Bodies LP (Lumpy)
Okay, so this cover had to be drawn by a kindergartener, right? Scribbly crayon faces? I’m not going to miss the current “preschool arts and crafts” punk art trend when it goes away, but I certainly will miss Warm Bodies’ debut LP if anyone borrows my copy! This Kansas City quartet have been making some of the best modern punk for a couple years now, music that pulls from various directions while feeling fresh, vital and supremely weird. Musically it’s not too far from the spazz-punk of CCTV and Liquids (with whom they’ve probably shared a stage, and at least one bag of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos), with Sheer Mag-style guitar solos that are shoehorned into unlikely spaces, frantic speeds that rival Die Kreuzen, and the manic thumb-to-the-eye rhythms of DNA and Mars. Vocalist Olivia Gibb often recalls Suburban Lawns’ Su Tissue at her most bug-eyed, as if a feather was tickling the bare soles of her feet at various increments during recording, her voice frequently yelping into the stratosphere on any given syllable. No wasted space, just hit after hit, unified in sound but diverse in hook (there’s even a gang chorus on “I Need A Doctor”). They really found the perfect recording here, with a nice thin-crust fidelity that enhances the mania without dampening the clarity – you may find yourself tapping or even singing along if social decorum is not a personal concern. Recommended indeed!