Black Merlin Kode 12″ (Die Orakel)
After releasing killer twelves by Upsammy and Edward, I was willing to give a white German dude by the name of “Black Merlin” a try simply due to Die Orakel’s track record. I’m still not grasping the name (is it like a black magic version of Merlin? I hope?), but the music on this 12″ explains the label’s interest, as it’s a beautiful EP, equally as distinctive as the aforementioned labelmates. Whereas Upsammy and Edward were more or less making club tracks, however, Kode twinkles and flashes like remote galaxies on a cloudless evening. Black Merlin sets his modular processes in motion and subtly tweaks their forms for the length of each of these three tracks, resulting in what might resemble Dopplereffekt recreating a Terry Riley piece. These tracks consist of hardly more than a few layered sequences of synthesized bells, but they really soar through these narrow confines, with all the energy and vigor of cellular life as viewed through a microscope. They say that energy is never created, only constantly transferred throughout the universe, which makes me really hope my energy travels through one of these analog synth arpeggios following my death, if only for a little while.

Boy Harsher Careful LP (Nude Club)
Once I finally got hip to Boy Harsher (my greatest musical discovery last year!), it was all over for me – here is a group that distills moody synth-pop down to its most potent and primal essence. Their song “Pain” goes through my head at least once a week (even in moments where I’m not actually experiencing pain), so I did the right thing and camped out in front of Tower Records a day before their new album Careful was released (read: pre-ordered on Bandcamp) and it was worth the effort! While there isn’t a standout cut to rival hits like “Country Girl” or the aforementioned “Pain”, and there are at least a couple tracks of pleasant atmospheric filler, Careful is fantastic, full of seductive, neon-lit minimal-synth-pop; in other words, exactly what I wanted. Vocalist Jae Matthews continues to sound like Lady Gaga’s bedroom speaking voice over a long-distance phone line (or so I imagine), and Augustus Muller’s beats are wiry and sleek, the perfect synthetic housing for Matthews’ tales of lust and unlust. Boy Harsher never overload their songs with music – only the most essential beats, pulses, melodies and percussive elements are invoked, which is key to their success (and my enjoyment). Too many other dark-wave acts get caught up in their own fog, whereas Boy Harsher cut through like a beam of dark-red light, not afraid to harness techno’s pulsing rhythms and all the better for it. Matthews sounds as mysteriously wounded as ever here, and her eerie pathos connects these songs to an emotional present-day, which perfectly balances with Muller’s retro-vintage selection of synth sounds. If there’s only room for one EBM/goth/synth group in your collection/Spotify queue, it’s gotta be this one.

Thomas Bush Old And Red LP (Men Scryfa)
Gloriously strange album here from one of the thousands of men on this planet currently named Thomas Bush. This Thomas Bush is in or around London, and appears to pal around with other England-based sonic-tricksters like Rupert Clervaux (who mastered this album) and John T. Gast. Personally, I’d love to join these three for tea, as I was already a fan of Clervaux and Gast, and now Bush has warmly entered my consciousness care of Old And Red. It’s a weird one, to be sure, but not weird in the same way as everyone else; rather, Bush attacks outdated modes of songwriting with his own inscrutable logic, utilizing electronic percussion, live guitars and pianos (and whatever else), MIDI sampling, essentially anything he can get his hands on. I’m reminded of reissued obscurities like Mark Tucker’s In The Sack – private-press albums by lonely people who wandered free of genre (or audience) through songs that incorporate new-wave, piano ballads, post-punk and mainstream pop. I’m also reminded a bit of the smoother end of M Squared’s roster ala The Makers Of The Dead Travel Fast or Patrick Gibson, not to mention The Native Cats in the way that Bush unwinds his seedy tales over minimalist electronic percussion and moody bass. While reminiscent in spirit of the many adventurous musicians I’ve just mentioned, Bush is no imitator – the songs of Old And Red are entrancing and unsettling in equal measure.

Civilistjävel! Civilistjävel! LP (no label)
Quick un-sponsored advertisement: anyone else get emails from the Canadian label / distro Séance Centre? I’m not sure how they found me, but they have really dug into their own delectable little niche of sub-underground music both old and new, mostly trading in artists who exist on the outskirts of ambient, jazz, techno, funk, pop, singer-songwriter… whatever, really. Their quality level is disturbingly high, with the majority of their stock consisting of artists averse to simple classification. I say this because that’s where I picked up this Civilistjävel! album, and it’s something I wouldn’t have discovered otherwise. And best of all, I love it! This mysterious group is described as “from Sweden and primarily active in the ’90s”, so I’m not sure if this is a retrospective of previously-unrelated material or recently-recorded or what, but my ignorance of the proceedings only enhances my enjoyment. This is an album of stark and moody minimalist electronics, occasionally dipping into mournful melodies or drifty fourth-world percussion. It’s all instrumental, and the mood that Civilistjävel! is striking, one of deep isolation and alluring mystery. It could turn out that this is all a ruse and Civilistjävel! is actually some new Oneohtrix Point Never side-project, but I’m already so head-over-heels for it that I’m not sure I’d even mind.

Cookie Brooklyn & The Crumbs Is There Logic In Pop? 7″ (Epic Sweep)
I know, the band name reads like some miserable group wedged between Sunflower Bean and Jacuzzi Boys at a sponsor-branded Coachella afterparty, but bear with me here – this is not that! Cookie Brooklyn & The Crumbs are from New Zealand somewhere, and if you’re a fan of artsy post-punk that isn’t pretentious, or DIY dance-punk that’s not generic, you need to hear me out. “Is There Logic In Pop?” is a great title (apparently adapted from a 1996 interview with Mayo Thompson), and they do it justice with their stripped-down, no-nonsense tune. Groovy bass, tight drums, gang vocals, and just the right amount of guitar splatter has me imagining the glorious intersection of Gang Of Four and The Kamikaze Sex Pilots. The b-side “Puff Of Air” is great too, dropping fast lyrics over a slow groove in a manner that recalls Black Eyes (it’s the manic vocals, stalking groove and dubby bass). These songs could fit as easily on an early K Records tape comp as they could be a Desperate Bicycles side-project, which is to say they’re both versatile and hard to pin down. Looks like Cookie Brooklyn (sans The Crumbs) has a tape from a few years back called Get Out Of My Dreams, Get Under My Car, and at least one of us needs to hear that!

Leighton Craig Diamond Eye LP (Bruit Direct Disques)
In a time when streaming is king and any music that doesn’t immediately provoke a pleasant response is ignored or skipped, it’s reassuring to see that Bruit Direct remains dedicated to putting out music that takes a little work to get into, or at least music that doesn’t have a built-in audience eager to attach it to their branded lifestyle. Hope I don’t sound too bitter! Anyway, this one comes from Australian musician Leighton Craig, his first vinyl long-player after a handful of solo releases (including CDs and lathes) and albums by his group Primitive Motion. This one is mighty lonely; it sounds like the work of a man drifting out to sea on a Casio running on depleted batteries. If Harold could write and perform songs using his purple crayon, they might end up like this – there’s even one tune that sounds like a lo-fi synth version of “Little Drummer Boy”, if the singer muffled through the words he couldn’t remember. It’s charming in its subtlety, and comes with the perfect little sprinklings of sonic perversion – a droney track of tape-hiss and soft cymbal reverberation cozies up nicely next to one of the many wistful keyboard lullabies found here. If memory-foam was a musical genre as well as a style of pillow, Diamond Eye might be its marquee album.

Victor De Roo ‘Nachtdichter’ Poëzie Door Alex Deforce 12″ (Knekelhuis)
I continually turn toward the Dutch electronic label Knekelhuis for guidance and inspiration, and while they always come through with something cool and weird and enjoyably crazy, this Victor De Roo EP operates on its own level. It sounds like an old cigarette-smelling love-note found crumpled in a library-borrowed copy of Curzio Malaparte’s The Skin – beautiful, bewitching, probably a little depressing, all with a mystery never to be solved. De Roo’s music is dark and lustrous synth-based noir, sometimes rhythmic and sometimes untethered, like the opening credits of a Charles Bronson film translated on a minimal budget for a Dutch audience. Have I sold you on Victor De Roo yet? The kicker is De Roo’s vocals, as he speaks over these instrumentals in a calm and serious tone, somewhere between funeral poetry and a grisly homicide detective taking us through his thought process for catching the culprit. I’m picturing Detective Wallander wandering through an artist’s workspace after their eerie disappearance as “Beland In Bed” ominously rolls through over tense guitar and electrified drones. It’s great! I’m not aware of any genre that comfortably suits ‘Nachtdichter’ Poëzie Door Alex Deforce, which means De Roo needs to keep putting out records like this and force the issue.

Forra Mostrame Lo Peor EP 7″ (La Vida Es Un Mus)
La Vida pumps out more new records than practically any other contemporary hardcore-punk label this side of Iron Lung. I check in when I can (especially whenever anything Primetime-related is released), but some of my personal ‘core-respondents (get it?) were calling this Forra EP a can’t-miss, and I’d have to agree. In circumstances I do not comprehend, the members of Forra come from Mexico, Argentina, Catalonia and The Canaries, but they converged in London as a group to create what might sadly be their only EP. The postcard insert that comes with the 7″ looks like it fell out of 1982, and the music sounds similarly, a swirling lo-fi vortex of booming snare drum, gnarly guitar and barked vocals. I’m reminded of no-budget hardcore groups like The Nixe and Bloedbad, or similar international hardcore-punk bands that only ever made it to trade-based cassette compilations, bands who are given a 1″x2″ rectangle to fill with their lyrics, artwork and mailing address. It’s highly endearing by that aspect alone, but these six songs are top-shelf for the genre, sounding raw in a classic sense (not today’s digital GarageBand hiss and compression), and Forra play them as if they know all too well their time as a group is limited. It was recommended to me, and now I’m recommending it to you!

Headroom New Heaven 12″ (Ever/Never)
Allow me to take you on a psychedelic journey to the deepest recesses of your third eye. That’s right, we’re headed to… Connecticut! Not sure why such a scene of guitar-based experimentalists has sprung up in the sleepy, pizza-centric town of New Haven, CT, or if that’s simply my inaccurate perception of things, but with Headroom, Mountain Movers (who might just be a different configuration of Headroom?) and Stefan Christensen (who probably plays in both bands too?), there’s something noteworthy happening there. I’ve enjoyed all that I’ve heard from that crew, but this new Headroom 12″ is distinctly pleasant. The ensemble softly simmers through these three unhurried tunes, all of which showcase the multilingual guitars of Headroom leader Kryssi Battalene. If you thought a scorching, mournful guitar solo couldn’t work over a cozy, sedated bass-line, I invite you to lend an ear to “City Lights” and think again! I’m reminded of Wooden Shjips at their most poised and interesting, as well as the cosmic swirl of Bardo Pond, and The Velvet Underground at their most somber and/or noisiest. The biggest cut is the b-side’s “Skyliner”, which goes from soft to not-so-soft to kinda-loud to booming over eleven minutes, not unlike Davis Redford Triad in its natural levitational properties. I doubt anyone under the age of thirty listens to this sorta stuff, but that’s fine by me – they can go do their Fortnite dances while Headroom slips us aged folk through alternate planetary dimensions.

Andy Human & The Reptoids Psychic Sidekick LP (Total Punk)
Punk is a unique art-form, in that you pretty much only get worse at it as you go along. Can you think of any punk groups who released their finest work ten years into their career? And yet, Andy Human contradicts this theorem with the last few years of his music, proving that in some rare cases, people can get better at punk. I’m referring to Andy Human’s recent work with The Reptoids: the 2017 single on Total Punk and, in particular, this new full-length. He struts out his punk with a real laissez faire attitude on this one, as though he’s the type of guy who steps on a steaming pile of dog waste on the sidewalk and merely shrugs, not even bothering to find a curb to scrape it on. He shares that attitude with classic groups like Vox Pop and Jet Bronx & The Forbidden, and he shares their sonic template too, one of casual slacker-punk from an era before slackers were a codified thing. With decades’ worth of music history at his disposal, Human borrows liberally from anything that works, like punchy post-punk (“You Like Your Job”), saloon-style piano, the sweltering DIY skank of early Scritti Politti, Iggy Pop’s haircuts from 1979 through 1986, maybe even some of the more offbeat hardcore-related sounds emanating from Southern California circa 1984. Human makes it all work naturally, in what very well might be his finest musical achievement to date. Which, if my calculations are correct, means his next album will be even better.

Is In Unsamble Is The Belly / In The Belly LP (Gilgongo)
Gilgongo brings us some group improvisation from the Is In Unsamble, a group featuring Chiara Giovando (of Harrius) alongside Juk Suk Reet Meate and Oblivia (of Smegma) and four other friendly weirdos. The New Weird America vibes are strong here, no doubt – the organic clatter found within these two pieces certainly calls to mind the lighter sides of No Neck Blues Band or Sunburned Hand Of The Man, as well as the ’70s collective improv of groups like CCMC and Nihilist Spasm Band. While they sure do like to hoot and holler (and turn spokes on wheels, crank pepper grinders, chase chickens out of the roost, rub a rusty gas-tank with a wire brush, etc etc), these folks are keen listeners too, content to let tones drift in and out of focus and squelch only when squelching is absolutely necessary. Certainly has a “local opener for solo Thurston Moore show” vibe, but come to think of it that could be said for 90% of Gilgongo’s output. This sort of music is certainly fun to listen to, but I sense that the folks of Is In Unsamble particularly relished the opportunity to sit down together, bird-whistles, jingle bells and broken oscillators in hand, and brew up the heady stew that became Is The Belly / In The Belly.

Paul Jansen & Zn. De Toerisme EP 2×7″ (De Vrije Keijser)
There’s a nice selection of tantalizing obscurities discussed here this month, but this double 7″ EP from Paul Jansen & Zn. (which apparently stands for “Paul Jansen and his son”) might take the cake. First off, I love double 7″s – there’s just something uniquely perfect about them. Not too many sides as to be annoying (I’m looking at you, Rancid box-set), just the right amount of preciousness and difficulty, and it just seems inherently punk. And in this case, a gatefold cover and released in a limited edition of 150 copies (which used to be impossibly scant but now is probably the normal quantity any underground artist could hope to sell)… well, I haven’t even talked about the music yet and I’m already gushing. So let’s get to it! The music made by this father-son duo is bizarre, incredibly stark electro that is rarely more than one beat track at a time and some spoken vocals run through distortion. “Raamprostitutie” sounds like the sickliest Beau Wanzer track ever put to tape, but “De Fluit” opts for whistling in lieu of vocals, and “O Hoofd” features a men’s choir harmonizing with a slight sense of inebriation. It’s strange, but also incredibly charming, and could probably move some bodies in a sweaty basement (particularly the Paranoid London-esque groove of “Nakketikker”). I barely know who made this music, and I’m fairly sure where it was made (the Netherlands), but as far as how, why, and what this music is supposed to be, I’m enchantingly left in the dark.

Jay Glass Dubs Epitaph LP (Bokeh Versions)
As far as I’m concerned, the music of Jay Glass Dubs could remain in pleasant stasis forever – his dub-minded abstraction of hazy and blissful electronics is impressively graceful and enunciated. I’m completely content if he wants to make the same record over and over, which he’s done at least a couple times, but there are notable sonic leaps scattered through his ever-growing discography too, like the great collaboration with Leslie Winer and now this, his newest full-length. No, it’s not a dub edit of the biggest pop-punk label of the ’90s (don’t I wish), it’s an album that brings new elements into his specific aesthetic with glorious results. The presence of vocals is most noteworthy, not just because it’s new, but also because there are plenty of them (someone named Yorgia Karidi, and presumably Mr. Glass Dubs himself), and they bring an odd humanity to the proceedings, beautifully spiraling outward like the lemon peel on the cover. I’m reminded of Andy Stott at times, but the prettier end of his catalog… the beats of Jay Glass Dubs remain constricted and soft, like the soft flap of waves on a bay, not muscle-flexing techno power. I probably could’ve just cut right to the chase and said “if you ever wanted to hear the velvety tones of 4AD’s mid-’80s catalog dipped in a jet-black puddle of dub, Epitaph is just the ticket”, but I love to talk too much, especially about records like this.

Th’ Losin Streaks This Band Will Self-Destruct In T-Minus LP (Slovenly)
Anyone else dream of being in a band with the band’s name or logo painted on their van when they were a kid? My desire probably dates back to first seeing Scooby Doo’s Mystery Machine, and naturally increased when I encountered Flipper’s van, The Meatmen’s “Crime” van, and of course the Melvins’ old van that Kurt Cobain tagged up. It just seems like the pinnacle of band-hood, so Th’ Losin Streaks have every right to be proud of theirs, brandishing their band name on the side and prominent on this album’s cover. It’s a form of rock n’ roll fun that seems to be dying out, but Th’ Losin Streaks are keeping it alive in their music too, a raucous garage-rock record that actually seems to be having quite a bit of fun. I’m reminded of the earliest Black Lips records, The Rolling Stones (I guess that goes without saying, but I’m saying it), some Link Wray and The Monks too, and while these are all fairly common reference points, Th’ Losin Streaks sound like they’re living the dream, not imitating it. Even something as simple as the way the lead vocalist screams “yeah!” to kick in a song comes across as sincere and enjoyably unhinged, not as though they’re following confusing Ikea instructions to assemble Rocksöngingen or something. Rock music such as this is nearing extinction at this point, but just like Leslie Nielsen in his 1995 Dracula spoof, Th’ Losin Streaks are dead and loving it.

Mikan Mukku 缶 / ちんダン 7″ (Bitter Lake)
Bitter Lake continues its deep dive into the furthest reaches of Japan’s hidden ’80s synth-pop scene, and on 7″ single no less! It couldn’t be timelier, as reissue comps of Japanese corporate-ambient and solar-funk are selling better than the majority of the punk records reviewed in these pages, so if they were ever going to reissue two songs from two separate 1986 7″ flexi compilations by a group called Mikkan Mukku, now is the time! “缶” is an ornate chant, lurching forward on traditional percussion, woeful vocals and an unexpected Ghostbusters-style synth disruption. “ちんダン” has a similarly disjointed propulsion, full of stops and starts, and it feels a bit more developed; the inherent theatricality of their instrumentation results in a cooler, slicker song this time around. I have to wonder if this sound is something they continued to develop, or if these two songs were the only documented proof of Mikan Mukku’s brief existence, a tiny creative blip along the infinite branches of Japan’s musical underground. I can only assume that if more recordings of Mikan Mukku exist, Bitter Lake is currently wrapping them up into another attractive and stately vinyl reissue. Can I request a double 8″?

Muro Ataque Hardcore Punk LP (Beach Impediment)
If I had to sum up modern DIY hardcore-punk in one record, this Muro 12″ would be a fine candidate. Muro are a Colombian hardcore group, and Ataque Hardcore Punk was originally released on the Norwegian label Byllepest Distro in 2017 (with cassette versions released in Chile and Malaysia), now pressed for American audiences by the ever-reliable Beach Impediment. The cover design of Ataque Hardcore Punk appears to accidentally fuse the art used by Hoax on their 2012 Painkiller 7″ with that of their 2013 La Vida Es Un Mus 7″ – a mushy skull trapped in a crumbling brick enclosure – and to complete the timeliness, their music is raw and scrappy pogo-core that might remind you of Crucifix, S.H.I.T. and Blazing Eye, with a touch of Raw Power’s buzzsaw thrash and a light sprinkling of UK ’82 songcraft. And like most new hardcore groups that stick to this formula, it’s pretty good! That said, I can’t blame anyone for growing a little tired of the predictability of it all, but at least these are Colombians doing it, convening with like-minded conspirators on an international level. If you want your hardcore to be chock full of hand-drawn skulls and angry, no-frills attitude, Muro are here to satisfy. It might be fairly standard-issue for today, but it beats the “mysterious lurker in a ski-mask” aesthetic that dominated the scene some ten years prior.

Natural Man & The Flamin’ Hot Band Natural Man & The Flamin’ Hot Band 7″ (Neck Chop)
Kansas City, MO has more loony punk bands per capita than any other American city at this point, right? Much like I imagined Providence, RI in the early ’00s, I’m assuming the streets are overrun in young weirdos wearing homemade neon clothes, carrying hilariously undersized amps and cruddy instruments to the gig scheduled to take place in the parking lot of a burger joint or at the bottom of a half-pipe. There’s at least like six people in this group, and not one of them is a background player – it seems like each member is vying for the listener’s attention through these four tunes, and it makes for a glorious cacophony. Imagine Black Randy (with full Metrosquad) playing twice as fast, The Gizmos on Mountain Dew Code Red instead of booze and weed, or maybe if Warm Bodies (who share at least one member with Natural Man) toned down the ‘core and turned up the good vibes. If this band doesn’t print their t-shirts on ugly tie-dye, I’ll delete this website right now. For as hectic and frantic as these tunes are, they transmit their lunatic fun like a virus, curling the hairs on your head and turning that frown upside down, a skill that isn’t to be taken for granted in these dark days. By-the-books punk rock this is not, yet it’s just as (if not more) punk than any other groups coming to a basement near you.

Night Slaves Night Slaves III LP (no label)
Before even listening to Buffalo’s regrettably-named Night Slaves, they were entertaining to look at: the duo of David Kane (of first-wave synth-poppers Trek With Quintronic) and John Toohill (of prog-punkers Alpha Hopper) looks like The Undertaker and his nu-metal son. It’s a far superior look to most bands calling themselves industrial or synth-pop these days, and their music sets a higher bar too, gleefully pushing back the standard stylistic barriers into bolder, more ostentatious realms. Kane has decades of synth-work under his belt, and he lends that confidence and grace into these booming tunes, which often feel like Spiritualized reborn as electro-pop (Night Slaves aren’t afraid to utilize a vocal choir when appropriate), or perhaps a radio-rock version of minimal-wave? If you played me “Forgotten Ghosts” and told me it was Twenty-One Pilots, I’d believe you, while also wondering when they got good. There’s a little Bad Seeds in here too, seeping into the potent vibe of today’s youthful alt-rock hair-metal scene that runs throughout Night Slaves III. You’re probably a little perplexed by what you’re reading, and trust me, I don’t get it either; I’m particularly flummoxed by the fact that Night Slaves really make it all work, as if there is no style or musical element they couldn’t comfortably blend into their dramatic, stadium-sized-but-DIY synth-rock.

Ailie Ormston The Sedate / Tony Soprano Fashion Inspo. LP (50% Pure)
Those in need of some new corrosive n’ cruddy industrial bangers needn’t look further than the debut vinyl platter from Glasgow’s Ailie Ormston. Two “separate works” comprise this 12″, as noted in the title, and they display two distinct forms of electro-seizure, both of which delight my ears to no end. The a-side (The Sedate) is a punishing suite of high-impact klang, not unlike the harder end of Diagonal Records’ catalog. Beats overload speakers and are deployed haphazardly, with only the subtlest of melodic intervention occurring in later tracks… this side is all about thuggish, tetanus-riddled percussion and the joy it can bring. You probably wanted to hear more about the Tony Soprano Fashion Inspo. side though – what a title! – and it’s similarly mangled and grotesque, but it highlights textures and sensations over brutality. Perhaps if you let two cats walk across your synths, they might produce a similarly unsteady racket, but why bother setting all that up when Ormston’s already got you covered? I’m reminded of Nautical Almanac at their manic best, maybe some of Forcefield’s fevered analog channels too, but Ailie Ormstron feels like less of a basement-noise weirdo and more like someone who might co-host an NTS Radio show and play unreleased NHK Yx Koyxen dubs on it. Tony would be proud.

Priors New Pleasure LP (Slovenly)
Montreal has had its share of antagonistic synth-punk for at least a few decades now… something about the culture and climate just seems to breed sneering punks with keyboards. Take Priors for example, a relatively new quintet who produce aggressive and clinical garage-punk with frigid synth overtones. At least one member of the band looks like someone who would successfully build a time machine in his basement, maybe that plays into it? Their vocalist has an appropriately big mouth (with just the right acidic sting care of slap-back reverb), the guitars are jangling their disapproval and the keys come in only when electro-shock therapy remains the final option. Reminds me of The Stitches, or some of those other post-Y2K punk groups that would get drunk and wear scarves. It’s not a new style or sound, but Priors wear it proudly and confidently, as if the neighbors calling the cops to complain about all the noise they’re making are the real jerks, not them.

Rubber Blanket New Garbage Truck / Pedestrian Walkway 7″ (Spacecase)
I can’t help but think about the part in England’s Hidden Reverse wherein someone describes Sleazy Christopherson’s bedroom in the early Coil days, a painted-black room with a bed dressed in rubber sheets, when listening to this new group. It’s an enjoyable image, but it doesn’t quite suit Rubber Blanket, who are a new recording trio featuring Lars Finberg of The Intelligence and Brad Eberhard and Jun Ohnuki of Wounded Lion. The first Intelligence record received countless spins in my apartment (and even more in my car), and I’m glad to hear that same shambolic-yet-catchy DIY-punk essence within “New Garbage Truck”, which sputters across junky drums and a playful melody. “Pedestrian Walkway” works its magic from an even cruddier beat and a bloopy-bleepy keyboard, much in that early Intelligence fashion, sounding like Suicide guesting on Sesame Street. Very pleasant! I appreciate that both songs approach plain, negligible aspects of modern society with empathy and twisted appeal – I would love to get Rubber Blanket’s take on blowdriers, dog-walking and cellar doors, for example. It’s nice to have a full band and tour and “go for it” and all that, but Rubber Blanket seems to be more about putting together diminutive oddball pop songs with friends, and it suits them perfectly.

Sporten Är Död Sporten Är Död LP (Fördämning Arkiv)
If you share my tastes even a little bit, you were salivating just as I was when you first heard about this Sporten Är Död reissue (maybe that’s right now): a beyond-obscure Swedish DIY post-punk group, whose sole cassette was limited to a meager 100 copies (which, by today’s standards, would be a readily-available vinyl pressing, but I digress). Their name clearly means something like “sports are dead”, they look detached and unintentionally cool, and the reissue comes with their full tape remastered in addition to a live set, not to mention a handsome booklet insert comprised of band interviews, photographs and biographical info. You probably already ordered it, didn’t you? Well, I can confirm the package is as great as it sounds, but the music, well… it’s pretty much just okay. None of these tracks have particularly jumped out at me, and while the live set contains only a little overlap from the recorded session, I’ve found this collection of songs to be remarkable in its unremarkableness. They’re a plain group exhibiting plain music – slightly poppy but not catchy, rudimentary but not sloppy or noisy – and while it makes for the perfect soundtrack to reading the booklet, I wouldn’t rank them in the top twenty-five Swedish post-punk groups. Can’t blame you if you ordered one, though – the essence of Sporten Är Död, if not their music, is irresistible.

Strange Passage Shouldn’t Be Too Long LP (Syncro System)
Read this blog for a month or two and it should be fairly clear that I’m no indie-popper – sure, it’ll roll through here and there, and I’ll be polite about it, but it’s neither my bread nor my butter. Keep that in mind as I proceed to praise the hell out of Strange Passage’s debut album, a pedigreed indie-pop record that improves upon their 12″ EP (which I also liked a whole bunch). This is an indie-pop record through and through, in the classical sense, but the group’s keen mix of tenacity and tenderness, not to mention their meticulous performance and sharp songwriting, breeds widespread appeal. The music is generally pretty fast (with down-picking speeds to rival punk), but vocalist Renato Montenegro delivers his vocals in a calm and assured tone, and it’s simply a great combination. His voice falls somewhere between Michael Stipe and Calvin Johnson with regards to pitch and delivery, but he’s always on key and keeps his emotions in check, and it really works for me. No overt melancholy or brooding, Shouldn’t Be Too Long is an enticing suite of rollicking and energetic guitar pop, just waiting for someone who finally decided to dump their Smiths records out of Morrissey-shame and is looking for something new and exciting to replace them.

Throat Bareback LP (Svart)
Finland’s Throat have always struck me as a group who takes their noise-rock seriously, but their newest full-length Bareback seems particularly resolute. It’s a dynamic record, one that isn’t afraid to get unsettlingly quiet or ear-piercingly noisy, sometimes in the same track – Throat are clearly doing their best to keep the listener interested without veering too far off the map. What this means is, the majority of the record hits the collision point of post-reunion Swans and ’90s Seattle grunge – think of Alice In Chains performing parts of My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky, or if Michael Gira decided to seek spiritual guidance from Gruntruck and Helmet. I’m surprised I’m not hearing more of this particular sonic combination, or at least more attempts, as it’s not an entirely unlikely pairing, and the results here are nice. The newest Daughters record shares a similar sonic landscape at times (and, to be fair, achieves greatness not found on Bareback), but Throat are less infatuated with atmosphere and electronics, and more likely to grind some post-hardcore riffage into the dirt. Which should drip off nicely after a group trip to the sauna, of course.

Timmy Vulgar’s Genetic Armageddon Music From The Other Side of The Swamp LP (Mind Meld)
Mind Meld is a new offshoot (or mutation?) of the Total Punk / Florida’s Dying family of record production, and what better way to christen a label than with Timmy Vulgar’s newest thing? This man is a living slop-rock legend, with a discography so wide and vast (from cult-faves Clone Defects to Human Eye and beyond) and surely full of gems yet to be discovered by this writer. I check in with his newest material when I can (maybe once a year?), and while I was enjoying the foray Timmy’s Organism was taking into boot-stomping glam-punk, Timmy Vulgar’s Genetic Armageddon pursues a headier trip, as the title might’ve led you to believe. Is this Vulgar’s krautrock moment? His normal assortment of ostentatious guitar sludge, toad-mouthed vocals and red-raw percussion are intact, but he utilizes them in a manner similar to Faust or Brainticket here, drifting through psychedelic alleyways with eyes peeled open from a good trip verging on the bad. Fifteen different tracks are named, but it all flows like two different mind-bending excursions to the bottom of the titular swamp, moving through locked-in jams and trippy sound experiments with ease and purpose. Prior to hearing this one, I would’ve assumed song-shaped rock tunes were Vulgar’s area of expertise, but this out-rock hodgepodge is a particularly dapper fit.

Battle Break 2 compilation LP (PRR! PRR!)
Like most releases on the French PRR! PRR! label, I connected immediately with the first Battle Break compilation, so I was all over this one. The label’s intersectional interests of contemporary underground techno and low-brow sugary cartoon violence matches mine precisely, and this sequel doesn’t disappoint. From what I can gather, the label (and these compilations in particular) are the brainchild of Low Jack (aka B-Ball Joints), but whereas productions under the Low Jack name (as well as his birth name of Philippe Hallais) are mostly pretty serious affairs, the Battle Break series proudly brandishes absurdist comedy within its block-rocking beats. Battle Break 2 is full of wildly entertaining nonsense, as well as some actual bangers… drop the needle at any given point and you might be treated to an acoustic-guitar laden commercial (they’re in French – I wish I knew what was advertised), the mutated grooves of a Maoupa Mazzocchetti cut, Diplo-style Reggaeton madness, a slow-motion Miami bass cut layered with Klezmer fiddle and the sampled voice of a rapper repeating “that’s my shit”, retro power-trance, a mangled pro-wrestler entrance theme, and so forth. It’s all fairly obfuscated too, which adds to the fun – just check the Discogs entry for DJ Wolfi Bernreuther (he contributes “ZYX Mini Mix 2018” to this compilation) and see if it isn’t probably just some elaborate rouse put on by Hallais for his own amusement. You’ll laugh, you’ll twerk, you’ll wish you were playing Street Fighter II while drinking a 40.